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Hi and welcome to Episode Number 5 in SHSN – the show that lets you discover self help that works.
Mini Series – Reinventing your life…why? Because there is so much in this book that is of great value. Its full of useful information and there is a lot to learn here. It’s not a doorstop of a book…you won’t feel like you are reading Tolstoy. It’s just that its rich and I think a mini-series on this book will help you identify whether this book is right for you. And, secondly, by talking about the key lessons here, I can begin to help you figure out whether you have a lifetrap and what you can do to begin to break free from it.
So, how am I going to do this? This is episode number one of the reinventing your life mini-series. At this stage, I am planning on 6 episodes in total. So, I won’t cover each lifetrap. Instead, I am going to focus on the ones I’ve come across most of all in my therapy work. The ones that for some reason seem to come up the most for people.
They won’t quite run in sequence. In that I’m going to release episodes on other topics with some featured interviews over the next several months. So this mini-series is one that we can dip in and out of over the course of the next several months. Of course, you can listen back to all of the episodes once they have been released by either subscribing in Itunes or visiting openforwards.com/series/selfhelpsatnav. If you have an android device like me, you can’t use Itunes, but you can use other podcast apps. My favourite is Castbox, which works fantastically for me. There may be others that work very well, I’ve just not tried them out.
So….let’s get started on today’s episode which is an introductory overview and lesson 1 in this mini-series of Reinventing your life.
A Book based on Schema Therapy written by Jeffrey Young and Janet Klosko
Influential book for me personally and professionally – helped me to see through the fog when I’ve felt lost with a client and their struggles.
How can it help you
This book is all about lifetraps….not to be confused with honey traps or mouse traps. A lifetrap is a pattern of behaviours in your life which mean you get stuck with something. It could be in your relationships e.g. you worry about being abandoned or you mistrust people thinking they mostly have an ulterior motive. So you might avoid getting close to people or you try to control them.
It could be about your view of yourself e.g. that you’re unimportant or that you don’t fit in or that there is something wrong with you. Consequently, you might try to present or create a more appealing version of yourself.
There are many examples of lifetraps. In this book – Reinventing your life…they talk about 11 different traps. And today, I’m going to mention them one by one. Just briefly so you can get an idea of whether this book will be of use to you.
Who is it by?
J Young is a Psychologist working in New York and following his training in CBT he noticed that some people do well and others do less well. The differences being the levels of severity. So he began making a list of the patterns he had seen his clients get stuck with. What he calls lifetraps of schemas.
The ways that he helps people in this approach uses a blend of psychotherapeutic models including Gestalt, Attachment, TA and Systemic as well CBT.
In this episode –
I’ll introduce you to life traps…talk about what they are….give some broad categories for the lifetrap e.g. is it do with relating to others, your abilities to cope on your own and independent of other, whether you live to high standards, or if you always fear the worst will happen. I’ll help you begin to identify how to recognise them and then beginning to talk about coping styles that keep you stuck….and the final great thing about this book is that it takes you through a step-by-step process of how to break-free from them.
What is a life trap in more detail
A lifetrap is a combination of things. It is a memory, the emotions that go with that memory, the physical feelings or sensations and any thoughts or beliefs that go with this experience. And it is something that stems from your childhood or adolescence. This lifetrap then turns up in your life now on a regular basis. Certain circumstances or events trigger this lifetrap. It gets activated.
So an example might be that you recently felt upset because your partner was dismissive of a problem you had at work. You felt upset about it. You felt like he or she didn’t care. When you think about it, you notice that you have felt like this on many occasions with friends and your boss at work. You just often feel like others don’t care that much about you.
Now this could be related to your childhood or teenage years. For example, if I asked you to focus in on this recent event like you were there right now and to connect with the upset, the hurt and the sensations in your body, it may lead to a memory from when you were young. Let’s say that you have a memory of your parents ignoring you when you wanted to play a game. And maybe you remember it because you felt sad. It is quite a strong feeling similar to the one you are having now and recently about people not caring. The sensations in your body are similar also.
Now if this were the case, we could hypothesise that this happened on many occasions when you were young and you felt sad and like others didn’t care as well. So, this pain has stayed with you. It has led to you experiencing this pain now, recently. And, it will probably show up again when something else happens that is triggers the thoughts and feelings that people don’t care enough. This is what we call a lifetrap.
OK, so hopefully, that example puts this into perspective a little. But, I am also suspecting that you have some reservations about this scenario. Like, maybe you don’t want to blame your parents for the problems you are having right now. Maybe that seems too easy or playing the victim or not taking responsibility. I can understand that. But, the point of this isn’t necessarily to lay blame and leave it at that.
Its more about seeing that things aren’t your fault, but that they aren’t necessarily someone else’s either. As a grown up, you probably know quite a bit about your parent’s situation when you were younger. Maybe they had to work a lot to support you and your brothers and sisters. Maybe, one of them struggled with their own health and wellbeing. As adults you get to see your parents from the point of view of a grown up. When you were young you didn’t. It’s just about seeing how things were and understanding that you would have been effected by that.
Ok. So, the next thing to look at here is coping styles.
Coping styles tend to be the things that keep you stuck or that help you move forwards. Young And Klosko highlight three key coping styles. They explain why people are effected differently by the same or similar events. For example, in the scenario I just gave….you and your brother who tends to feel like others don’t care as well have very different ways of dealing with this hurt.
You tend to sit quiet and go into yourself. You don’t say much about it, but you feel the hurt and the pain. You also tend to stay in relationships with people who dismiss you, ignore you or don’t make you feel special. But your brother on the other hand, he is quite a loner. He hasn’t had a relationship and he doesn’t have many friends. He keeps his distance from people and he struggles with low mood and depression.
So here are two different coping styles. The first, yours, is what we call surrender. Surrender is when you give in to the lifetrap. It is when you are compliant with it. You act as if it were true and you feel as though you can’t do anything about it. Your brother doesn’t do that though. He keeps people at arms length, so his coping style is to escape the lifetrap. He feels that is also true that people don’t care, but instead of being with people that behave in ways where he feels like that over and over, he withdraws in order to avoid the pain, the hurt and the sadness.
So, here you have two coping styles. The third that the authors talk about is counter-attack. This could be where you punish people when this feeling shows up. You try to get your own back or to hurt them. It’s just your way of trying to control your own pain, by making someone else feel it. It might make you feel powerful for a short period. Counter-attack is about over-compensating for the lifetrap. You try to stand up for yourself, but you go too far in the process. You try to win or you end being too aggressive. It can be quite destructive as I am sure you can imagine.
Ok, so lets summarise what weve said so far.
1. Lifetraps are ways that you get stuck over and over again. They are patterns in your behaviour and your experiences. These lifetraps are things born in your childhood that follow you into adulthood.
2. Understanding your lifetraps isn’t necessarily about blaming others for your problems. Its about understanding that things happened in your past, which would impact anyone.
3. You develop coping styles which tend to be surrender, escape or counterattack.
The problem with these coping styles is that they stop you from moving on. They are just temporary short-term solutions which don’t heal.
In Chapter 5 of Reinventing your life. Young and Klosko outline a step-by-step process for overcoming your lifetraps. It is made up of 8 different steps, which you’ll need to work through.
Now, I’m going to slow down a bit here. I’m not going to rush into the solutions here. Because I haven’t yet gone into the different types of lifetrap that can effect you. I first want to outline these lifetraps so you can see which ones effect you.
So, I’m going to give you a brief description of each lifetrap. You can follow up on these in the book to see them in more detail. And as I say, in future episodes in this mini-series, I’m going to be looking at the more common types from my therapy work.
1. The Abandonment Lifetrap – this can be summed up in the thought “please don’t leave me”. If you have this life-trap then you are often fearful that others will leave you. It might not because you think there is anything necessarily wrong with you, but because of a lack of stability in your past, you have to expect that others won’t hang around for very long. They’ll just up and leave at some point. As a result, you might avoid relationships, get clingy in them or end them before someone has the chance to end it with you.
2. The mistrust and abuse lifetrap – this is built around the strongly held view the you cannot trust others. You are very cautious and weary. You might give people a chance, but once they show the first sign of not being able to be trusted, your predictions are confirmed. Your coping style could be to cut people out of your life, it might be to keep them around but you often question them about whether they’ve had an affair or you might do completely the opposite, which is to trust everybody regardless with everything. As a result you don’t act cautiously enough.
3. The emotional deprivation lifetrap – “I’ll never get the love I need” With this lifetrap, you often feel sad or numb in relationships. It comes from a lack of care, love and affection growing up. You may not realise you have it, because what you have had seems normal. But, if this does exist, your coping style might be to choose people who can’t or won’t love you back enough, you avoid others all together or you try to shower others with love and affection in the hope it will be reciprocated.
4. The Social Exclusion lifetrap – This is the strong sense of not fitting in. It is born out of childhood experiences of feeling like you never fitted in when you were at school as well as possibly at home. So, your coping styles could be to behave in ways that are different to the norm e.g. dress very differently or live very differently. Now, please don’t take that I’m saying anyone who acts different to the norm has a social exclusion lifetrap. Some people are very comfortable in their independence and non-conformity. The issue is about the motivation to do it, whether it’s about connection with what you love or about helping you stay on guard to others excluding behaviour towards you. Another style might be that you try really hard to be liked and to fit in.
5. The dependence lifetrap – This is a life built around needing others to do stuff, to go places, to take on new challenges. You don’t feel that you are capable enough on your own. So, you might stay in your comfort zone a lot. Avoid risks. You cling to someone else to do stuff or if that person isn’t there, you feel helpless and panicky a lot of the time.
6. The vulnerability lifetrap – this is like carrying around with you an underlying sense of dread that something awful and terrifying could happen at any moment. This is a central feature of having been traumatised by something. You feel vulnerable to what might happen. So, you are weary and hypervigilant. Or, you stay at home a lot for fear of attack or an accident.
7. The defectiveness lifetrap – people who suffer with defectiveness carry around with them an underlying struggle with shame. They feel that if they get close to people, the other person won’t like what they see. So, they try to make sure that others don’t see the real them. You might hide your true thoughts and feelings for fear of being rejected or judged. You might show a more pleasing side of yourself e.g. crack jokes all the time. Or, you might just feel awkward a lot of the time, not saying much, being overly polite or trying not to be noticed.
8. The failure lifetrap – This is about fearing future failures and feeling as though you already are. When you look back at your achievements, you hone in on the mistakes you’ve made and you feel disappointed, guilty or frustrated. It can lower your mood, cause a lot of work stress and make you anxious when new challenges arise. You might over-plan or prepare for stuff, avoid real challenges or take on job roles and activities that you really aren’t prepared for. You set yourself up for failing.
9. The subjugation lifetrap – This is when you give in to what you think others want. You are afraid that if you don’t give others what they seem to need or want, that you’ll be criticised or rejected. You fear the punishment or retribution. So you subjugate your own needs to those of others. Doing it their way looks like never making suggestions or expressing your opinion, hiding what you really want to do. You might get into relationships with people who do are controlling or you allow yourself to be dominated by people who are already in your life e.g. bosses, colleagues, parents, friends.
10. The unrelenting standards lifetrap – this is the belief that you’ll never be good enough. To praise yourself is completely alien. Instead, you focus too much on what didn’t go well, on the mistakes you made. You might have perfectionistic tendencies. You might waste time putting things off because the challenge of being perfect is too demanding or you work your socks off trying to get it right, maybe repeating things. With this lifetrap you can appear quite obsessive about work.
11. The entitlement lifetrap – this is true of people that have not had boundaries growing up. It is the spoilt child. It is a sense that your needs are more important than others. You feel better or superior to other people. So, you bully to get what you want or you always look to win against other people. Or, you feel as though others owe you something like their time, attention or money. You often act impulsively, because you can’t tolerate the frustration of not having something now. You never learned to tolerate it. So, you might treat others with contempt, complain a lot, criticise others to get them to give you what you want, you might struggle to limit your eating, drinking or spending. You might not listen to others and focus on what they need. Having this lifetrap means that you focus on what you need and want. You can’t help it.
Ok. Wow! So well done for sticking with that. That is a lot to get your head around. If I were you I’d go back though this episode again so you can really understand all this stuff. The transcript can help you as well. Hopefully, you’ve picked up some pointers there. Which lifetraps seem to turn up in your life? Take a few minutes to write them down if you haven’t already.
That is it for today. We’ve looked at what lifetraps are and the coping styles people adopt that keep them stuck. You’ve heard a description of the 11 different lifetraps highlighted in the book. So, now I’ve a small request from you. Please can you hit me a reply with the top 3 lifetraps you’d like me to focus on. I’ve got an idea of those I think are more common, but I really want to give you the listener a chance to vote. So, leave your comments below with your top 3 suggestions from the 11 we looked at today. If you aren’t sure which lifetrap your difficulties fit into, leave me a description of what happens.
I’m in the process of developing an online version of the questionnaire, so you can complete it and get your results. Check back in a few weeks when it should be up and running.
Thanks for tuning in. If you liked this episode, please go over to itunes and leave us some feedback.