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 Mistrust and Abuse Schema.


Table of Contents



The Mistrust and Abuse Lifetrap


The Mistrust and Abuse 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 expect people to hurt or use me.
  2. Throughout my life people close to me have abused me.
  3. It is only a matter of time before the people I love will betray me.
  4. I have to protect myself and stay on my guard.
  5. If I am not careful, people will take advantage of me.
  6. I set up tests for people to see if they are really on my side.
  7. I try to hurt people before they hurt me.
  8. I am afraid to let people get close to me because I expect them to hurt me.
  9. I am angry about what people have done to me.
  10. I have been physically, verbally, or sexually abused by people I should have been able to trust.

Add your scores together for questions 1-10.


Interpreting Your Mistrust and Abuse 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 Abuse


Abuse is a complex mixture of feelings–pain, fear, rage, and grief. The feelings are intense, and they simmer near the surface. When we are with patients who have been abused, we are conscious of these strong feelings. Even if they appear calm, we can feel them in the room. They seem about to burst like water through a dam.

You may have volatile moods. You suddenly become very upset–either crying or enraged. It often surprises other people. Frank’s fits of rage at his wife and Madeline’s sudden bursting into tears are examples of this.

At other times you may be spaced out–what we call dissociated. You seem to be somewhere else. Things seem unreal to you. Your emotions are numb. This is a habit you developed as a kind of psychological escape from abuse.

Your experience of relationships is a painful one. Relationships are not places to relax and become vulnerable. Rather, they are dangerous and unpredictable. People hurt you, betray you, and use you. You have to stay on your guard. It is hard for you to trust people, even the ones closest to you. In fact, it may be particularly the ones closest to you that you are most unable to trust.

You assume people secretly mean you harm. When someone does something nice for you, your mind searches for the ulterior motive. You expect people to lie to you and to try to take advantage of you.

Mistrust and abuse bring about a state of hypervigilance. You are constantly on your guard. The threat can emerge at any time: you must be alert for the moment when the person turns on you. You watch and you wait.

This stance may be directed at the whole world or only at specific types of people.

The way you remember your childhood abuse is important. You may remember everything, and your memories may haunt you. Things remind you of the abuse.

On the other hand, you may have no clear memories of the abuse. There may be whole patches of your childhood that seem vague and foggy.

You may not remember anything directly. But you remember in other ways–dreams or nightmares, violent fantasies, intrusive images, suddenly feeling upset when something reminds you of the abuse. Your body can remember, even when you yourself do not.

You may even have flashbacks–memories so strong that you feel as though the abuse were recurring. But perhaps the most dangerous way you remember is through your current relationships. You reenact your childhood abuse.

Anxiety and depression are common. You may have a deep sense of despair about your life. Certainly you have low self-esteem and feelings of defectiveness.



Origins of the Mistrust and Abuse Lifetrap


The origins of this lifetrap are in childhood experiences of being abused, manipulated, humiliated, or betrayed.


  1. Someone in your family physically abused you as a child.
  2. Someone in your family sexually abused you as a child, or repeatedly touched you in a sexually provocative way.
  3. Someone in your family repeatedly humiliated you, teased you, or put you down (verbal abuse).
  4. People in your family could not be trusted. (They betrayed confidences, exploited your weaknesses to their advantage, manipulated you, made promises they had no intention of keeping, or lied to you.)
  5. Someone in your family seemed to get pleasure from seeing you suffer.
  6. You were made to do things as a child by the threat of severe punishment or retaliation.
  7. One of your parents repeatedly warned you not to trust people outside of the family.
  8. The people in your family were against you.
  9. One of your parents turned to you for physical affection as a child, in a way that was inappropriate or made you uncomfortable.
  10. People used to call you names that really hurt.


All forms of abuse are violations of your boundaries. Your physical, sexual, or psychological boundaries were not respected. Someone in your family who was supposed to protect you willfully started to hurt you. And, being a child, you were largely defenseless.

The feeling of not being protected is part of most forms of abuse. One parent abused you, and the other failed to prevent or stop it. They both let you down.

We all know what we should do when a stranger attempts to abuse us. We should fight back, we should get help, we should escape. All of these options become problematic when you are a child and the abuser is someone you love. At the bottom, you tolerated the abuse because you needed the connection to the person. It was your parent or brother or sister. Indeed it may have been the only connection you were able to get. Without it you would have been alone. To most children, some connection, even an abusive one, is better than no connection at all.

In terms of the three types of abuse–physical, sexual, and verbal–the similarities are more important than the differences. They all involve that same strange mixture of love and hurt.

Abuse creates powerful feelings of defectiveness. It makes you ashamed of who you are. You are unworthy. You are not entitled to have any rights or stand up for yourself. You have to let the person use you and take advantage of you. It feels to you as if abuse is all you deserve.

The last defense a child has is psychological. When reality is too terrible, there is the possibility of psychological escape. Depending upon the severity of your abuse, you may have spent portions of your childhood in a dissociated state. Particularly while the abuse was happening, you may have learned to dissociate.



Danger Signals in Relationships


The danger is that you will be attracted to abusive partners or to partners who do not deserve to be trusted. These are the signs.


  1.  He/She has an explosive temper that scares you.
  2.  He/She loses control when he/she drinks too much.
  3.  He/She puts you down in front of your friends and family.
  4.  He/She repeatedly demeans you, criticizes you, and makes you feel worthless.
  5.  He/She has no respect for you needs.
  6.  He/She will do anything–lie or manipulate–to get his/her way.
  7. He/She is somewhat of a con artist in business dealings.
  8. He/She is sadistic or cruel–seems to get pleasure when you or other people suffer.
  9. He/She hits you or threatens you when you do not do as he/she wants.
  10. He/She forces you to have sex, even when you do not want to.
  11. He/She exploits your weaknesses to his/her advantage.
  12. He/She cheats on you (has other lovers behind your back).
  13. He/She is very unreliable, and takes advantage of your generosity.


You may find that you are most attracted to abusive partners. People who use, hit, rape, or insult and demean you–are the lovers who generate the most chemistry. This is one of the most devastating consequences of your childhood abuse. It turned you into a person who is drawn to abusive relationships in adulthood–so you can never escape, even when you grow up–unless you get treatment.



Lifetraps in Relationships


  1. You often feel people are taking advantage of you, even when there is little concrete proof.
  2. You allow other people to mistreat you because you are afraid of them or because you feel it is all you deserve.
  3. You are quick to attack other people because you expect them to hurt you or put you down.
  4. You have a very hard time enjoying sex–it feels like an obligation or you cannot derive pleasure.
  5. You are reluctant to reveal personal information because you worry that people will use it against you.
  6. You are reluctant to show your weaknesses because you expect people to take advantage of them.
  7. You feel nervous around people because you worry that they will humiliate you.
  8. You give in too easily to other people because you are afraid of them.
  9. You feel that other people seem to enjoy your suffering.
  10. You have a definite sadistic or cruel side, even though you may not show it.
  11. You allow other people to take advantage of you because “it is better than being alone.”
  12. You feel that men/women cannot be trusted.
  13. You do not remember large portions of your childhood.
  14. When you are frightened of someone, you “tune out”, as if part of you is not really there.
  15. You often feel people have hidden motives or bad intentions, even when you have little proof.
  16. You often have sado-masochistic fantasies.
  17. You avoid getting close to men/women because you cannot trust them.
  18. You feel frightened around men/women and you do not understand why.
  19. You have sometimes been abusive or cruel to other people, especially the ones to whom you are closest.
  20. You often feel helpless in relation to other people.



Changing Your Mistrust and Abuse Lifetrap


  1. If at all possible, see a therapist to help you with this lifetrap, particularly if you have been sexually or physically abused.
  2. Find a friend you trust (or your therapist). Do imagery. Try to recall memories of abuse. Relive each incident in detail.
  3. While doing imagery, vent your anger at your abuser(s). Stop feeling helpless in the image.
  4. Stop blaming yourself. You did not deserve the abuse.
  5. Consider reducing or stopping contact with your abuser(s) while you work on this lifetrap.
  6. If it is possible, when you are ready, confront your abuser face-to-face, or send a letter.
  7. Stop tolerating abuse in your current relationships.
  8. Try to trust and get closer to people who deserve it.
  9. Try to become involved with a partner who respects your rights and does not want to hurt you.
  10. Do not abuse the people close to you.