The "Monkey Trap"....


Psycho Gorilla Dad
Had an interesting discussion with difficult child's therapist yesterday. We both think that difficult child is at a nexus, and that he feels some internal pressure to make positive changes - but is resistant.

Situation was described as a "monkey trap". In the jungle, one way monkeys are caught is to hollow out a small log or coconut and tie it off to a tree. Then a hole is drilled into the trap just big enough for a monkey to squeeze his hand into the hole. Bait (fruit, nuts, etc...) are then put in the trap.

The idea is that the hole is big enough for the monkey to get his hand into the trap; but once he grabs hold of the bait and his hand becomes a fist, it won't fit back out of the hole. To get his hand out, the monkey would have to let go of the bait.

But the monkey never lets go of the bait, stays stuck in the trap, and becomes dinner later that day.

Therapist used the term to describe difficult child's situation because in order for his life to get better, he has to let go of some things that are keeping him down (friends, drugs, defiance, etc). He knows his life would be better without these things, but is too afraid to let go of what he has, even though he knows it's ultimately bad for him.

i.e. his hand is in the trap, and unless he lets go of the bait, he'll be stuck forever (or become someone's dinner :frown: )

He knows what he should (has to?) do; we think he even may want to do the right things, but is too afraid to let go because this is all he knows now, and has let go of everything else. He's scared of the unknown future without his current "friends" and "lifestyle".

Monkey Trap. We're trying to get his hand off the bait and out of the hole.

I'd not heard this description used before, but I found it both interesting and very descriptive of our overall goal. Thought others might find it interesting, too.



Hi Mikey,
yes, this is a good description! I think that is the trap my dtr was in a couple of yrs ago--see my post on your previous thread. It is so difficult, isn't it? You do have many positives though--son is going to school, even doing well. I sure hope this mono turns out to be a blessing in disguise thing
with his friends losing interest in him.

Take care,


Warrior Parent
I saw your Post Topic and what I thought of before I read your message was:

Monkey See Monkey Do

and from the description of your son & so many of our difficult child's, that fits, too.

I agree with Janet, the pain of changing is worse than the pain of staying the same. There's a big part of that in addiction/recovery issues. We need to come to a place where the pain of staying the same is greater than the pain of changing.

Why Pain has to be the number one motivator is a mystery to me! Why can't we be motivated by Joy, or Hope, or even Fear? But no, at least for this addict, Pain is the number one motivator.



Active Member
Ultimately, doesn't it come down to choice? If all the guidance in the world is given and the person still continues to make the same's only until the pain/trap becomes unbearable that a different path is taken. ie "crisis creates change"

I understand where you are coming from and what you are trying to do. And...I do applaud your efforts. I only wish your outcome was/is better than mine. The resistance that our difficult child's give us parents comes in different degrees and lasts for different lengths.

It's hopeful to read that you may have found a way that works for your difficult child.


Psycho Gorilla Dad
<div class="ubbcode-block"><div class="ubbcode-header">Quote:</div><div class="ubbcode-body">Why Pain has to be the number one motivator is a mystery to me! Why can't we be motivated by Joy, or Hope, or even Fear? But no, at least for this addict, Pain is the number one motivator.</div></div>

In teens, it's probably because they don't yet know what true joy or happiness is, so they can't value them enough to pursue. Pain is something they know, though, learned from a young age as something to avoid. Fear can also be learned pretty quick (usually through pain or threat of pain), but unless it's reinforced the fear diminishes.

Hope, joy, happiness? These are also things that have to be experienced in depth and reinforced to be understood - and valued.

And while I believe most parents work hard to provide a home life of joy and happiness for their kids, I also think most kids take it for granted, and don't understand what they have until it's gone. So, they may "experience" happiness and joy, but they don't understand or value it, so it isn't a motivator for them. It's just something they expect to be there, part of the background like a chair or dinner on the table.

Funny story on this: my older son is in AP English, and at Fall orientation last year his teacher spent 5 minutes discussing the class, and the remaining time exhorting us parents to "get our kids out of the house as soon as they graduate for at least a year". Her feeling is that the only way our kids will value what they have at home is to do without it, as soon as is legally possible.

Interesting idea, if not completely feasible for all students. And the sad thing is that for some (most?) of our difficult child's with other psychiatric/behavioral issues, they may never be able to fully value positive motivators, and will only respond to negative motiviators or those things that bring immediate gratification.

But back to the topic: I also think the long learning time needed to actually value joy, happiness, and peace may be why so many people have a "mid-life crisis". Early in life, people are motivated by more immediate feelings - pain, fun, excitement, etc.. Eventually, though, they get to a point in their lives where they understand joy and happiness and peace - or at least feel that these things are missing in their lives. At that point, they're willing to make a life change to pursue those goals.

Just my two pennies worth.



Psycho Gorilla Dad
<div class="ubbcode-block"><div class="ubbcode-header">Originally Posted By: SunnyFlorida</div><div class="ubbcode-body">Ultimately, doesn't it come down to choice? If all the guidance in the world is given and the person still continues to make the same's only until the pain/trap becomes unbearable that a different path is taken. ie "crisis creates change"</div></div>

Spot on, but this also embodies my thought when I tell my son "sometimes, you don't get a do-over for something you do".

I think choice involves thought - a balance of risk for reward, with a dash of ethics occasionally thrown in. For the monkey, the reward is food, and the risk is letting go of it and another monkey gets it. The real risk, though, is holding on to the food until someone comes along with a club and makes him dinner.

But the monkey's never been bashed in the head, so he doesn't weigh that particular risk. And there's no do-over to being the main entree, so he never gets the chance to learn from his mistake and make a better choice the next time.

Same with our kids. I think they do sometimes weigh risks and rewards to make choices. It's just that they don't truly understand all the risks (jail, death, financial ruin, destruction of relationships, etc..), and they over-value the rewards (is street-racing, getting high, or stealing something an actual reward?). So even when they try and think through a choice before they make it, they're using a skewed perspective, resulting in poor choices.

Sometimes, you can use guidance to help change those perspectives, which leads to better choices. Sometimes, only crisis will cause change. Hopefully, the crisis is not so drastic that the kid doesn't get another chance to use the bad experience/outcome to make a better choice later; i.e., getting a "do-over".

I guess you have to go with your heart, use your head, and do what works (read that somewhere else here, but it fits).