Good enough parenting



Chapter Six


We mentioned in Chapter One that the 18 lifetraps identified by Dr. Jeffrey Young clustered into four domains—the first of these domains is known as “Disconnection and Rejection”. To the extent parents do not meet the core emotional need for connection and acceptance, we believe their children will experience the opposite—Disconnection and Rejection. This means that their children will be at risk of developing some or all of the lifetraps in the Domain of Disconnection and Rejection, namely Mistrust, Defectiveness, Emotional Deprivation, Social Isolation, Emotional Inhibition, and Failure. This chapter explains these six lifetraps in detail, and contains an additional segment called “Basic Safety Zone”.

The Lifetrap of Mistrust / Abuse

The first maladaptive schema (lifetrap) in the domain of disconnection and rejection is mistrust / abuse. The core message of the mistrust lifetrap is, “I cannot expect others to treat me in a fair, considerate or just manner. I should expect to be hurt (emotionally or even physically), lied to, taken advantage of, and manipulated. Others always have their own agenda.”

Children who are abused or who have witnessed abuse will almost always develop the lifetrap of mistrust. When their caregivers, especially their parents, are not trustworthy, children receive a very damaging message. When abuse happens, especially repeatedly, children will, out of necessity, stop trusting. They become wary and have a much harder time bonding, making friends, and accepting help. They look for the “agenda” in people and will often read something negative into others’ actions and doubt their motives, feeling that others are out to take advantage of them or cause them harm. They are constantly on the alert. They carry the pain and mistrust into their adult relationships and interactions, frequently misconstruing others’ words. They have a hard time giving the benefit of the doubt, and easily fall into labeling or judging others.

As crusaders for justice, those with this lifetrap often try to expose others’ duplicity, even though there may not be any. They sometimes do not have a good opinion of people who are loving and caring but weak in a “pet” area that they esteem. People with the lifetrap of mistrust see everything in black and white. Rather than understanding people’s motives usually lie somewhere in a range, they automatically put people into two categories—those who can be trusted and those who cannot. They give people “tests” (I wonder if she will remember my birthday?) without telling them they are being tested; eventually, everyone fails the tests, proving that they were justified in not trusting.

Early family environment that might cause this lifetrap to develop:

• The child was abused verbally, physically and/or sexually, by a parent, a relative, a teacher, a classmate, or any combination of the above. (If the child or adult has never discussed his abuse with his parents or an adult, it will be very painful when he chooses to open up. The listener needs to be patient and understanding, giving him time to talk through it all and not be hurried.)

• The child’s siblings fought with him constantly and his parents allowed it and did not protect him.

• There was a lot of tension in the child’s home; e.g., he witnessed his father abusing his mother.

• The child grew up in an environment where the abuse was done to others, and he observed the abuse. For example, perhaps a sibling was ill-treated, or the child knew one of his friends was being abused, or he saw peers in school being abused by teachers. (See “Basic Safety Zone” for more info on preventing abuse.)


Figure 6.1: The Lifetrap of Mistrust (Alastair as an adult)


Figure 6.2: A Possible Early Environment Which Would Likely Contribute to the Development of the Mistrust Lifetrap (Alastair as a child) Go to Appendix 1

The Lifetrap of Defectiveness / Shame

The next maladaptive schema (lifetrap) in the domain of disconnection and rejection is defectiveness / shame. The core message of the defectiveness lifetrap is, “I am not good enough. I am inherently flawed. Anyone who truly knows me could not love me.”

Do you know smart people who do not think they are intelligent, and attractive people who do not think they are nice-looking? People with this lifetrap feel something is wrong with them—that they are strange, short, fat, inept, or just plain lousy. They are over-sensitive to their weaknesses, with an unjustified fear of exposing themselves to others. They do not take compliments well, and believe they do not deserve praise. They get jealous and competitive as well as feel insecure around those they perceive as being better than they are. They make a lot of comparisons, even in common interactions. If the lifetrap is strong, they become consumed with status and position, and they overvalue success, such as academic or athletic achievement. Even though they may be highly successful, they feel deep down that they are not good enough. Because they feel defective, they are rarely satisfied with their present state of affairs. They have not yet learnt to accept themselves, flaws and all, and celebrate their strengths and accomplishments with confidence. If they happen to have the overcompensation coping style, they will be easily offended, and put down the offending person before the other person puts them down. They become more consumed about not being defective than they are about meeting the core needs of their significant others. They push themselves all the time, to the point that their closest relationships get hurt along the way. They also fear that their defectiveness will get exposed and that they will be shamed. This lifetrap is ultimately about shame.

Early family environment that might cause this lifetrap to develop:

• The child was compared to others (siblings, relatives, and peers) and felt that her parents were disappointed with her.

• The child was unfairly blamed for wrongs growing up.

• The child was criticized by at least one of her parents for being the “black sheep” of the family, for being useless, slow, dumb, clumsy, ugly, stupid, etc.

• The child’s parents constantly talked about their definition of a successful person and how she did not make the cut.

• The child always felt that she did not quite measure up, i.e., not good enough in studies or in sports, or not pretty or talented enough, etc.


Figure 6.3: The Lifetrap of Defectiveness (Sharon as an adult)


Figure 6.4: A Possible Early Environment Which Would Likely Contribute to the Development of the Defectiveness Lifetrap (Sharon as a child) Go to Appendix 1

The Lifetrap of Emotional Deprivation

Another maladaptive schema (lifetrap) in the domain of disconnection and rejection is emotional deprivation. The core message of the maladaptive schema of emotional deprivation lifetrap is, “I cannot expect others to be supportive of me and care about what I need.” Emotional deprivation is about insufficient empathy, nurturing, and/or not receiving guidance and direction.

Children develop the emotional deprivation lifetrap if they did not feel emotionally close to their parents when they were growing up. This may or may not involve physical separation from their parents, but it definitely involves emotional distance. Some children are left to themselves, and feel empty in their formative years. When children are deprived of love during childhood, they become angry and lonely. As adults, they still have the same feeling that people will never love them enough. They yearn to feel loved but feel that they are neither understood nor loved. Someone with this lifetrap seems to develop a kind of “bottomless pit”—no matter how much love is shown to them, it is never enough to satisfy them. Even in marriage, they frequently feel lonely and feel that no one is there to have care and concern for them. They might not feel a deep friendship with people even though the other parties feel close to them. They combat constant feelings of never having enough love.

Early family environment that might cause this lifetrap to develop:

• The child did not have loving and nurturing parents; there were not many kisses, hugs or physical touch. Although the child’s parents were physically there, no one was very warm to her, or remembered and celebrated special days, like birthdays.

• The child’s parents were emotionally absent and may have had someone else raise her. She seldom went to them for love and affection, and if she tried, it didn’t go well.

• The child’s mother had a busy schedule (this lifetrap may have more to do with lack of maternal closeness, rather than paternal), and was focused on her own career or social life and did not have time for the child. She may have been ill and not able to meet the child’s needs for a legitimate reason.

• Even when the child did talk to the parents, they did not know how to empathize with her. So, the child grew up feeling like her feelings were not important or understood.

• The child was given material things and vacations, perhaps even spoiled, but little interest was expressed in her and what was going on in her life.

• When the child had problems, her parents were not there to listen and advise her.


Figure 6.5: The Lifetrap of Emotional Deprivation (May Lee as an adult)


Figure 6.6: A Possible Early Environment Which Would Likely Contribute to the Development of the Emotional Deprivation Lifetrap (May Lee as a child) Go to Appendix 1

The Lifetrap of Social Isolation / Alienation

Social isolation / alienation is the fourth maladaptive schema (lifetrap) in the domain of disconnection and rejection. The core message of the social isolation lifetrap is, “I am different from other people and do not fit in.” The feelings of isolation and being alone stem from feeling apart from any group or community, and too different to belong.

Children who develop this lifetrap feel different from other people and feel that they do not fit in. They may avoid social gatherings because they do not like to mix with others, and they feel out of place if they do join such a gathering. They may even feel singled out because they feel that they are different and not part of the group. What makes them feel different is not necessarily negative—they may be more educated, have more money, or come from a family with fame or power. Ultimately, when they look at those around them, they feel that they are the odd one out. Adults with this lifetrap will focus more on what makes them different and set apart from others than on what they have in common, and consequently end up isolated and lonely. They exaggerate differences between themselves and others rather than focusing on what they have in common with friends, family and others. Although it is related to the lifetrap of defectiveness, it is different from defectiveness, which is related to feeling inferior on the inside; people with the social isolation lifetrap feel out of place because of external factors. It is possible to have both.

Early family environment that might cause this lifetrap to develop:

• The child felt different from others and felt that he did not fit in.

• The child’s friends were of a different race, spoke a different language, or were perceived as being more intelligent than he.

• The child’s friends may have been behind him in school or sports or in some talent, which still may have given the child the feeling that he was different from the rest.

• The child felt that his family was strange and different from the rest, and in his heart he felt that something was wrong. This could result from problems in his family, or other factors, such as having more power, fame or fortune.

• The child’s parents were divorced, but his friends’ parents were not. Or the child’s school friends lived in a nice neighborhood, but he did not, or the other way round.

• One of the child’s parent’s jobs resulted in the family having to move a lot so the child felt different from everyone wherever he went.


Figure 6.7: The Lifetrap of Social Isolation (Chitra as an adult)


Figure 6.8: A Possible Early Environment Which Would Likely Contribute to the Development of the Social Isolation Lifetrap (Chitra as a child) Go to Appendix 1

The Lifetrap of Emotional Inhibition

Another maladaptive schema (lifetrap) in the domain of Disconnection and Rejection is emotional inhibition. The core message of the emotional inhibition lifetrap is, “I should not express myself or show my emotions. I should always be in control.”

When children are not allowed to be themselves, are made to feel that their emotions are wrong, and belittled for feeling excited or joyful or angry, they will almost certainly develop the schema of emotional inhibition. These children receive a message that it is safer in their family not to stand out or draw attention to oneself. Some children are even made to tiptoe around the house so as not to offend the highly sensitive parent who does not want to be “disturbed”. Adults with this lifetrap are often seen by others as having no emotions. They value being rational as a superior disposition. They do not like anything too loud, too spontaneous, too noisy, or too passionate, though it may not be perceived as such by their spouses or other people. They see such behavior as being ill-mannered, inappropriate, and very much out of place.

In some cases, people from upper middle class backgrounds have been brought up to think this way. In other cases, it may be a cultural issue, associated with ethnicity. Certain societies tend to feel that emotions should be contained, which becomes damaging because in that setting, even intimacy has to be “appropriate”. Any emotion or opinion forthcoming is almost viewed as being aggressive. People with this lifetrap struggle to get intimate and are usually unaware of the lack of connection felt by their loved ones. It is difficult for them to share what is heartfelt. What lurks beneath the surface is fear of shame if they were to let out their true feelings or emotions. People with the lifetrap of emotional inhibition are tempted to think that it is weird to laugh loudly, to cry, or express affection because they were looked down upon for being expressive when they were younger. As adults, they have learned to hold things in, rather than seeing emotional expression as being healthy.

Early family environment that might cause this lifetrap to develop:

• The child’s parents hardly talked when they were at home, even when they were having a meal together.

• The child’s parents believed in the old sayings, “Children are to be seen and not heard” and “Big boys don’t cry”.

• The child was prevented from being a child or expressing emotions. He had to temper his excitement about normal things and control his emotions so as to not bother his father or mother.

• Being loud, excited, and making noise were all viewed as unacceptable behavior.


Figure 6.9: The Lifetrap of Emotional Inhibition (Amir as an adult)


Figure 6.10: A Possible Early Environment Which Would Likely Contribute to the Development of the Emotional Inhibition Lifetrap (Amir as a child) Go to Appendix 1

The Lifetrap of Failure

The sixth and final maladaptive schema (lifetrap) in the domain of disconnection and rejection is failure. The core message of the failure lifetrap is, “I am fundamentally incompetent and have failed, am failing, and will fail again in the future. I am less talented and successful than other people.” The focus of this lifetrap is on achievement and external status symbols of success, rather than on the internal feeling of shame and inferiority that is present in the case of the defectiveness lifetrap.

Some children have a harder time than others in school, which may make them susceptible to developing this lifetrap. However, other children may actually excel at many things but not in the one area their parents value, or they excel in areas that are not to their parents’ liking. When these children become adults, they will always feel down on themselves compared to their peers. Others may tell them that they have done a great job, but they will not believe it. Instead, they always feel like a failure, in relation to their accomplishments, wealth, status, or academic pursuits. Whatever success they have managed to achieve, they will attribute to luck, or they just believe that the people giving them encouragement are mistaken. People with this lifetrap believe they have failed and are destined to fail, and usually do not try very hard to succeed. They make unfair comparisons with others about where they are in life. Some people will not be as successful as others financially, and everyone has limitations in some areas. In fact, it is good for people to be sober about where they are, but people with this lifetrap need to not go to the other extreme. The failure lifetrap is often linked with the defectiveness lifetrap.

Early family environment that might cause this lifetrap to develop:

• The child’s parents emphasized success in something that was not her strength. For example, they may have focused on the sciences, but she may have been good at the arts.

• When the child did not succeed, her parents were harsh with their criticism and called her a failure.

• The child did not receive much encouragement from her parents about her strengths, and was constantly trying to get their attention.

• The child’s parents compared her with her siblings or cousins or she may have heard how much they bragged about them but not about her, so she lost motivation to give her best.

• Friends, teachers or peers looked down on the child due to racism or other reasons, and she may have believed them.


Figure 6.11: The Lifetrap of Failure (Gunther as an adult)


Figure 6.12: A Possible Early Environment Which Would Likely Contribute to the Development of the Failure Lifetrap (Gunther as a child) Go to Appendix 1

Basic Safety Zone

Over the past few pages, we have explained how, if their core emotional need for connection and acceptance is not met, children will be at risk of developing some or all of the lifetraps in the domain of disconnection and rejection. Before we close this chapter, we want to highlight one of the biggest dangers children face today, and one of the biggest contributors to disconnection and rejection: child abuse. Basic safety for this core emotional need revolves around protecting children from abuse for every possible reason, not the least of which is to avoid the development of the mistrust lifetrap. Children need to be protected from all kinds of abuse, be it emotional, verbal, physical, sexual, or the abuse of neglect.

Having counseled hundreds of people who have experienced emotional abuse (discussed throughout these chapters on connection and acceptance) we have found that it is just as harmful if not more so than physical abuse. Having said that, there is absolutely no excuse for physical abuse. It is illegal and in most countries will either land the parent in jail or warrant the child being removed from the home. Neglect is another kind of abuse. In the United States, parents who neglect their children out of ignorance or because of extreme poverty, addiction, criminal activity, or any other reason make up the largest number of abusers, estimated to be as high as 78% of all abuse cases reported.1 Sexual abuse affects all races, cultures, religions, and socioeconomic groups; it is a scourge of our modern world. For young teen girls, the number one predictor of early sexual intercourse is childhood sexual abuse;2 and one out of six boys will be sexually abused by their eighteenth birthday.3 The US based National Center for Victims of Crime website contains shocking statistics as well as helpful advice for assisting a child’s healing process.4 (RR6.1)

It is a given that parents should not abuse their children. Meet the core emotional needs and you will not! In addition, in order to provide basic safety, parents must also do their absolute best to ensure that their kids are not abused by others. This involves getting to know your children’s friends, being involved at school, limiting or not allowing unsupervised play, as well as monitoring your children’s moods when they play with others and when they come home from school. Specific signs of sexual child abuse can be difficult to identify—e.g. pain while walking or sitting, genital pain, excessive aggression, seductiveness, early sexualization, or a sudden change in mood. Keep in mind that some children resist reporting, as they are afraid of angering the offender, blame themselves for the abuse and/or feel guilty and ashamed. Also, pay attention when someone shows greater than normal interest in your child. You can help by being active in prevention services like public education activities, family support programs, or parent education classes. Don’t forget to protect your child from sexual abuse on the Internet. (This will be discussed more in the Basic Safety Zone portion of Chapter Thirteen.)

Louis Lowdown

We informed our kids early on about “private parts”, and how those parts were special, “just for you and one day just for your spouse; that no one outside of Mommy and Daddy was supposed to see or touch them”, and how they should tell us if someone else tried to or did anything strange. We didn’t want them to be ashamed of sex or of their bodies; at the same time we wanted them to understand the concept of modesty, and we absolutely wanted to empower them with a sense of boundaries and have the ability to say “No”. From time to time, we would ask the kids in a very nonchalant way if anyone had tried to touch their private parts, not wanting to alarm them but wanting to provide protection. And we were careful about who spent time with the kids when we were not around. We have heard many stories of children being sexually molested by neighbors, relatives, and kids at school. These stories may have caused us to be a bit hyper-vigilant, but these days, we figure it’s better to be safe than sorry.