The Big Five


(If you’re new to Monkeytraps, Steve is a therapist who specializes in control issues, and Bert is his control-addicted inner monkey.

That’s Bert at left, imitating the guy at right.

Bert speaking:)

Steve is suggesting it might be a good idea to pause in the midst of what we’re doing to point out that we’re doing it.

What we’re doing is a series of posts examining what he calls the Big Five — the five most common problems people bring into therapy.

The Big Five are anxiety, depression, addiction, poor relationships and parenting problems. 

In our last three posts I wrote about anxiety, depression and addiction from a recovering monkey’s point of view.  I.e., mine.   I explained how I came to see my own anxiety, depression and addictions as all rooted in my need for control.   

Wait, Steve wants to add something.

Not to be picky, but I’d rather say those symptoms come from a need for dyscontrol — the dysfunctional or unhealthy form of controlling.

Explain the difference between the healthy and unhealthy forms.

Sure.  One’s realistic, and the other isn’t. 

Healthy controlling aims at what can and should be controlled.   When I’m driving I can and should be controlling my car, for example.  If my kid gets sick I can and should control the kind of medical care he receives.   

But dyscontrol aims at targets that either cannot or should not be controlled. 

That’s because dyscontrol comes not from a realistic view of  some situation or problem, but from anxiety.  It’s compulsive behavior, whose real goal is to make uncomfortable feelings go away.   Which means it’s not always rational.  Which explains why we keep doing it even after we find it doesn’t work.

All this will be important to remember when we come to discuss the last two of the Big Five, both of which concern relationships.


Because relationships are confusing as hell.

The main reason we find relationship problems so hard to solve is that they grow out of unconscious feelings and motives.  Often we don’t know what we’re doing or why we’re doing it.  But we keep doing it over and over again.   (Ever notice how you and your partner keep repeating the very same argument?)

Becoming conscious of how we try to control our anxiety by controlling other people is probably the single biggest step we can take towards healing our relationships.   

Okay, enough for now. 

Coming next week: 

Control and relationships, in three parts.


Also coming soon:

Monkeytraps will soon have a sister site, devoted to recovery from codependency. 

It will contain articles, book reviews, links to resources, guest posts by experts, a forum, cartoons, podcasts, maybe even a video or two.

We’re calling it Power Monkeys.  

Stay tuned.


Finally, a bit of

Shameless self-promotion

A Monkeytraps post titled “Bert’s strawberry” was reviewed recently by blogging coach and online copywriter Judy Dunn on her blog Cats EyeWriter.

Judy wrote:

What the blog is about: Steve Hauptman is a therapist, Gestaltist and leader of Interactive Therapy groups.  His blog, Monkeytraps, is devoted to the oldest human addiction: control.  Its thesis is simple.  Unless we distinguish between what we can and cannot control, we try to control everything, and make ourselves sick and miserable.  Steve blogs with Bert, his “inner monkey.”

The post: Bert’s strawberry

What I liked about it:  Steve intrigued me with his blog post teaser: “Who eats fruit on the verge of death?”  I was hooked.  I had to read the story.  His blog is an interesting concept.  Bert is his control-addicted inner monkey.  Some interesting (and enlightening) conversations must go on at Monkeytraps.

In Bert’s strawberry, Bert is retelling one of Steve’s stories, with his own reactions interspersed, control freak that he is.  It’s a story about living in the moment, with a sort of mindfulness, and awareness of the present.  To get this post, you really must read it.

Clever and creative way to help us understand how our “monkey mind” messes with us.  I was especially impressed because the field of therapy can have its challenges when it comes to blogging.

Connect with Steve:  On Twitter, on Facebook, and on his blog.

Thanks, Judy.

4 responses to “The Big Five

  • Amine Mallat Lopez

    As a couple therapist I find that the “controlling” mechanisms in the 2 protagonists a compelling issue to study and to help each party understand in the therapy process.But what do you do when the pressure and the controlling forces seem to come from the extended family(ies)
    Thank you very much for your help

    • fritzfreud

      Hi, Armine. Yes, that’s common too. I try to do several things:
      (a) Raise the couple’s awareness of their own control patterns (e.g., by pointing them out during in-session interactions) , so that they can spot when they’re controlling or being controlled. Always the first step in control work, since you can’t change something of which you’re unaware.
      (b) Explore where they learned these patterns, usually the family of origin. If we’re lucky, this helps them become less defensive about their controlling, and also prepares them to reevaluate important family relationships. (See my post “Bert’s Plan A” at
      (c) Emphasize the idea of the inner child, or as I call it, the “kid inside.” I describe controlling as a defensive maneuver learned in childhood and triggered whenever the inner kid gets scared or stressed. That’s usually why pressure from extended family members is so problematic: they trigger the client’s dysfunctional Plan A.
      (d) Encourage the partners to develop their own Plan B and support each other in doing so. This can be the basis of a redefined and healthier way of communicating and relating.

      Couples work is tricky, and I don’t mean to oversimiplify the difficulty of any of this. But I find the main advantage of focusing on control issues is that it gives us a way to escape the good guy/bad guy view (and attendant partner-bashing) of relationship problems.

  • curtis

    What’s going on Bert? Long time no blogging lol. Any way thinking about relationship issues I have a question and comment. Is growing a part in marriage about one or the other partner trying to have control? Or in a marriage can one out grow the other person spiritually, emotionally, professionally, vision for the future.. Because I find that in relatioships “complacency creep” happens with out either partner knowing it. It’s like one day I woke up, looked around and wondered, how did I get here.? Like the frog in the pot on slow simmer. I guess I’ll name my “monkey mind ” Leroy the frog”. Frog mind? lol. After while you find that you don’t speak the same language in realtinships .

    Thanks for listening Steve! Happy Independence Day!


    • fritzfreud

      In my experience couples grow apart when they’re unable to grow together — i.e., to adjust over time in flexible and creative ways to changing feelings and circumstances. It’s the couple’s version of sticking with Plan A even after it stops working. (For an explanation of what Plan A is, see “Bert’s Plan A” at And yes, that inability to grow is usually rooted in some sort of control issue. So is finding that you no longer “speak the same language,” since communication failures almost always result from overcontrolling of some sort.

      I’ll be writing more about all this in a series of posts on control and relationships that will start soon.

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