In Asia they trap monkeys by placing bait in a heavy jar with a narrow neck. The monkey smells the bait, reaches in to grab it, and traps himself by refusing to let go.
A psychological monkeytrap is any situation that triggers you into compulsive controlling — into holding on when you really should let go.
And how can you tell when you’re at risk of entrapment?
Notice where you’re uncomfortable.
We’re controlling whenever we need or want to change some piece of reality instead of accepting it or adapting to it as is. And we’re most likely to want to change realities that make us uncomfortable. So it makes sense that our discomfort zones are where we’re most likely to get monkeytrapped.
Bert: Me, I hate rejection. So I’m most controlling with people I think might reject me. I hide feelings I think will upset them, pretend to agree when I really don’t, laugh at stupid jokes, avoid confronting behavior I dislike, try to read their minds, and so on and so on. Keeps me busy.
Notice where you’re stuck.
Stuck as in not learning, healing or growing — struggling with the same damn problem over and over. You know you’re monkeytrapped whenever you find yourself doing what you already know doesn’t work.
Bert:All that controlling I just described traps me because it (a) stops me from being myself, which (b) prevents me from ever getting accepted as myself, which (c) keeps me chronically scared of rejection, which brings me right back to (a). Like riding an endless merry-go-round.
Notice where you’re scared.
Like all addictions, compulsive controlling is anxiety-driven. We stay monkeytrapped because we’re scared to do anything else. Often even the thought of giving up control in such situations is enough to scare us silly.
Bert: Took me a long time to see that controlling doesn’t work. Or it does, but only for five minutes. Then another scary thing comes along and I have to control that. And life being what it is, there’s no end to scary things. So as an anxiety-reduction tactic controlling is a total flop.
The most frightened people are the most controlling people, and the most controlling people stay the most frightened.