Monthly Focus

November 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 Emotional Deprivation Schema.


Table of Contents



The Emotional Deprivation Lifetrap


If you have this lifetrap, you have a deep and fixed belief that your needs for love will never be met.

The questionnaire below will help you decide how strongly you have this lifetrap. Rate 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 5’s or 6’s on this questionnaire, this lifetrap may still apply to you even if your score is in the low range.


The Emotional Deprivation Questionnaire

    1. I need more love than I get.

    2. No one really understands me.

    3. I am often attracted to cold partners who can’t meet my needs.

    4. I feel disconnected, even from the people who are closest to me.

    5. I have not had one special person I love who wants to share him/herself with me and cares deeply about what happens to me.

    6. No one is there to give me warmth, holding, and affection.

    7. I do not have someone who really listens and is tuned into my true needs and feelings.

    8. It is hard for me to let people guide or protect me, even though it is was I want inside.

    9. It is hard for me to let people love me.

  10. I am lonely a lot of the time.

Add your scores together for questions 1-10


Interpreting your Emotional Deprivation 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 Emotional Deprivation


The experience of emotional deprivation is harder to define than some of the other lifetraps. Often it is not crystallized into thoughts. This is because the original deprivation began so early, before you had the words to describe it. Your experience of emotional deprivation is much more than the sense that you are going to be lonely forever, that certain things are never going to be fulfilled for you, that you will never be heard, never be understood.

Emotional deprivation feels like something is missing. It is a feeling of emptiness. Perhaps the image that most captures its meaning is that of a neglected child. Emotional deprivation is what a neglected child feels. It is a feeling of aloneness, of nobody there. It is a sad and heavy sense of knowledge that you are destined to be alone.

Some people with this lifetrap show a tendency to be demanding in relationships. There is an insatiable quality to the lifetrap. No matter how much people give you, it never feels like enough. Ask yourself, “Do people keep telling me that I am too needy, or that I ask for too much?”


Jed is an example. Elaine arranged an elaborate birthday party for him at great effort and expense. Nevertheless, when he opened her present at the party, Jed felt a sharp pang of disappointment: “The one I gave her was much more expensive.” It is this persistent feeling of deprivation in the face of clear evidence of caring that marks the person with an Emotional Deprivation lifetrap.

One way Elizabeth expressed her lifetrap was by choosing a field of work that involved meeting the needs of other people. She became a social worker. Perhaps you are in one of the healing or helping professions. Giving nurturance to others may be a way for you to compensate for your own feelings of unmet emotional needs. Similarly, you might exert great effort toward meeting the needs of your friends.


ELIZABETH: I am always the listener. Other people tell me their problems, and I help them as best I can, but I don’t tell anyone my problems. I guess that’s why I came to see you. I understand people better than they understand me, or care to understand.


It is a sign of the Emotional Deprivation lifetrap to feel chronically disappointed in other people. People let you down. We are not speaking about a single case of disappointment, but rather a pattern of experiences over a long period of time. If your conclusion as a result of all your relationships is that you cannot count on people to be there for you emotionally–that is a sign that you have the lifetrap.



The Origins of Emotional Deprivation


The origins of emotional deprivation lie in the person who serves as the maternal figure for the child–the person who is chiefly responsible for giving the child emotional nurturance. In some families this figure is a man, but in our culture it is usually a woman. The father figure is important also, but in the first years of life, it is usually the mother who forms the center of the child’s world. That first relationship becomes the prototype for those that follow. For the rest of the individual’s life, most close relationships will bear the stamp of that first experience with mother.

With emotional deprivation, the child received a less than average amount of maternal nurturance. The term nurturance has a number of dimensions, as you can see from the list below outlining the origins of this lifetrap. We use the world mother to refer to the maternal figure.


    1. Mother is cold and unaffectionate. She does not hold and rock the child enough.

    2. The child does not have a sense of being loved and valued–of being someone who is precious and special.

    3. Mother does not give the child enough time and attention.

    4. The mother is not really tuned into the child’s needs. She has difficulty empathizing with the child’s world. She does not really connect with the child.

    5. Mother does not soothe the child adequately. The child, then, may not learn to soothe him/herself or to accept soothing from others.

    6. The parents do not adequately guide the child or provide a sense of direction. There is no one solid for the child to rely upon.


It sometimes takes us a while to realize that a patient has the Emotional Deprivation lifetrap. Unlike most of the other lifetraps, where the parent does something active that damages the child, emotional deprivation results from the absence of certain mothering behaviors. Behaviors of the parent such as the criticalness that gives rise to the Defectiveness lifetrap, or the domination that gives rise to Subjugation, are highly visible. The parent commits actions the child can remember. But emotional deprivation is not always like this. Emotional deprivation is something missing, something the child never knew.

Emotional deprivation, therefore can be a difficult lifetrap for you to recognize. Unless you experienced extreme neglect, it might take some exploration to determine whether you were deprived as a child. You might recognize the lifetrap in yourself only after you have asked yourself specific questions: “Did I feel close to my mother, did I feel she understood me, did I feel loved, did I love her, was she warm and affectionate, could I tell her what I felt, could she give me what I needed?”

In therapy, many people with the Emotional Deprivation lifetrap at first say things like “Oh, I had a normal childhood. My mother was always there.” Dustin began therapy saying, “My mother gave me everything. I had everything I wanted.” However, when people with this lifetrap describe their past and current relationships, something is wrong. A disturbing pattern emerges. There is a feeling of disconnection. Perhaps the person is hypersensitive to being deprived or is chronically angry. It is only when we work our way backwards that we understand the origin. Although Emotional Deprivation is one of the most common lifetraps, it is often one of the hardest to detect.



Romantic Relationships


In our culture, it is romantic relationships that are usually the most intimate. For this reason, some people who have the Emotional Deprivation lifetrap avoid romantic relationships altogether, or only get into them for a short time. This is typical of the Escape coping style. However, if you are willing to become involved in romantic relationships and do not simply remain alone, it is probably in these relationships that your lifetrap is most visible.

The next table lists some of the danger signals to avoid in the early stages of dating. They are signals that you are about to repeat the pattern again and become involved with someone who is emotionally depriving.


Danger Signals in the Early Stages of Dating

    1. He/She doesn’t listen to me.

    2. He/She does all the talking.

    3. He/She is not comfortable touching or kissing me.

    4. He/She is only sporadically available.

    5. He/She is cold and aloof.

    6. You are much more interested in getting close than he/she is.

    7. The person is not there for you when you feel vulnerable.

    8. The less available he/she is, the more obsessed you become.

    9. He/She does not understand your feelings.

  10. You are giving much more than you are getting.

When several of these signals are occurring at once, run–particularly if the chemistry is very strong. Your lifetrap has been triggered full force. We know it will be hard for you to take this advice. All your yearning will be directed toward staying in the relationship.

Even if you choose an appropriate partner who is emotionally giving, there are still pitfalls to avoid as your relationship progresses.


Emotional Deprivation Lifetraps in a Relationship

    1. You don’t tell your partner what you need, then feel disappointed when your needs are not met.

    2. You don’t tell your partner how you feel, and then feel disappointed when you are not understood.

    3. You don’t allow yourself to be vulnerable, so that your partner can protect or guide you.

    4. You feel deprived, but you don’t say anything. You harbor resentment.

    5. You become angry and demanding.

    6. You constantly accuse your partner of not caring enough about you.

    7. You become distant and unreachable.

You might reinforce your deprivation by sabotaging the relationship. You might become hypersensitive to signs of neglect. You might expect your lover to read your mind and almost magically to fill your needs. Although, some people who have the lifetrap Counterattack by becoming demanding in relationships, most do not ask for what they want. It probably does not occur to you to spell out your needs. Most likely you do not ask for what you want, and then become very hurt, withdrawn, or angry when your emotional needs are not met.



Demandingness in Relationships


Some people with the Emotional Deprivation lifetrap counterattack; they compensate for their feelings of deprivation by becoming hostile and demanding. These people are behaving narcissistically. They act as if they are entitled to get all their needs met. They demand a lot, and often get a lot, from the people who become their lovers.


Why do some people react to Emotional Deprivation by behaving narcissistically? The answer lies in a combination of the Emotional Deprivation lifetrap and the Entitlement lifetrap. As children, these individuals emotional needs were not met in important ways, and so they have learned to fight the feelings of deprivation by becoming very demanding about other, more superficial needs.



Changing Emotional Deprivation


The following list outlines steps to change the Emotional Deprivation lifetrap:

    1. Understand your childhood deprivation. Feel the deprived child inside of you.

    2. Monitor your feelings of deprivation in your current relationships. Get in touch with your needs for nurturance, empathy, and guidance.

    3. Review past relationships, and clarify the patterns that recur. List the pitfalls to avoid from now on.

    4. Avoid cold partners who generate high chemistry.

    5. When you find a partner who is emotionally generous, give the relationship a chance to work. Ask for what you want. Share your vulnerability with your partner.

    6. Stop blaming your partner and demanding that your needs be met.



The Outlook for Change


It is not easy to change. It is in your hands. To a large extent, how much you change is a function of how hard you work and persist. Your emotional Deprivation lifetrap will not fall away suddenly. It is a matter of slowly chipping away at the lifetrap–of countering the lifetrap each time it is triggered. You must throw your whole being against the lifetrap–your thoughts, feelings, and behavior.

It is sad that the more you were damaged as a child, the harder you will have to work. This is one more unfairness in the string of Unfairnesses against you. If you were seriously damaged as a child, you may need professional help.






“Emotional Deprivation, the parent was always physically there, but the quality of the emotional relationship was consistently inadequate. The parents did not know how to love, nurture, and empathize well enough. The connection with parents was stable, but not close enough. With Abandonment, the connection once existed and it was lost. Or the parent would come and go unpredictably. Unfortunately, for some children, their parents were both emotionally inadequate and unpredictable. In this environment, which is quite common, children will usually develop both the Emotional Deprivation and Abandonment lifetraps.”
― Jeffrey E. Young, Reinventing Your Life: The Breakthough Program to End Negative Behavior…and Feel Great Again


“Try to respect the reasons your lifetrap developed in the first place. In your childhood, it was essential for your emotional survival. But what was once a help to you is now hurting you, and it is time to give it up. It is time for you to begin the slow journey out of self-denial and self-defeat, and to reclaim your life for yourself.”
― Jeffrey E. Young, Reinventing Your Life: The Breakthough Program to End Negative Behavior…and Feel Great Again


“Patients must be willing to give up their maladaptive coping styles in order to change. For example, patients who continue surrendering to the schema—by remaining in destructive relationships or by not setting limits in their personal or work lives -perpetuate the schema and are not able to make significant progress in therapy.”
― Jeffrey E. Young, Schema Therapy: A Practitioner’s Guide


“Surrender extends our childhood situation into our adult life. For this reason it often leads us to feel hopeless about changing. All we know is the lifetrap, which we never escape. It is a self-perpetuating loop.”
― Jeffrey E. Young, Reinventing Your Life: The Breakthough Program to End Negative Behavior…and Feel Great Again


“Change cannot be hit-or-miss. It requires constant practice.”
― Jeffrey E. Young, Reinventing Your Life: The Breakthough Program to End Negative Behavior…and Feel Great Again


You can read last month’s Monthly Focus over here.