Monthly Focus

March 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 Vulnerability Schema.


Table of Contents



The Vulnerability Schema


The Vulnerability Questionnaire

This questionnaire will measure the strength of your Vulnerability 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 cannot escape the feeling that something bad is about to happen.

        2. I feel that catastrophe can strike at any moment.

        3. I worry about becoming a street person or vagrant.

        4. I worry a lot about being attacked by a criminal, mugger, thief, etc.

        5. I worry about getting a serious illness, even though nothing has been diagnosed by a physician.

        6. I am too anxious to travel alone on planes, trains, etc.

        7. I have anxiety attacks.

        8. I am very aware of physical sensations in my body, and I worry about what they mean.

        9. I worry I will lose control of myself in public or go crazy.

        10. I worry a lot about losing all my money and going broke.


Interpreting Your Vulnerability 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 Vulnerability


The primary feeling associated with the Vulnerability lifetrap is anxiety. Catastrophe is about to strike, and you lack the resources to deal with it. This lifetrap is two-pronged: You both exaggerate the risk of danger and minimize your own capacity to cope.

What you fear varies depending upon the type of lifetrap. There are four types of Vulnerability. You can be more than one type.

        1. Health and Illness

        2. Danger

        3. Poverty

        4. Losing Control


Health and Illness

If you belong to the Health and Illness type of vulnerability you may be a hypochondriac. You worry obsessively about your health. Despite the fact that physicians keep telling you nothing is seriously wrong, you are convinced you are ill, that you have AIDS, cancer, multiple sclerosis, or some other dread disease.

Most people who have panic attacks belong to this type. You constantly scan your body for signs that something is wrong. You are sensitized to your body. Any strange sensation, no matter how naturally caused, can trigger panic. Hot weather, cold weather, exercise, anger, excitement, caffeine, alcohol, medication, sex, heights, motion–all can cause sensations that trigger a panic attack. You are hypervigilant to anything in your environment that is relevant to the possibility of illness. You may read everything you can get on the subject, or you may avoid any mention of illness entirely. Similarly, you may run to the doctor continuously, or you may avoid doctors altogether because you are afraid of finding out that something is wrong. Either way, you are constantly preoccupied with thoughts of illness.

You may avoid activities that give rise to panic.

It is possible that you have this lifetrap because you actually are physically frail. Perhaps you were sick a lot as a child, so now you have an exaggerated fear of sickness. Or perhaps you had a parent who was sick. However, in order to qualify for this lifetrap, your fears must be excessive and unrealistic in the present.



If you fit this type, you have an exaggerated concern for your personal safety and the safety of your loved ones. You see the world as fraught with danger at every turn.

You have a general feeling of unsafety when you are out in the world that is out of proportion to the real level of danger. You are alert to anyone who looks suspicious or dangerous. At any moment you feel that someone might attack you. You are also afraid of disasters such as car accidents and plane crashes. These are things beyond your control that can happen suddenly. Hence you avoid traveling. You are afraid of natural catastrophes such as floods and earthquakes. Despite all reasonable odds, you believe something will happen to you.



This is the so-called depression mentality, named for people who were children during the Great Depression of the 1930s. You are always worried about money. You are unrealistically afraid you will go broke and end up on the street. No matter how financially secure you become, it still seems like a small step from your current financial situation to utter ruin. You often think in terms of safety cushions. You feel that you have to have a certain amount of money to be safe. This gives you the assurance that you are not going to collapse below a certain point. You are likely to save a certain amount, and to become extremely anxious if it drops below that amount.

You find it difficult to spend money and you go to extreme lengths to save even a few dollars.

Controlling money is a big issue for you. You believe that if you relax your grip you will lose control and spend everything. Your financial practices are very conservative. You are unwilling to take any risks with money because you are afraid of losing it.


Losing Control

This type fears a catastrophe of a more psychological nature–having a nervous breakdown. You fear going crazy or losing control. It also includes many panic attacks.

Catastrophic thinking is at the core of all types of the Vulnerability lifetrap. You immediately jump to the worst possible case, and you feel as powerless to cope as a weak, helpless child. For those of you who suffer from panic disorder, catastrophic thinking drives your panic attacks. A panic attack in itself should only last one or two minutes. Your catastrophic thinking makes it last much longer.

Escape is of crucial importance in reinforcing this lifetrap. Almost veryrone with the vulnerability lifetrap avoids many situations. Most likely, your avoidance robs you of many of life’s most enjoyable activities.

These are probably the origins of the lifetrap:



Origins of Vulnerability


        1. You learned your sense of vulnerability from observing and living with parents with the same lifetrap. Your parent was phobic or frightened about specific areas of                             vulnerability (such as losing control, getting sick, going broke, etc.).

        2. You parent was overprotective of you, particularly around issues of danger or illness. Your parent continuously warned you of specific dangers. You were made to                           feel that you were too fragile or incompetent to handle these everyday issues (this is usually combined with Dependence).

        3. Your parent did not adequately protect you. Your childhood environment did not seem safe physically, emotionally, or financially. (This is usually combined with                                 Emotional Deprivation or with Mistrust and Abuse.)

        4. You were sick as a child or experienced a serious traumatic event (e.g., a car crash) that led you to feel vulnerable.

        5. One of your parents experienced a serious traumatic event and perhaps died. You came to view the world as dangerous.


The most common origin is having a parent with the same lifetrap. You learn through modeling.



Danger Signals in Relationships


You are most attracted to people who can take care of you. By selecting a partner who protects you, you Surrender to your Vulnerability lifetrap and thus reinforce it. The following are the signs that your choice of partner is lifetrap-driven:

        1. You tend to select partners who are willing and eager to protect you from danger or illness. Your partner is strong, and you are weak and needy.

        2. Your prime concern is that your partner is fearless, physically strong, very successful financially, a doctor, or otherwise specifically equipped to protect you from                               your fears.

        3. You seek people who are willing to listen to your fears and reassure you.


Vulnerability Lifetraps

        1. You feel anxious much of the time as you go about daily life because of your exaggerated fears. You may have generalized anxiety.

        2. You worry so much about your health and possible illnesses that you: (a) get unnecessary medical evaluations, (b) become a burden to your family with your                                  constant need for reassurance, and (c) cannot enjoy other aspects of life.

        3. You experience panic attacks as a result of your preoccupation with bodily sensations and possible illness.

        4. You are unrealistically worried about going broke. This leads you to be unnecessarily tight with money and willing to make any financial or career changes. You                              are preoccupied with keeping what you have at the expense of new investments or projects. You cannot take risks.

        5. You go to exorbitant lengths to avoid criminal danger. For example, you avoid going out at night, visiting large cities, travelling on public transportation.                                            Therefore, your life is very restricted.

        6. You avoid everyday situations that entail even a slight degree of risk. For example, you avoid elevators, subways, or living in a city where there could be an                                    earthquake.

        7. You allow your partner to protect you from your fears. You need a lot of reassurance. Your partner helps you avoid feared situations. You become overly                                         dependent on your partner. You may even resent this dependence.

        8. Your chronic anxiety may, in fact, make you more prone to some kinds of psychosomatic illnesses (e.g., eczema, asthma, colitis, ulcers, flu).

        9. You limit your social life because, as a result of your fears, you cannot do many of the things other people do.

        10. You restrict the lives of your partner and family, who have to adapt to your fears.

        11. You are likely to pass on your fears to your own children.

        12. You may use a variety of coping mechanisms to an exaggerated degree to ward off danger. You may have obsessive-compulsive symptoms or superstitious                                   thinking.

        13. You may rely excessively on medication, alcohol, food, etc., to reduce your chronic anxiety.


Escape from Vulnerability is one of the greatest dangers. You avoid so many activities that it damages the quality of your life–and the lives of your partner and family. The lifetrap limits and restricts you.

The vulnerability lifetrap damages you socially as well. Your constant need for reassurance is a drain on the people you love. Tring to reassure you is exhausting. You can never be reassured enough. It is a bottomless pit.

The vulnerability lifetrap also drains you of time and energy you might otherwise devote to social activities. Instead of socializing, you are running to the doctor or installing burglar alarms. You are beset with symptoms, such as panic attacks and psychosomatic disorders that further distract and debilitate you. You might get attacked or spend too much money. And you require the people you love to restrict their lives as well.



Changing your Vulnerability Lifetrap


        1. Try to understand the origins of your lifetrap

        2. Make a list of your specific fears.

        3. Develop a hierarchy of feared situations.

        4. Meet with the people you love–your spouse, lover, family, friends–and enlist their support in helping you face your fears.

        5. Examine the probability of your feared events occurring.

        6. Write a flashcard for each fear.

        8. Talk to your inner child. Be a strong, brave parent to your child.

        9. Practice techniques for relaxation.

        10. Begin to tackle each of your fears in imagery.

        11. Tackle each fear in real life.

        12. Reward yourself for each step you take.