Monthly Focus

October 2020

The following is taken from Reinventing Your Life: The Breakthrough Program To End Negative Behaviour And Feel Great Again” by Jeffrey E. Young, Ph.D, founder of Schema Therapy.


What are Lifetraps?

A lifetrap (Schema) 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 othe children. We are 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 feel 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. 


This month’s focus is the Subjugation Schema.


Table of Contents



The Subjugation Schema


This questionnaire will measure how strongly you have the subjugation lifetrap. Use the following scale.

1 = Completely untrue of me

2 = Mostly untrue of me

3 = Slightly more true than untrue of me

4 = Moderately true of me

5 = Mostly true of me

6 = Describes me perfectly



  1.  I let other people control me.
  2.  I am afraid that if I do not give in to other people’s wishes they will retaliate, get angry, or reject me.
  3.  I feel the major decisions in my life were not really my own.
  4.  I have a lot of trouble demanding that other people respect my rights.
  5.  I worry a lot about pleasing people and getting their approval.
  6.  I go to great lengths to avoid confrontations.
  7.  I give more to other people than I get back in return.
  8.  I feel the pain of other people deeply, so I usually end up taking care of the people I’m close to.
  9.  I feel guilty when i put myself first.
  10.  I am a good person because I think of others more than of myself. 


Add your scores together for questions 1-10, and interpret your answers with the following:

10-19 Very Low. This lifetrap probably does not apply to you.

20-29 Fairly low. This lifetrap may only apply occasionally.

30-39 Moderate. This lifetrap is an issue in your life.

40-49 High. This is definitely an important lifetrap for you.

50-60 Very high. This is definitely one of your core lifetraps.



The Experience of Subjugation


To a large degree, you experience the world in terms of control issues. Other people in your life always seem to be in control―you feel controlled by the people around you. At the core of your subjugation is the conviction that you must please others, that you must please your parents, brothers, sisters, friends, teachers, lovers, spouses, bosses, coworkers, children, and even strangers. In all likelihood, the only expection to this rule of pleasing people―the only person you do not feel obligated to please―is yourself. It is what the other person wants that comes first. 

     One common theme in the lives of Carlton and Mary Ellen is the feeling of being trapped in their lives. The feeling of subjugation is oppresive. It is a burden to live life under the weight of that feeling. Constantly meeting the needs of other people is so much responsibility. It is exhausting. Life loses much of its joy and freedom. Subjugation deprives you of your freedom because the choices you make are dictated by their effects on other people. Your focus is not on yourself. Is it not, “What I want and feel,” but rather, “What you want and what I can do to make you happy with me.”

     Subjugation robs you of a clear sense of what you want and need―of who you are. Carlton, who was hounded by his father since childhood to go into the family business and who obeyed, knows inside that he does not want to be a businessman, but has no idea of what he does want to be. He has never taken the appropriate steps to find out. You are passive. Life happens to you.  


CARLTON: I just feel like I can’t get what I want in life. I don’t know how to get it.

THERAPIST: You feel like all you can get is what other peple deign to give you. You don’t go after what you want.


You feel that you cannot shape the course of events in your life. You feel trapped by circumstances of swept along by fate. Rather than an actor, you are a reactor. You feel there is little you can do to solve your problems. You merely wait and hope that suddenly, miraculously, everything will be better.

     You probably think of yourself as the kind of person with whom it is easy to get along. Since you are so agreeable and eager to please, and tend to avert conflict, naturally you get along with others. You see yourself as someone who is willing to accomodate. You even consider this one of your assets: that your are flexible and able to adjust to many types of people. But you have difficulty setting limits on the demands other people make of you. When people ask you to do things that are unreasonable, such as more than your share of the work, you say “yes”. And you find it extremely difficult to ask other people to change their behavior, no matter how much their behavior disturbs you.

     Similarly, you might feel proud that you are able to serve others―that you are able to help other people and be attentive to other people’s needs. And you are right. The ability to be there for other people is a strength of self-sacrificing people. You probably have developed exemplary skills in helping others, and may be in one of the helping professions. However, one of your weaknesses is that what you want often gets lost. Too often you are unassertive and silent about your needs.


     Your subjugation lowers your self-esteem. You do not feel entitled to the legitimate rights of all people in relationships. Everyone has rights except you.

Two Types of Subjugation


  1.  Self-Sacrifice (subjugation out of guilt)
  2.  Submissiveness (subjugation out of fear)


Carlton subjugates himself out of guilt. He wants to gain approval. He wants everyone to like him. Gaining approval is his primary motivation. In addition, Carlton feels the pain of others very deeply. When he feels that another person is suffering, he is moved to take care of that person. He tries to meet other people’s needs. Whenever he believes he has failed, he feels guilty. He finds the experience of guilt very uncomfortable, and his self-sacrifice helps him avoid this guilt.

     Mary Ellen, on the other hand subjugates herself out of fear. She submits because she is afraid of being punished. This fear is certainly realistic: Dennis is cruel and domineering. However, one wonders what it is about Mary Ellen that caused her to flee from one subjugated relationship with her father into another one with her husband. In her marriage, Mary Ellen reenacts her chilhood subjugation. 


Self-sacrificers feel responsible for the well-being of others. As a child you may have experienced too much responsibility for the physical or emotional welfare of a parent, sister, brother, or of some other close person. For example, you may have had a parent who was chronically ill or depressed. As an adult, you believe it is your responsibility to take care of others. In doing so, you neglect yourself. 

     Your self-sacrifice is a virtue that has become excessive. Taking care of others has many admirable qualities: 


CARLTON: I may be self-sacrificing, but I do a lot of good. All my friends come to me to discusss their problems. When my mother is sick, it’s me she calls. I’m the one who takes her to the doctor, who gets her what she needs. Plus, I volunteer at a men’s homeless shelter. I belong to Greenpeace and Amnesty International. People like me make the world a better place


You are empathetic; perhaps this is part of your innate temperament. You feel the pain of others and want to ease their pain. You try to fix things, to make everything better. 

     It is important to note that your subjugation is mostly voluntary. Whoever subjugated you as a child did not force you to do what he or she wanted. Rather, because they were in pain or expecially weak, you felt that their needs took precedence over yours.

     Although self-sacrificers are somewhat less angry than other subjugated types, you are bound to have some anger. The give-get ratio is out of balance in your life―you are giving much more than you are getting. Although the people you give to may not be to blame for taking more than they give back, you are almost certain to have some anger, even though you may not acknowledge any resentment. 

    Your lifetrap gets its strength primarily from the emotion of guilt. You feel guilty whenever you put yourself first. You feel guilty whenever you become angry about having to subjugate yourself. You feel guilty whenever you assert yourself. You feel guilty whenever you fail to alleviate pain. Guilt drives your subjnugation lifetrap.

     Whenever you step out of your subjugated role, you feel guilty. Each time you feel guilty, you revert back to self-sacrifice. Largely to relieve guilt, you subjugate yourself with renewed vigor and bury your anger one more time. You are going to have to learn to tolate this guilt in order to change. 

     Carlton displays this pattern of anger and guilt in his relationship with his wife. He constantly tries to please her, yet, the more he tries, the more she seems to demand. Of course, her demands make him angry. But, whenever Carlton feels angry, he immediately feels guilty and tries to please his wife twice as hard. In this way he alternates between anger at his wife and guilt about his anger. 


Submission is the second form of the Subjugation lifetrap. You submit to the subjugation process involuntarily. Whether you actually have a choice or not, you feel as though you have no choice.  As a child, you subjugated yourself in order to avoid punishment or abandonment, probably by a parent. Your parent threatened to hurt you or to withdraw love or attention. There was coercion in the subjugation process. You are almost always angry, even if you do not recognize your anger. 

     Mary Ellen is the submissive type of subjugator. Throughout her childhood and adolescence, Mary Ellen’s father was strict. 


MARY ELLEN: When I left the house, he had to know where I was going. When I got back, he had to know where I’d been. He didn’t let me date until I was seventeen, much later than everyone else. I was not allowed to wear makeup or tight clothes. I wasn’t allowed out on weeknights, and had to be home early on weekends. It was a drag.

THERAPIST: What happened when you disobeyed?

MARY ELLEN: He grounded me, or yelled. Sometimes he hit me. I hated him.


She felt that her house was a prison. Outwardly, she obeyed her father because she was afraid. Inwardly, she was filled with rage. 

     If you have this type of subjugfation, you have a false belief: you attribute more power to the people who currently subjugate you than they actually have. Whoever subjugates you now―a husband, or parents―in truth has little power over you. You have the power to end your subjugation. There may be exceptions, such as your boss, but even there you have more control than you think. You may have to be willing to leave the person, but, one way or another, your subjugation can end.  You do not have to stay with someone who is dominating or abusing you.

     At one time, your subjugation really was involuntary: as a child. In relation to the adults who subjugated you, you were dependent and helpless. A child cannot withstand the threat of punishment or abandonment. Your subjugation was adaptive. But as an adult, you are no longer dependent and helpless. As an adult, you have a choice. This is something you must realize before you can begin to change.



The Role of Anger


Although you probably have an easygoing manner, many strong feelings press upon you. Anger in particular builds up from having to surrender your own needs to the needs of others, time after time. When your needs constantly are frustrated, anger is inevitable. You might feel that you are being used or controlled, or that people are taking advantage of you, or you might feel that your needs do not count. 

     Although you may be chronically angry, you are probably only dimly aware of your anger. You probably would not use the word angry to describe yourself.



“I’ll Never Give In” : The Rebel


Subjugated people are generally most comfortable in a passive role. However, some people with subjugation lifetraps learned to cope through Counterattack. Instead of submitting, they take on the opposite role. They become aggressive and domineering. By rebelling, they overcompensate for their feelings of subjugation.



Subjugation Lifetraps


  1.  You let other people have their own way most of the time.
  2.  You are too eager to please―you will do almost anything to be liked or accepted.
  3.  You do not like to disagree openly with other people’s opinions.
  4.  You are most comfortable when other people are in positions of control.
  5.  You will do almost anything to avoid confrontation or anger. You always accomodate.
  6.  You do not know what you want or prefer in many situations.
  7.  You are not clear about your career decisions.
  8.  You always end up taking care of everyone else―almost no one listens to or takes care of you.
  9.  You are rebellious―you automatically say “no” when other people tell you what to do.
  10.  You cannot stand to say or do anything that hurts other people’s feelings.
  11.  You often stay in situations where you feel trapped or where your needs are not met.
  12.  You do not want other people to see you as selfish so you go to the other extreme.
  13.  You often sacrifice yourself for the sake of other people.
  14.  You often take on more than your share of responsibilities at home and/or at work.
  15.  When other people are troubled or in pain, you try very hard to make them feel better, even at your own expense.
  16.  You often feel angry at other people for telling you what to do.
  17.  You often feel cheated―that you are giving more than you are getting back.
  18.  You feel guilty when you ask for what you want. 
  19.  You do not stand up for your rights.
  20.  You resist doing what other people want you to do in an indirect way. You procrastinate, make mistakes, and make excuses.
  21.  You cannot get along with authority figures.
  22.  You cannot ask for promotions or raises at work.
  23.  You feel that you lack integrity―you accomodate too much.
  24.  People tell you that you are not aggressive or ambitious enough. 
  25.  You play down your accomplishments.
  26.  You have trouble being strong in negatiations. 


These are pitfalls for you to avoid in love and work. Even if you find a partner who wants a relationship based on equality, you may still find ways to reinforce your lifetrap. And even if you have a job that offers you the opportunity to become a major participant, you can twist it until it conforms to your subjugated role. 

     Whatever relationship you form, you are bound to have anger simmering below the surface. The build-up of anger is something that threatens the stability of subjugated relationships. Early in relationships, you suppress anger and avoid conflict. This helps keep the relationship intact, but it is hard to keep up. After a period of years, your anger may build up to such a point that you rebel, completely upsetting the balance of the relationship, or you may withdraw or retaliate. Often there are sexual difficulties. In addition, as the years pass, you may grow and develop a stronger sense of identity. If you become more assertive and no longer willing to stay in a subjugated relationship, your relationship must either change to adapt to your greater maturity or it must end. 



Subjugated people often work in one of the helping professions, particularly if they are self-sacrificing. You may be a doctor, nurse, homemaker, teacher, minister, therapist, or other kind of healer. It is natural that you would gravitate toward a career of service to others; the Subjugation lifetrap takes a lot away from you, but one of it’s gifts is acute sensitivity to the needs and pain of others. In all likelihood, you are in a profession that exploits your ability to be there for others. 

     Although you probably shun the limelight, it is possible that you are the right hand of a more powerful person to whom you are devoted and who finds you very useful. In many ways, you are just the type of person a boss wants to hire. You are obedient, loyal, and demand little. It is probably a rare event for you to ask for a raise. You try hard to please everyone, expecially your superiors, and you have trouble setting limits on the amount of sacrifice you will make.



Changing your Subjugation Lifetrap


  1.  Understand your childhood subjugation. Feel the subjugated child inside of you.
  2.  List everyday situations at home and at work in which you subjugate or sacrifice your own needs to others.
  3.  Start forming your own preferences and opinions in many aspects of your life: movies, foods, leisure time, politics, current controversial issues, time usage, etc.   Learn about yourself and your needs.
  4.  Make a list of what you do or give to others, and what they do or give to you. How much time do you listen to others? How much time do they listen to you?
  5.  Stop behaving passive-aggressively. Push yourself systematically to assert yourself―express what you need or want. Start with easy requests first. 
  6.  Practice asking other people to take care of you. Ask for help. Discuss your problems. Try to achive a balance between what you give and get.
  7.  Pull back from relationships with people who are too self-centered or selfish to take your needs into account. Avoid one-sided relationships. Change or get out of   relationships where you feel trapped. 
  8.  Practice confronting people instead of accomodating so much. Express your anger appropriately, as soon as you feel it. Learn to feel more comfortable when   someone is upset, hurt, or angry at you.
  9.  Do not rationalize your tendency to please others so much. Stop telling yourself that it doesn’t really matter.
  10.  Review past relationships and clarify your pattern of choosing controlling or needy partners. List the danger signals for you to avoid. If possible avoid selfish,   irresponsible, or dependent partners who generate very high   chemistry for you.
  11.  When you find a partner who cares about your needs, asks your opinions and values them, and who is strong enough to do 50 percent of the work, give the   relationship a chance. 
  12.  Be more aggressive at work. Take credit for what you do. Do not let other people take advantage of you. Ask for any promotions or raises you might be entitled to   get. Delegate responsibilities to other people. 
  13.  (To the Rebel) Try to resist doing the opposite of what others tell you to do. Try to figure out what you want, and do it even if its consistent with what authority   figures tell you. 
  14.  Make flashcards. Use them to keep you on track. 



“You probably accept a subordinate role in your relationships with family members, lovers, and friends. Undoubtedly this gives rise to anger (although you may not be aware of it). You like the security of these relationships, but you feel angry toward the people who provide it.” 
Jeffrey E. Young, Reinventing Your Life: The Breakthrough Program to End Negative Behavior…and Feel Great Agin


“Remember that your Subjugation lifetrap has the strength of a lifetime of memories and of a multitude of repetitions and confirmations that it is right. Subjugation feels right to you. Your lifetrap is central to your entire self-image and view of the world. Naturally, it is going to fight very hard for survival. You find comfort and reassurance in holding onto your lifetrap, regardless of its negative consequences for your life. You should not become discouraged because change is slow.” 
 Jeffrey E. Young, Reinventing Your Life: The Breakthrough Program to End Negative Behavior…and Feel Great Agin



You can read about last month’s focus, the Defectiveness schema, here.