Monthly Focus

December 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 Abandonment Schema.


Table of Contents




The Abandonment Schema


This questionnaire will measure the strength of your Abandonment lifetrap. Answer the items using the scale below. Rate each item based on the way you have felt or behaved in general during your adult life. If there has been a lot of variation during different periods of your adult years, focus more on the most recent year or two in rating an item.


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


   1. I worry a lot that people I love will die or leave me

   2. I cling to people because I am afraid that they will leave me

   3. I do not have a stable base of support

   4. I keep falling in love with people who cannot be there for me in a committed way.

   5. People have always come and gone in my life

   6. I get desperate when someone I love pulls away

   7. I get so obsessed with the idea that my lovers will leave me that I drive them away.

   8. The people closest to me are unpredictable. One minute they are there for me and the next minute they are gone.

   9. I need other people too much.

 10. In the end, I will be alone.


Add your scores together for questions 1-10


Interpreting Your Abandonment 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 Feeling of Abandonment


You have a fundamental belief that you will lose the people you love and be left emotionally isolated forever. Whether people will die, send you away, or leave you, somehow you feel that you will be left alone. You expect to be abandoned, and you expect it to last forever. You believe you will never regain the person you have lost. In your heart, you feel it is your destiny to live your life completely alone.


PATRICK: There are times, when I’m driving or something, when it comes to me. I know Francine’s eventually going to leave me. She’ll fall in love with one of these guys, and that’ll be it. And all I’ll have left is missing her.


The lifetrap gives you a sense of despair about love. You believe that no matter how good things seem, in the end your relationships are doomed.

It is difficult for you to believe that people will be there for you–and that they are still there for you in some way even when they are absent. Most people are not upset by short separations from their loved ones. They know the relationship will survive the separation intact. But with the Abandonment lifetrap there is no such security. As Abby says, “Whenever I see Kurt walking out the door, I feel like he is never coming back.” You want to cling to people too much, and you become inappropriately angry or frightened at the possibility of any separation, no matter how slight. Particularly in romantic relationships, you feel emotionally dependent on the other person, and you fear the loss of that intimate connection.

Abandonment is usually a preverbal lifetrap: it begins in the first years of life, before the child knows language. In most cases, the abandonment starts early, before the child has words to describe what is happening. For this reason, even in adulthood there may be no thoughts connected to the experience of the lifetrap. However, if you try to talk about the experience, the words are something like, “I’m all alone,” “No one is there for me.” Because the lifetrap begins so early, it has tremendous emotional force. A person with a severe Abandonment lifetrap responds to even brief separations with the feelings of a small child who has been abandoned.

The Abandonment lifetrap is triggered primarily by intimate relationships. It may not be apparent in groups or in casual relationships. Separations from a loved one are the most powerful triggers. However, separations do not have to be real to trigger the lifetrap, nor do they have to occur on a physical level. If you have the lifetrap, you are overly sensitive and often read the intent to abandon you into innocent remarks. The most powerful triggers are real loss or separation––divorce, someone moving or going away, death––but often triggers are much more subtle events.

You often feel emotionally abandoned. Perhaps your spouse or lover acts bored, distant, momentarily distracted, or more attentive to another person. Or perhaps your spouse or lover suggests a plan that involves spending a brief time apart. Anything that feels disconnected can trigger the lifetrap, even if it has nothing to do with real loss or abandonment.



The Cycle of Abandonment


Once the lifetrap is triggered, provided the separation lasts long enough, the experience progresses through a cycle of negative emotions: fear, grief, and anger. This is the cycle of abandonment. If you have the lifetrap, you will recognize it.

First, you have a panicky feeling, as though you are a small child left alone, perhaps in a supermarket, and you cannot find your mother temporarily. You have a frantic, “Where is she, I’m all alone, I’m lost,” kind of feeling. Your anxiety can build to the level of panic, and can last for hours, even days. But if the anxiety goes on long enough, it passes. Eventually it subsides, and yields to acceptance that the person is gone. Then you experience grief about your loneliness, as though you never will recover the lost person. This grief can evolve into depression. And finally, particularly when the person returns, you experience anger at the person for leaving you and at yourself for needing so much.



The Two Types of Abandonment


   1. Abandonment based upon dependence

   2. Abandonment based upon instability or loss

There are two types of abandonment, and they come from two types of early childhood environments. The first type comes from an environment that is too secure and overprotected. This type represents a combination of the Abandonment and Dependence lifetraps. The second type comes from an environment that is emotionally unstable. No one is consistently there for the child.



The Origins of the Abandonment Lifetrap


When we talk about the origins of lifetraps, we focus primarily on features of the child’s environment. We know quite a bit about the dysfunctional family environments––such as abuse, neglect, and alcoholism––that seem to promote individual lifetraps. We downplay the contribution of heredity, in part because researchers know so little about the role of biology in determining our long-term personality patterns. We assume that heredity must make its mark in terms of our temperament, which in turn influences how we are treated as children and how we respond to that treatment. But we rarely have any way of guessing how a child’s temperament influences the development of specific lifetraps.

Abandonment is an exception to this general rule. Researchers who study infants have observed that some babies react far more intensely to separation that do others. This suggests that some people may be biologically predisposed to develop the Abandonment lifetrap.

The way we respond to separation from a person who takes care of us seems at least partly innate. Separation from the mother is a vital issue in a newborn’s life. Throughout the animal world, infants are totally dependent on their mothers for survival, and if an infant loses its mother it usually dies. Infants are born prepared to behave in ways designed to end separations from their mothers. They cry and show signs of distress. They “protest”, as John Bowlby called it in his classic book, Separation.


The Origins of the Abandonment Lifetrap

   1. You may have a biological predisposition to separation anxiety––difficulty being alone.

   2. A parent died or left home when you were young.

   3. Your mother was hospitalized or separated from you for a prolonged period of time when you were a child.

   4. You were raised by nannies or in an institution by a succession of mother figures, or you were sent away to boarding school at a very young age.

   5. Your mother was unstable. She became depressed, angry, drunk, or in some other way withdrew from you on a regular basis.

   6. Your parents divorced when you were young or fought so much that you worried the family would fall apart.

   7. You lost the attention of a parent in a significant way. For example, a brother or sister was born or your parent remarried.

   8. Your family was excessively close and you were overprotected. You never learned to deal with life’s difficulties as a child.



Abandonment and Intimate Relationships


If you have the Abandonment lifetrap, your romantic relationships are seldom calm and steady. Rather, they often feel like roller coaster rides. This is because you experience the relationship as perpetually on the brink of catastrophe.


Danger Signals in the Early Stages of Dating

You probably feel drawn to lovers who hold some potential for abandoning you. Here are some warning signs. They are signs that your relationship is triggering your Abandonment lifetrap


   1. Your partner is unlikely to make a long-term commitment because he/she is married or involved in another relationship.

   2. Your partner is not consistently available for you to spend time together (e.g., he/she travels a lot, lives far away, is a workaholic).

   3. Your partner is emotionally unstable (e.g., he/she drinks, uses drugs, is depressed, cannot hold down a regular job) and cannot be there for you emotionally on a consistent basis.

   4. Your partner is Peter Pan, who insists on his/her freedom to come and go, does not want to settle down, or wants the freedom to have many lovers.

   5. Your partner is ambivalent about you––he/she wants you but holds back emotionally; or one moment acts deeply in love with you and the next moment acts as though you do not exist.


Undermining Good Relationships

Even if you choose a partner who is stable, there are still pitfalls to avoid. There are still ways for you to reinforce your Abandonment lifetrap.


   1. You avoid intimate relationships even with appropriate partners because you are afraid of losing the person or getting close.

   2. You worry excessively about the possibility that your partner will die or otherwise be lost, and what you would do.

   3. You overreact to minor things your partner says or does, and interpret them as signs that he/she wants to leave you.

   4. You are excessively jealous and possessive.

   5. You cling to your partner. Your whole life becomes obsessed with keeping him/her

   6. You cannot stand to be away from your partner, even for a few days.

   7. You are never fully convinced that your partner will stay with you.

   8. You get angry and accuse your partner of not being loyal or faithful.

   9. You sometimes detach, leave, or withdraw to punish your partner for leaving you alone.


It is possible that you are in a stable, healthy relationship, yet continue to feel that the relationship is unstable.

Whenever the relationship feels threatened in any way, you have a strong emotional reaction. It could be anything that breaks the connection with your partner––a momentary separation, the mention of someone who incites your jealousy, an argument, or a change in your partner’s mood. Your partner almost invariably feels you are overreacting, and might well express bewilderment.

It feels like a tremendous overreaction to a partner who does not share the lifetrap.

You usually do not feel good when you are alone: you probably feel anxious, depressed, or detached. You need the feeling of connection to your partner. As soon as your partner leaves, you feel disconnected. Usually this feeling of abandonment does not go away until your partner returns. You can distract yourself from it, but the feeling of being disconnected is always there. It lurks in the background waiting to engulf you. Almost everyone who has the lifetrap has a limit to the amount of time they can distract themselves, and then they cannot do it anymore.

The better you are at distraction, the longer you can be alone. The worse you are at distraction, the quicker you experience the wanting, the sense of loss, and the need to reconnect.



If your abandonment lifetrap is strong, it probably affects other intimate relationships such as close friendships. The same issues come up in a close friendship as in a romantic relationship, although not as intensely.

You have an underlying view of friendships as unstable. You cannot count on them to last. People come and go in your life. You are hypersensitive to anything that might threaten the connection with a friend––the person moving away, separations, the person not returning phone calls or invitations, disagreements, or the person developing other interests or preferring someone else.



Changing Your Abandonment Lifetrap


Here are the steps to changing your Abandonment lifetrap:

   1. Understand your childhood abandonment.

   2. Monitor your feelings of abandonment. Identify your hypersensitivity to losing close people; your desperate fears of being alone; your need to cling to people.

   3. Review past relationships, and clarify the patterns that recur. List the pitfalls of abandonment.

   4. Avoid uncommitted, unstable, or ambivalent partners even though they generate high chemistry.

   5. When you find a partner who is stable and committed, trust him/her. Believe that he/she is there for you forever, and will not leave.

   6. Do not cling, become jealous or overreact to the normal separations of a healthy relationship.




You can read last months focus over here.