Monthly Focus

May 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 Failure Schema.


Table of Contents



The Failure Lifetrap


The Failure Questionnaire

This questionnaire will measure the strength of your Failure lifetrap. Use the following scale to answer the items. Rate what you feel more than what you think intellectually.


  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 I am less competent than other people in areas of achievement.
  2. I feel that I am a failure when it comes to achievement.
  3. Most people my age are more successful in their work than I am.
  4. I was a failure as a student.
  5. I feel I am not as intelligent as most of the people I associate with.
  6. I feel humiliated by my failures in the work sphere.
  7. I feel embarrassed around other people because I do not measure up in terms of my accomplishements.
  8. I often feel that people believes I am more competent than I really am.
  9. I feel that I do not have any special talents that really count in life. 10. I am working below my potential.     

          Add your scores together for questions 1-10


Interpreting your Failure 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 Failure


You feel like a failure relative to other people you consider your peers. Most of the time, you are probably in touch with your lifetrap, and your sense of failure is close to the surface.

For most people with this lifetrap, their actual level of achievement is lower than their potential. Their outward status generally matches their inner sense of failure. Occasionally, we see people who have achieved a great deal but feel fraudulent.

In any case, no matter what your actual status or degree of accomplishment, the inner world is the same. Whether you appear to be a success or not, most of the time you experience yourself as a failure.

You reinforce the failure lifetrap primarily through Escape. Your avoidance is what holds you back. You avoid taking the steps necessary to widen your knowledge and advance your career. You let opportunities for success pass you by. You are afraid that if you try you will fail.

With the failure lifetrap, the degree to which you use Escape as a coping style is often massive. People avoid developing skills, tackling new tasks, taking on responsibility–all the challenges that might enable them to succeed. Often the attitude is, “What’s the use” You feel there is no point in making the effort when you are doomed to fail anyway.

Your avoidance may be subtle. You may appear to tackle your work but still do things to avoid. You procrastinate, you get distracted, you do the work improperly, or you mishandle the tasks you take on. These are all forms of self-sabotage.

Your tendency to run away from the possibility of failure undermines your ability to do a good job. You may suffer real penalties, such as getting demoted or fired.

Another way you surrender to your lifetrap is by constantly twisting events and circumstances to reinforce your view of yourself as a failure. You exaggerate the negative and minimize the positive.

You may also have feelings of depression. You feel depressed about your failures, and see little hope for change. The Failure lifetrap is usually an easy lifetrap to assess. You are probably well aware of your painful feelings of failure.

The origin of this lifetrap lies in feelings of failure in childhood. This can happen a number of different ways.



Origins of the Failure Lifetrap


  1. You had a parent (often your father) who was very critical of your performance in school, sports, etc. He/She often called you stupid, dumb, inept, a failure, etc. He/She may have been abusive. (Your lifetrap may be linked to defectiveness or Abuse)
  2. One or both parents were very successful, and you came to believe you could never live up to their high standards. So you stopped trying. (Your lifetrap may be linked to Unrelenting Standards.)
  3. You sensed that one or both of your parents either did not care about whether you were successful, or worse, felt threatened when you did well. Your parent may have been competitive with you–or afraid of losing your companionship if you were too successful in the world. (Your lifetrap may be linked to Emotional Deprivation or Dependence.)
  4. You were not as good as other children either in school or at sports, and felt inferior. You may have had a learning disability, poor attention span, or been very uncoordinated. After that, you stopped trying in order to avoid humiliated by them, (This may be linked to Social Exclusion.)
  5. You had brothers or sisters to whom you were often compared unfavorably. You came to believe you could never measure up, so you stopped trying.
  6. You came from a foreign country, your parents were immigrants, or your family was poorer or less educated than your schoolmates. You felt inferior to your peers and never felt you could measure up.
  7. Your parents did not set enough limits for you. You did not learn self-discipline or responsibility. Therefore you failed to do homework regularly or learn study skills. This led to failure eventually. (Your lifetrap may be linked to Entitlement.)


The Failure lifetrap feeds on itself in such a way that the entire arena of work becomes a disaster for you. Your expectation of failure becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy. Here are many of the ways you sabotage yourself and make sure that you remain a failure.



Failure Lifetraps

  1. You do not take the steps necessary to develop solid skills in your career (e.g. finish schooling, read latest developments, apprentice to an expert). You coast or try to fool people.
  2. You choose a career below your potential (e.g. you finished college and have excellent mathematical ability, but are currently driving a taxicab).
  3. You avoid taking the steps necessary to get promotions in your chosen career; your advancement has been unnecessarily halted (e.g., your fail to accept promotions or to ask for them; you do not promote yourself or make your abilities widely known to the people who count you stay in a safe, dead-end job).
  4. You do not want to tolerate working for other people, or working at entry-level jobs, so you end up on the periphery of your field, failing to work your way up the ladder. (Note the overlap with Entitlement and Subjugation.)
  5. You take jobs but repeatedly get fired because of lateness, procrastination, poor job performance, bad attitude, etc.
  6. You cannot commit to one career, so you float from job to job, never developing expertise in one area. You are a generalist in a job world that rewards specialists. You therefore never progress very far in any one career.
  7. You selected a career in which it is extraordinarily hard to succeed, and you do not know when to give up (e.g., acting, professional sports, music).
  8. You have been afraid to take initiative or make decisions independently at work, so you were never promoted to more responsible positions.
  9. You feel that you are basically stupid or untalented, and therefore feel fraudulent, even though objectively you have been quite successful.
  10. You minimize your abilities and accomplishments, and exaggerate your weaknesses and mistakes. You end up feeling like a failure, even though you have been as successful as your peers.
  11. You have chosen successful men/women as partners in relationships. You live vicariously through their success while not accomplishing much yourself.
  12. You try to compensate for your lack of achievement or work skills by focusing on other assets (e.g. your looks, charm, youthfulness, sacrificing for others). But underneath you still feel like a failure.


Many of these patterns boil down to the issue of Escape: you avoid taking the steps necessary to advance yourself. Through your avoidance, you constantly twist events to reinforce your view of yourself as stupid, untalented, and incompetent.

Excelling in other roles is a way of compensating for the lifetrap. Men might excel in sports or seducing women; women might excel in their looks or ability to give to others. But, particularly for men, it is hard to develop an effective compensation. What does society value more in a man than achievement? A man who feels like a failure in his career is likely to feel like a failure as a person. Of course, this difference between men and women is changing as careers become more central to women’s lives.

You may be drawn to other roles or to partners who are successful to compensate for your feelings of failure. This is really another avoidance strategy on your part. It is another way for you to escape facing the challenges of achievement.

These compensations are fragile. They easily collapse, and yield to the feeling of failure. You need to deal with the issue of achievement more directly.

These are the steps to changing your lifetrap.



Changing your Failure Lifetrap


  1. Assess whether your feeling of failure is accurate or distorted.
  2. Get in touch with the child inside of you who felt, and still feels, like a failure.
  3. Help your inner child see that you were treated unfairly.
  4. Become aware of your talents, skills, abilities, and accomplishments in the area of achievement.

If you have, in fact, failed relative to your peers:

  1. Try to see the pattern in your failures.
  2. Once you see your pattern, make a plan to change it.
  3. Make a flashcard to overcome your blueprint for failure. Follow your plan, step-by-step.
  4. Involve your loved ones in the process.