Monthly Focus

February 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 Dependence Schema.


Table of Contents




The Dependence Schema


The Dependence Questionnaire

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


  1. I feel more like a child than an adult when it comes to handling the responsibilities of daily life.
  2. I am not capable of getting by on my own.
  3. I cannot cope well by myself.
  4. Other people can take care of me better than I can take care of myself.
  5. I have trouble tackling new tasks unless I have someone to guide me.
  6. I can’t do anything right.
  7. I am inept.
  8. I lack common sense.
  9. I cannot trust my own judgement.
  10. I find everyday life overwhelming.

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.


If you have the Dependence lifetrap, life itself seems overwhelming. You feel that you cannot cope. You believe that you are incapable of taking care of yourself in the world, and that therefore you have to turn to other people for help. It is only with such help that you can possibly survive. At the core of your experience of dependence is the sense that it is a constant struggle to fulfill the normal responsibilities of adult living. You simply do not have what it takes. It is a feeling of something lacking, of inadequacy. An in image that captures the essence of dependence is that of a small child who feels that suddenly the world is too much and starts crying for mommy. It is a feeling of being a small child in a world of adults. Without an adult to take care of you, you feel lost.

Your typical thoughts reflect your sense of incompetence: “This is too much for me,” “I can’t handle my responsibilities.” Other typical thoughts reflect your fear of abandonment­–your fear that you will lose the people upon whom you are most dependent: “What would I do without this person?,” “How will I get by on my own?” These thoughts are usually accompanied by a sense of desperation and panic. As Margaret says, “There are so many things I can’t do. I have to have someone there to do them for me.” You dwell on this necessity. It drains a great deal of your mental energy. You plot and scheme to be sure someone will be there. Left on your own, you have a global sense of everything being overwhelming.

You often betray a complete lack of trust in your own judgement. You have little sense of your own ability to make good judgements. Difficulty trusting your own judgement is a core feature of dependence. You are indecisive.

When you have a decision to make, you solicit the opinions of others. In fact, you probably rush from person to person seeking advice. You change your mind a hundred times. The whole process just leaves you confused and exhausted. If you finally manage to make a decision, you have to keep asking for reassurance that your decision was right.

Alternatively, you might seek the advice of one person in whom you have great confidence, and rely solely on that. That person is often a therapist. In the beginning of therapy, our dependent patients always try to get us to make their decisions for them. This is not always easy to resist. Because it can be so painful for us to watch a patient vacillating endlessly, it is tempting to jump in and make the decision. We have to try hard to resist this temptation because it really does not help these patients. It increases their dependence on us, when the goal of therapy is their eventual independence.

It is your lack of faith in your judgement that makes you so afraid of change. Your confidence is low in new situations, because you have to rely on your own judgement. In situations that are familiar to you, you have already gotten the judgements of other people and you have already established some knowledge of the best approach to take. But when you confront a new situation, unless you have someone to advise you, you have to rely on your own opinions, and you do not trust those.

We would like to say that your sense of incompetence is more imaginary than real, but unfortunately this is often not the case. Often dependent people lack competence exactly because they have so successfully avoided the tasks of adulthood. They have gotten other people to do these tasks for them. This avoidance leads to some realistic deficits in skills and judgement. However, most dependent patients exaggerate their incompetence. They doubt themselves more than the situation warrants.

When you consistently act in ways designed to keep people doing things for you, you are surrendering to your lifetrap. Having people do things for you reinforces the idea that you are not capable of doing these things on your own and keeps you from developing a sense of competence. However, it is almost certainly true that, if you were living on your own, you would eventually be able to learn the things that are required for competence in daily living. Your dependence is one large untested hypothesis. You have never found out that you actually can function alone.

Escape is another way of reinforcing your lifetrap. You avoid the tasks you believe are too difficult for you. There are certain tasks dependent people commonly avoid. These include driving, attending to financial matters, making decisions, taking on new responsibilities, and learning new areas of expertise. You avoid breaking apart from a parent or a partner. You rarely live alone or travel alone. You rarely go to a move alone or out to eat alone. By continually running away from these tasks, you confirm your sense that you cannot accomplish them on your own.

Dependent people do not like change. They like everything to stay the same.



Dependence and Anger


Although you find change frightening and resist it, you often feel trapped even as you feel secure. This is the negative side of the Dependence lifetrap. This is the price you pay. Dependent people often allow themselves to be abused, subjugated, or deprived in order to maintain the dependence. They will do almost anything to keep the person with them.

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. And usually you do not dare express your anger openly. That might drive people away, and you need them too much. The dark side of this lifetrap is that you feel trapped in your dependent role.



Dependence and Anxiety


Panic attacks and agoraphobia are common. In many ways agoraphobia is a drama of dependence. The core feature of autonomy is the ability to venture into the world and have the resources to function independently. Agoraphobia is the exact opposite. Margaret feels helpless. When she ventures into the world, she has not confidence that she can handle what happens. She would rather avoid the world altogether. She wants to stay home where she feels safe.

Margaret feels like a child in the world–as if she can no more survive alone than a child. Her only hope is to latch onto someone who will take care of her. Ultimately what she fears is death, insanity, poverty, homelessness–the extremes of helplessness. Each time she has a panic attack, she becomes convinced that she is having a heart attack or losing her mind. Like most agoraphobics, she also has Vulnerability, the other lifetrap in the autonomy realm.

Even if you do not have panic attacks, you undoubtedly have tremendous anxiety. All the natural changes of life seem overwhelming, even the positive changes. A promotion at work, the birth of a child, graduation, marriage–any new responsibility can trigger anxiety. Occasions most people regard as causes for celebration throw you into a state of dread.

You may also feel a chronic sense of depression along with the anxiety. At heart you may despise yourself for you dependence on others. As William says, “I feel like an inadequate person.” Low self-esteem is an integral and painful part of the dependence lifetrap.



The Origins of the Dependence Lifetrap


The dependence lifetrap can originate either in parents who are overprotective or parents who are under protective.

Overprotective parents keep their children dependent. They reinforce dependent behaviors and discourage independent behaviors, smother their children, and do not give their children the freedom or support to learn to be self-sufficient.

Under protective parents fail to take care of their children. From a very young age, their children are on their own in the world and have to function at a level beyond their years. Such children can give the illusion of being autonomous, but in fact have strong dependence needs.

We are born totally dependent upon our parents. When your parents meet our physical needs–when they feed us, clothe us, and keep us warm–they establish a safe base from which we can venture into the world. There is a clear developmental process with two steps.


The Steps Towards Independence

  1. Establishing a safe base.
  2. Moving away from this base to become autonomous.


If either of these two steps is missing, the person may develop a Dependence lifetrap.

If you never had a safe base, if you never were allowed to rest securely in that dependent state, then it is hard for you to move toward independence. You always long for that dependent state. As Christine says, “I feel like a child who is acting as if I am an adult.” Your competence and independence do not feel real to you–you are waiting for the base to collapse.

Aside from providing a safe base, our parents must gradually allow us to move away from them toward independence. They must provide us with just enough help. It is a delicate balance; there cannot be too little or too much. Fortunately, most parents fall somewhere in the middle, and most children develop a normal degree of autonomy. But parents on either extreme often produce children who develop dependence lifetraps.

In the best of all possible worlds, our parents give us the freedom to explore the world, communicate that they are there if we need them, provide help when we truly need it, and convey trust in our ability to succeed on our own. They give us the safety and protection to feel secure, and the freedom and encouragement to go out on our own.

The dependence lifetrap is formed early. Parents who fail to meet the child’s dependence needs or who suppress the child’s independence will probably start doing so early in the child’s life–usually by the time the child begins to walk. By the time a child starts school, the lifetrap is probably firmly in place. What we see later, for example in adolescence, is simply the continuation of a process that started long before.


Origins in Overprotectiveness


The most common origin of Dependence is parents who are overprotective

  1. Your parents are overprotective and treat you as if you are younger than you are.
  2. Your parents make your decisions for you.
  3. Your parents take care of all the details of your life so you never learn how to take care of them yourself.
  4. Your parents do your schoolwork for you.
  5. You are given little or no responsibility.
  6. You are rarely apart from your parents and have little sense of yourself as a separate person.
  7. Your parents criticize your opinions and competence in everyday tasks.
  8. When you undertake new tasks, your parents interfere by giving excessive advice and instructions.
  9. Your parents make you feel so safe that you never have a serious rejection or failure until you leave home.
  10. Your parents have many fears and always warn you of dangers.

Overprotectiveness usually involves two dimensions. The first is intrusiveness. The parent jumps in and does things for the child before the child has a chance to try alone. The parent might well have good intentions; he or she may want to make life easier for the child or spare the child the pain of making mistakes. But when the parent does everything, the child never has the chance to learn to function competently. When we try and fail and try again, we learn to master aspects of our world. This is learning, and without firsthand experience, little learning occurs. All we learn is that we must have our parent there.



Origins in Underprotectiveness


This is the origin of the counterdependent person. Because these parents. Are so weak and ineffectual, beset with their own problems, or simply absent and neglectful, they fail to provide adequate guidance or protection for their children. These patients have a combination of the Dependence and Emotional Deprivation lifetraps. From very early, the child senses the lack of protection and feels unsafe. The child never stops longing for that dependent role.

  1. You do not get enough practical guidance or direction from your parents.
  2. You have to make decisions alone beyond your years.
  3. You have to be like an adult in your family, even when underneath you still feel like a child.
  4. You are expected to do things and know things that are over your head.



Dependence and Intimate Relationships


The people upon whom you depend can include parents, brothers, sisters, friends, lovers, spouses, mentors, bosses, therapists, or others. The person upon whom you depend might even be a child. You might be the dependent parent who makes your child into your parent.

Danger Signals in Potential Partners

  1. Your partner is like a father/mother figure, who seems strong and protective.
  2. He/She seems to enjoy taking care of you and treats you like a child.
  3. You trust his/her judgement much more than your own. He/She makes most of the decisions.
  4. You find that you lose your sense of self around him/her–and that your life goes on hold when he/she is not around.
  5. He/She pays for almost everything, and takes care of most financial records.
  6. He/She criticizes your opinions, taste, and competence in everyday tasks.
  7. When you have a new task to undertake, you almost always ask his/her advice, even if he/she has no special expertise in that realm.
  8. He/She does almost everything for you–you have almost no responsibility.
  9. He/She almost never seems frightened, insecure, or vulnerable about him/herself.



Surrendering to your Dependence Lifetrap


  1. You turn to wiser or stronger people all the time for advice and guidance.
  2. You minimize your successes and magnify your shortcomings.
  3. You avoid new challenges on your own.
  4. You do not make your own decisions.
  5. You do not take care of your own financial records or decisions.
  6. You live through your parents/partner.
  7. You are much more dependent on your parents than most people your age.
  8. You avoid being alone or traveling alone.
  9. You have fears and phobias that you do not confront.
  10. You are quite ignorant when it comes to many areas of practical functioning and daily survival skills.
  11. You have not lived on your own for any significant period of time.



The Signs of Counterdependence


  1. You never seem to be able to turn to anyone for guidance or advice. You have to do everything on your own.
  2. You are always taking on new challenges and confronting your fears, but you feel under constant pressure while doing it.
  3. Your partner is very dependent on your, and you end up doing everything and making all the decisions.

You ignore the part of you that wants a little healthy dependence, that just wants to stop coping for a while and rest.



Changing Your Dependence Lifetrap


  1. Understand your childhood dependence. Feel the incompetent/dependent child inside of you.
  2. List everyday situations, tasks, responsibilities, and decisions for which you depend on other people.
  3. List challenges, changes, or phobias that you have avoided because you are afraid of them.
  4. Systematically force yourself to tackle everyday tasks and decisions without asking for help. Take on challenges or make changes you have been avoiding. Start with the easy tasks first.
  5. When you succeed at a task on your own, take credit for it. Do not minimize it. When you fail, do not give up. Keep trying until you master the task.
  6. Review past relationships and clarify the patterns or dependence that recur. List the lifetraps to avoid.
  7. Avoid strong, overprotective partners who generate high chemistry.
  8. When you find a partner who will treat you as an equal, give the relationship a chance to work. Take on your share of responsibilities and decision-making.
  9. Do not complain when your partner/boss refuses to help you enough. Do not turn to him/her for constant advice and reassurance.
  10. Take on new challenges and responsibilities at work, but do it gradually.
  11. If you are counterdependent, acknowledge your need for guidance. Ask others for help. Do not take on more challenges than you can handle. Use your anxiety level as a gauge of how much you are comfortable taking on.