Monthly Focus

April 2021

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 Social Exclusion Schema.

 

Table of Contents

 

 
 

The Social Exclusion Schema

 

The Social Exclusion Questionnaire

This questionnaire will measure the strength of your Social Exclusion lifetrap. Answer the items using 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

 

If you have any 5’s or 6’s on this questionnaire, this lifetrap may still apply to you, even if your score is in the low range.

 

 

  1. I feel very self-conscious in social situations.
  2. I feel dull and boring at parties and other gatherings. I never know     what to say.
  3. The People I want as friends are above me in some way (e.g., looks, popularity, wealth, status, education, career).
  4. I would rather avoid than attend most social functions.
  5. I feel unattractive–too fat, thin, tall, short, ugly, etc.
  6. I feel fundamentally different from other people.
  7. I do not belong anywhere. I am a loner.
  8. I always feel on the outside of groups.
  9. My family was different from the families around us.
  10. I feel disconnected from the community at large.

Add your Scores together for questions 1-10

 

Interpreting Your Social Exclusion Score

 

          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 Social Exclusion

 

The primary feeling is loneliness. You feel excluded from the rest of the world because you feel either undesirable or different. These are the two types of social exclusion. Of course, they often come mixed together, and you may well have both.

Debra (Patient) constantly compares herself to other people. This one is better looking, that one is smarter and more interesting. One large focus of her anxiety is her inability to carry on a conversation. She wants to respond appropriately–to speak freely, smile, laugh, and ask questions. But she is too inhibited to do so.

 

DEBRA: It’s so frustrating, because as soon as I know the person, I can carry on normal conversations. But when I meet a stranger, I can’t do it. I freeze up.

THERAPIST: It’s almost like stage fright.

 

This kind of performance anxiety is a fundamental part of your experience. Your fear being scrutinized, evaluated, judged negatively. You are obsessed with what other people think of you. Depending upon where your sensitivity lies–your looks, career, status, intelligence, or conversational ability–you fear being exposed as inadequate.

Debra’s anxiety makes her socially awkward. Although she has good social skills when she is comfortable, in most social situations she is too nervous to use them. She loses her poise. She becomes shy and withdrawn. It is not that she feels particularly different from other people. It is that she feels socially inept.

In contrast, Adam’s (Patient) problems are not related to social skills. In fact, he can have very good social skills. Adam feels fundamentally different from other people. His primary feeling is one of detachment. He comes across as aloof rather than anxious. He has an aura of being “untouchable”.

 

ADAM: It’s like I’m alone even when I’m in a crowd. In fact, I feel most alone when I’m in a crowd.

THERAPIST: Your loneliness becomes more glaring.

 

Adam experiences his life as though he were walking through a crowd of strangers. There is no place where he belongs.

For most people this feeling of being different is painful. Although some see themselves as better, or feel good about being different, most see it as a source of unhappiness. Most of us want to fit in, and we feel pain, hurt, and loneliness when we do not.

Unlike Debra, who feels rejected in social situations, Adam feels a kind of nothingness, a disconnection. For him, social situations trigger a feeling of isolation.

Adam is not angry at the world for rejecting him. Rather, he just feels like an outsider. He is different. He does not fit in.

Social exclusion has made faces. You may be the person everyone teases or bullies. Or you may be the one who is an outsider–the loner or social outcast. You stay on the sidelines, not quite a member of any club or group. Or you may be someone whose lifetrap is largely invisible. It is hard to spot. You go through the motions of social interchange, but inside you feel alone.

Whatever your type, you are probably prone to a whole range of psychosomatic symptoms. Loneliness is often linked to heart and stomach problems, sleep problems, headaches, and depression.

 

 
 

The Origins of Social Exclusion

 

These are some of the reasons you may have felt undesirable or different as a child:

  1. You feel inferior to other children, because of some observable quality (e.g., looks, height, stuttering). You were teased, rejected, or humiliated by other children.
  2. Your family was different from neighbors and people around you.
  3. You felt different from other children, even within your own family.
  4. You were passive as a child; you did what was expected, but you never developed strong interests or preferences of your own. Now you feel you have nothing to offer in a conversation.

 

Sources of Childhood and Adolescent Undesirability

        Physical

                Fat, thin, short, tall, weak, ugly, acne, physical handicap, small, breasts, big breasts, late puberty, poor at sports, uncoordinated, not sexy.

        Mental

                Slow at school, learning disabilities, bookworm, stuttering, emotional problems.

        Social

                Awkward, socially inappropriate, immature, unable to carry on conversations, weird, dull, uncool.

 

As a result of appearing different or undesirable, other children excluded you from their groups. They would not play with you. They teased and humiliated you. You withdrew into the background to avoid being teased. Whenever you went into a social situation, you felt self-conscious. You stopped trying to make friends in order to avoid rejection. You may have associated with other children who were different, but longed to be part of the in-group. You became increasingly lonely and isolated. You developed solitary interests, such as reading or computer games. You may have developed expertise in non-social arenas to compensate for your feelings of inferiority.

 

 
 

Lifetraps in Work and Love

 

These are ways you maintain your Social Exclusion lifetrap:

  1. You feel different or inferior to other people around you. You exaggerate differences and minimize similarities. You feel lonely, even when you are with people.
  2. At work you are on the periphery. You keep to yourself. You do not get promoted or included in projects because you do not fit in.
  3. You are nervous and self-conscious around groups of people. You cannot just relax and be yourself. You worry about doing or saying the wrong thing. You try to plan what to say next. You are very uncomfortable talking to strangers. You feel you have nothing unique to offer other people.
  4. Socially, you avoid joining groups or being part of the community. You only spend time with your immediate family or with one or two close friends.
  5. You feel embarrassed if people meet your family or know a lot about them. You keep secrets about your family from other people.
  6. You pretend to be like other people just to fit in. You do not let most people see the unconventional parts of yourself. You have a secret life or feelings that you believe would lead other people to humiliate you or reject you.
  7. You put a lot of emphasis on overcoming your own family’s deficiencies: to gain status, have material possessions, sound highly educated, obscure ethnic differences, etc.
  8. You have never accepted certain parts of your nature because you believe other people would think less of you for them (e.g., you are shy, intellectual, emotional, too feminine, weak, dependent).
  9. You are very self-conscious about your physical appearance. You feel less attractive than other people say you are. You may work inordinately hard to be physically attractive, and are especially sensitive to your physical flaws (e.g., weight, physique, figure, height, complexion, features).
  10. You avoid situations where you might seem dumb, slow, or awkward (e.g., going to college, public speaking).
  11. You compare yourself a lot to other people who have the hallmarks of popularity that you lack (e.g., looks, money, athletic ability, success, clothing).
  12. You put too much emphasis on compensating for what you feel are your social inadequacies: trying to prove your popularity or social skills, win people over, be part of the right social group, have success in your career, or raise children who are popular.

 

Escape is your primary means for coping with your lifetrap. It is the rock upon which your Social Exclusion is built. Your avoidance of social situations ensures that nothing can change for you. Your skills cannot improve. Your beliefs cannot be disconfirmed. You are more comfortable, but you are stuck. Changing requires a basic shift from a stance of Escape to one of confrontation and mastery. The people who overcome social exclusion are the ones who make this shift.

 

 
 

Changing Social Exclusion

 

  1. Understand your childhood social exclusion. Feel the isolated or inferior child inside of you.
  2. List everyday social situations in which you feel anxious or uncomfortable.
  3. List group situations that you avoid.
  4. List ways that you counterattack, or overcompensate, for feeling different or inferior.
  5. Drawing on steps 1-4, above, list the qualities in yourself that make you feel alienated, vulnerable, or inferior.
  6. If you are convinced that a flaw is real, write down steps you could take to overcome it. Follow through gradually with your plans of change.
  7. Reevaluate the importance of flaws that you cannot change.
  8. Make a flashcard for each flaw.
  9. Make a hierarchy of social and work groups you have been avoiding. Gradually move up the hierarchy.
  10. When you are in groups, make a concerted effort to initiate conversations.
  11. Be yourself in groups.
  12. Stop trying so hard to compensate for your perceived areas of undesirability.

 

The journey out of Social Exclusion is a journey from loneliness to connection. Try to see it in this positive light. If you are willing to apply these change strategies, you will find that there are many rewards.