In Reinventing Your Life: The Breakthrough Program to End Negative Behavior…and Feel Great Again, American Psychologist and founder of the Schema Therapy Institute Jeffrey E. Young describes eleven chronic, self-defeating personality patterns known as lifetraps. The authors draw upon actual clinical experiences to explain life schema. Based on various therapeutic approaches such as cognitive, behavioural, psychoanalytic, and experiential therapies. They share strategies for changing major life patterns called Lifetrap therapy. They describe eleven of the most destructive problems in life that they encountered in their practices. How to recognize them, their origin and how to change them.
What is a Lifetrap?
A lifetrap is a pattern that starts in childhood and reverberates throughout life. It began with something that was done to us by our families or by other children. We were abandoned, criticized, overprotected, abused, excluded, or deprived—we were damaged in some way. Eventually the lifetrap becomes part of us. Long after we leave the home we grew up in, we continue to create situations in which we are mistreated, ignored, put down, or controlled and in which we fail to reach our most desired goals.
Lifetraps determine how we think, feel, act, and relate to others. They trigger strong feelings such as anger, sadness, and anxiety. Even when we appear to have everything—social status, an ideal marriage, the respect of people close to us, career success—we are often unable to savor life or believe in our accomplishments.
Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy: repetition compulsion
One of the core insights of psychoanalytic psychotherapy is that we keep repeating the pain of our childhood. Freud refers to it as repetition compulsion. The child of an alcoholic grows up to marry an alcoholic. The abused child grows up to marry an abuser, or becomes an abuser himself. The sexually molested child grows up to be a prostitute. The overly controlled child allows others to control her.
Almost everyone repeats negative patterns from childhood in self-defeating ways. This is the strange truth with which therapists contend. Somehow we manage to create, in adult life, conditions remarkably similar to those that were so destructive in childhood. A lifetrap is all the ways in which we recreate these patterns.
The technical term for a lifetrap is a schema. The concept of a schema comes from cognitive psychology. Schemas are deeply entrenched beliefs about ourselves and the world, learned early in life. These schemas are central to our sense of self. To give up our belief in a schema would be to surrender the security of knowing who we are and what the world is like; therefore we cling to it, even when it hurts us. These early beliefs provide us with a sense of predictability and certainty; they are comfortable and familiar.
THE ELEVEN LIFE TRAPS
Two lifetraps relate to a lack of safety or security in your childhood family. These are Abandonment and Mistrust.
The Abandonment lifetrap is the feeling that the people you love will leave you, and you will end up emotionally isolated forever. Whether you feel people close to you will die, leave home forever, or abandon you because they prefer someone else, somehow you feel that you will be left alone. Because of this belief, you may cling to people close to you too much. Ironically, you end up pushing them away. You may get very upset or angry about even normal separations.
MISTRUST AND ABUSE
The Mistrust and Abuse lifetrap is the expectation that people will hurt or abuse you in some way—that they will cheat, lie to, manipulate, humiliate, physically harm, or otherwise take advantage of you. If you have this lifetrap, you hide behind a wall of mistrust to protect yourself. You never let people get too close.
You are suspicious of other people’s intentions, and tend to assume the worst. You expect that the people you love will betray you. Either you avoid relationships altogether, form superficial relationships in which you do not really open up to others, or you form relationships with people who treat you badly and then feel angry and vengeful toward them.”
Two lifetraps relate to your ability to function independently in the world. These lifetraps are Dependence and Vulnerability.
• DEPENDENCE •
If you are caught in the Dependence lifetrap, you feel unable to handle everyday life in a competent manner without considerable help from others. You depend on others to act as a crutch and need constant support. As a child you were made to feel incompetent when you tried to assert your independence. As an adult, you seek out strong figures upon whom to become dependent and allow them to rule your life. At work, you shrink from acting on your own. Needless to say, this holds you back.
With Vulnerability, you live in fear that disaster is about to strike—whether natural, criminal, medical, or financial. You do not feel safe in the world. If you have this lifetrap, as a child you were made to feel that the world is a dangerous place. You were probably overprotected by your parents, who worried too much about your safety. Your fears are excessive and unrealistic, yet you let them control your life, and pour your energy into making sure that you are safe.
Your fears may revolve around illness: having an anxiety attack, getting AIDS, or going crazy. They may be focused around financial vulnerability: going broke and ending up on the streets. Your vulnerability may revolve around other phobic situations, such as a fear of flying, being mugged, or earthquakes.
Two lifetraps relate to the strength of your emotional connections to others: Emotional Deprivation and Social Exclusion.
Emotional Deprivation is the belief that your need for love will never be met adequately by other people. You feel that no one truly cares for you or understands how you feel. You find yourself attracted to cold and ungiving people, or you are cold and ungiving yourself, leading you to form relationships that inevitably prove unsatisfying. You feel cheated, and you alternate between being angry about it and feeling hurt and alone. Ironically, your anger just drives people further away, ensuring your continued deprivation.
Social Exclusion involves your connection to friends and groups. It has to do with feeling isolated from the rest of the world, with feeling different. If you have this lifetrap, as a child you felt excluded by peers. You did not belong to a group of friends. Perhaps you had some unusual characteristic that made you feel different in some way. As an adult, you maintain your lifetrap mainly through avoidance. You avoid socializing in groups and making friends.
As an adult you may feel that you are ugly, sexually undesirable, low in status, poor in conversational skills, boring, or otherwise deficient. You reenact your childhood rejection—you feel and act inferior in social situations.
Self-Esteem Life Traps
The two lifetraps that relate to your self-esteem are Defectiveness and Failure.
With Defectiveness, you feel inwardly flawed and defective. You believe that you would be fundamentally unlovable to anyone who got close enough to really know you.
Your defectiveness would be exposed. As a child, you did not feel respected for who you were in your family. Instead, you were criticized for your „flaws.“ You blamed yourself—you felt unworthy of love. As an adult, you are afraid of love. You find it difficult to believe that people close to you value you, so you expect rejection.
Failure is the belief that you are inadequate in areas of achievement, such as school, work, and sports. You believe you have failed relative to your peers. As a child, you were made to feel inferior in terms of achievement. You may have had a learning disability, or you may never have learned enough discipline to master important skills, such as reading. Other children were always better than you. You were called „stupid,“ „untalented,“ or „lazy.“ As an adult, you maintain your lifetrap by exaggerating the degree of your failure and by acting in ways that ensure your continued failure.
Self-Expression Life Traps
Two lifetraps deal with Self-Expression—your ability to express what you want and get your true needs met: Subjugation and Unrelenting Standards.
With Subjugation, you sacrifice your own needs and desires for the sake of pleasing others or meeting their needs. You allow others to control you. You do this either out of guilt—that you hurt other people by putting yourself first—or fear that you will be punished or abandoned if you disobey.
As a child, someone close to you, probably a parent, subjugated you. As an adult, you repeatedly enter relationships with dominant, controlling people and subjugate yourself to them or you enter relationships with needy people who are too damaged to give back to you in return.
If you are in the Unrelenting Standards lifetrap, you strive relentlessly to meet extremely high expectations of yourself. You place excessive emphasis on status, money, achievement, beauty, order, or recognition at the expense of happiness, pleasure, health, a sense of accomplishment, and satisfying relationships. You probably apply your rigid standards to other people as well and are very judgmental. When you were a child, you were expected to be the best, and you were taught that anything else was failure. You learned that nothing you did was quite good enough.
The final lifetrap, Entitlement, is associated with the ability to accept realistic limits in life. People who have this lifetrap feel special. They insist that they be able to do, say, or have whatever they want immediately. They disregard what others consider reasonable, what is actually feasible, the time or patience usually required, and the cost to others. They have difficulty with self-discipline.
Many of the people with this lifetrap were spoiled as children. They were not required to show self-control or to accept the restrictions placed on other children. As adults, they still get very angry when they do not get what they want.
All the best in your quest ti get better. Don’t Settle: Live with Passion.