MONKEY TRAP: A clever trap of any sort, that owes its success to the ineptitude or gullibility of the victim.

monkey traps

The story is told that residents of primitive communities discovered a way to capture or kill monkeys that were otherwise too elusive.   They would fashion a hole in a tree, or in some other object, just large enough for a monkey’s hand to fit through.   Then they would drop a piece of fruit into the hole and wait.  A monkey would come along and smell the fruit, reach its hand into the hole and grasp the fruit.

However, the hole was too small for the fist of the monkey (containing the fruit) to fit back out, so the monkey was trapped.   Because the monkey would not let go of the fruit, there was no way to escape, and the pursuers would capture or kill the desired monkey.

This story is deemed factual by some and apocryphal  by others.  It doesn’t matter.  It’s a great story to demonstrate the futility of power and control.   The monkey is in control of the fruit and is not about to give it up.   It is the cause of the monkey’s downfall.

Sounds familiar doesn’t it?   Someone latches on to a way of demonstrating power (in a group, a family,an organization) and, despite the fact that it will be dangerous (potentially fatal) for the person, they hang on to the power until they are “caught” or “dead” in the process.

A monkey trap can be as simple as someone having discovered that they know the buttons to push in a family in order to get their way.   They latch on to that button, and despite the fact that “winning” by controlling it will lead to their downfall, they possess it, play it, and believe that they have been successful.   It’s only a matter of time before they realize that the power that they have retained by possessing it is destructive and they have lost their respected place in the family.

An employee in a company, an officer in an organization, a member of Congress, or even a lowly member of a committee in a religious organization.  It doesn’t matter.  The monkey trap phenomenon occurs over and over again, as long as the person (the monkey) believes that the power or control is the most important thing.   They will starve if they don’t let go and search for food elsewhere.  They will be exiled from the community unless they give up their power struggle and choose to participate in the organization, family, Congress, or committee as a team member.

It doesn’t take long for the other other members of the group to catch on that the person/monkey is grasping at power.   They can fight against the monkey for power or they can just wait until the monkey has finally failed.  Either way, the grasp for power has been the villain.


Image Credit: Sherrie Johnson

For more on this concept, take a peek at a blog at  It is written by Steve Hauptman, a therapist.

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