Simply put, “schemas” can be referred to as “life traps”. Life traps are self-defeating patterns of thoughts, emotions, and behaviors that keep us stuck. Do we all have life traps? Yes, and here is why: none of us get out of childhood unscathed. Try as they may have, none of our parents ever peaked at perfection. We have all experienced trauma in our lives, believe it or not. Whether that be “trauma” with a lowercase “t”, “Trauma” with a capital “T”, or all caps “TRAUMA”, we have all had our needs neglected at some point or another, or terrible things have happened to us in varying degrees. The bottom line is, life traps are unfortunately easy to develop.
Life traps are easy to develop because when we are young, we need these 6 core emotional needs to be met in just the goldilocks right amount in order to thrive and become well-adjusted adults: basic safety, connection to others, autonomy, self-esteem, self-expression, and realistic limits. To the degree that the child is denied or given in excess any of these core needs, that is the degree to which he or she will struggle with a particular life trap. There are a variety of factors that influence if we get too little or too much of these core emotional needs. These factors can include mental illness of a parent, lack of structure, environmental disasters such as hurricanes, financial stressors, lack of education on the parents’ part, political unrest, and so on and so forth.
Regardless of whatever it may be that the child is lacking, one hundred percent of these factors are out of the child’s control; however, children are perceptive creatures. It is highly unlikely that a child perceives a traumatic event correctly. This is because when we are young, we tend to view things in black and white or simplified terms. For example, if a child’s parents get divorced, without proper and very delicate communication from the family regarding this divorce (the core emotional need of connection to others), the child may incorrectly assume that he or she was the cause of the divorce. They may have thoughts such as “Daddy left because I was hard to deal with”. This child will then take on undue shame and guilt, and develop what is known as the Defectiveness life trap. That child may be fearful of entering romantic or platonic relationships for fear that they may “screw them up” or that there is something fundamentally wrong with them. As an adult, the child with the dependence life trap will avoid intimacy for fear that their flaws are terrible; they believe that nobody could ever love them once their flaws were found out.
Conversely, another child experiencing the same situation of their parents divorcing may have a different reaction. This other child may develop the life trap known as the Abandonment life trap. Sufferers of this life trap tend to be preoccupied with keeping loved ones close to them. They may cling out of fear of being abandoned. Tragically, their clinging often drives people away, and the life trap becomes somewhat of a self-fulfilling prophecy. The negative reactions of others are the consequence of their clinging behavior, and thus the person continues to believe that they will always be abandoned.
It is often not until this person enters therapy that this life trap is exposed. More importantly, therapy gives this person the chance to experience an emotionally corrective relationship with the therapist. That is, the therapist responds in ways that help heal the original attachment wounds of the person. For example, if a client frantically and excessively e-mails their therapist for extra sessions, the therapist does not judge the client for this. The therapist has unconditional positive regard and care for the client. The client with the abandonment life trap picks up on this and learns that their needs for connection are good, and that others want to meet their needs. The therapist can then train the client on how to appropriately ask for their (very valid !) needs to be met.
At this point, you are probably wondering, “So what ARE the various life traps?! Which ones do I have?!” The answers to these questions are probably best answered between client and therapist, as life traps and how they manifest in your life can be quite complex to explain in this short amount of space. The answers to these questions are also going to be highly personal depending on the individual, which is why it is important to discuss in the “safe space” of therapy. I will list the names of the life traps here, but for more information, the book “Reinventing Your Life” by Dr. Klosko and Dr. Young is an extremely helpful start. I will also be creating infographics on the @northsidementalhealth Instagram page to help explain each of the Lifetraps; check it out! To discuss issues such as life traps or any other concerns, check out our “Who We Are” page, and email one of our therapists! We can get the conversation about healing started. And now, without further ado, the 18 Life Traps in brief:
Young, Jeffrey E., et al. Reinventing Your Life: the Bestselling Breakthrough Program to End
Negative Behaviour and Feel Great. Scribe, 2019.
Young, Jeffrey E., et al. Schema Therapy: a Practitioners Guide. Guilford, 2007.
Contact Julia Knapp Moore at firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule an appointment.
Julia Moore is a licensed mental health therapist associate and holds her degree from Indiana Wesleyan University. Julia’s counseling theory is heavily influenced by humanistic, cognitive, and psychodynamic counseling theories.