What makes women attracted to ‘bad boys’? Do you ever find yourself reliving similar situations like being attracted to the wrong type of people that make a healthy relationship a unicorn? This goes back to your childhood – no surprise there.
We’ll have a look at what the 11 lifetraps are, their origins, some inappropriate coping mechanisms, how they prevent you from having the right relationship for you, and the successful (but not easy, unfortunately) way out. Strangely enough, attraction is stronger with partners who trigger your lifetrap.
What are lifetraps?
As a child, your basic needs were simple: safety, autonomy, connection to others, self-esteem, self-expression and realistic limits. And yet so many things can go wrong while raising a child that I seriously doubt any of us are sane. When these basic needs are not met entirely, the child can develop inappropriate cognitive patterns: distorted learnings about himself and the world. Then the adult will apply this pattern throughout his life and will seek situations that reconfirm it in a self-defeating and self-destructive way. It’s what we call a lifetrap and it affects how we relate to others and ourselves. Lifetraps become so central to our sense of self and identity that we prefer to relive them although it hurts than to give in to insecurity about not knowing who we are and what the world is like. The lifetraps were adaptations to our conditions as children, yet we tend to relive them in an environment where they serve no purpose anymore.
Inappropriate coping mechanisms
The way lifetraps develop or manifest depends on the temperament and genetic predisposition. If two children were abused, one might become passive and one might fight back. Coping can range from surrender, escape to counterattack.
By surrendering we are just perpetuating the childhood situation into adulthood passively.
The disadvantage of escaping is that we never confront that situation that causes negative feelings so we can never change our perception and overcome this trap. Instead, we go for emotional numbness.
Counterattackers avoid being vulnerable and acknowledging their problem. Instead, they’d rather act exactly the opposite, hurting other people in the process.
Now let’s look at how lifetraps originate in unmet needs as a child.
Need: Safety and Security – Lifetraps: Abandonment and Mistrust/Abuse
If your parents divorced, if one of them died, was alcoholic or depressed, or if they sent you to be raised by your grandparents, you might develop the abandonment lifetrap. Being scared that people will leave you, you could become very clingy, possessive or quite the opposite: very cold and unavailable. You’re attracted to unstable people or situations like a magnet and stability makes you anxious. Or you could avoid relationships altogether, although you might tell yourself you’re looking for loving stable relationships.
People who were abused physically or psychologically (criticism, humiliation, blackmail, threats) develop a mistrust/abuse lifetrap and expect the worst from people, always on the lookout for ulterior motives. They develop superficial relationships, don’t open up, are jealous or surprisingly, they can be strongly attracted to abusers who treat them badly or perpetuate the abuse themselves.
Need: Connection to others – Lifetraps: Emotional Deprivation and Social Exclusion
Children need a lot of attention, affection and guidance. If as a child you felt you were deprived of enough TLC, as an adult you could feel extremely lonely, distant, emotionally disconnected, like no one loves you or cares for you. You are chronically disappointed in other people. The emotional deprivation lifetrap can make you grow cold and be attracted to cold people, thus engaging in relationships that reconfirm the world is a lonely place where you don’t fit in. Healthy relationships seem boring. Or you could counterattack and become narcissistic and extra demanding.
We all need to feel accepted by others. It’s equally important to accept ourselves. If as a child you were bullied or felt different because of a certain characteristic like coming from a poor family or being too fat/skinny, you will perpetuate this social exclusion lifetrap by avoiding to socialise.
Need: Self-Esteem – Lifetraps: Defectiveness and Failure
Childhood experiences like being constantly criticised or made to feel inferior by comparison to a sibling can make you lose the sense of your value and worth and be filled with shame. Praise and encouragement build self-esteem and confidence. The difference between defectiveness and failure is that the first is inward, where your own flaws make you feel unlovable, while the latter is external, where you feel you are bound to not succeed.
If you feel defective, unworthy of love and are self-punitive, if you expect rejection or lack of achievement, you will trigger situations that will make it happen: people who will criticise you or you’ll find yourself in situations that are above your capabilities. You might engage in short-lived passionate relationships with no chance of ever working out or where you’re mistreated because you feel that’s all you deserve. Or, on the contrary, be hypercritical of others or abuse and neglect your partner, devalue them so you don’t care too much when they reject you. Sometimes, acts of superiority or putting people down actually conceal a lack of self-worth. You might be extremely sensitive to criticism and overly-jealous. You could overcompensate by seeking success and putting all your self-worth in external recognition.
When you feel a failure, you feel like an impostor even when you’re successful, like you fooled people into believing you’re more capable than you really are. Your inner feelings made you avoid taking the steps to advance your career or specialise in one field and thus you might be lagging behind compared to your friends .
Need: Autonomy – Lifetraps: Dependence and Vulnerability
If your parents were unsupportive of your attempts to venture out and explore the world on your own, to take responsibility for your actions and choices and exercise good judgment, a dependence lifetrap can make you cling to people and feel you’re incapable of making it on your own or succeeding in new endeavours. You minimise your successes and magnify shortcomings. You’re afraid of change and decisions because of a lack of faith in your own judgment. Or you could overcompensate by an independence driven to extremes which conceals feelings of incompetence.
Parents sometimes are overprotective or not protective enough and instill in their children this feeling that the world is a dangerous place to live in. This excessive fear, be it of diseases, earthquakes, bankruptcy, flying or being the victim of crime, can be taken well into adulthood part of the vulnerability lifetrap. You will seek a partner to take care of you and reassure you that will prevent you from proving yourself.
Need: Self-Expression – Lifetraps: Subjugation and Unrelenting Standards
Sometimes parents might have such fixed ideas of who their child should be that they delete their personality completely and deny any self-expression. This child will relive the subjugation lifetrap by entering relationships and jobs where they’re dominated and controlled. They’ll put other people’s needs first out of guilt or fear of being punished or submit to a life of routine. They’ll watch passively how life happens to them and won’t be in touch with what they want. Frustration due to lack of assertiveness and too many unmet needs will build in and take the form of suppressed anger and sometimes passive aggressiveness or even a rebel, domineering and aggressive behaviour to overcompensate.
Encouraging a child to do his or her best is different from always expecting them to be the best. A parent’s love should be unconditional. The unrelenting standards lifetrap can make you be extremely demanding and judgmental of yourself and others and forever dissatisfied: nothing is good enough in the ongoing strife for perfection (also see Fixed vs growth mindset). To you the world is divided between top achievers and losers. The pressure to always achieve generates a lot of anxiety.
Need: Realistic Limits – Lifetrap: Entitlement
It’s easy to spoil a child when they’re the most important thing in your life, but you’re destining them to an entitlement lifetrap, where they lack self-discipline, frustration tolerance, and have unreasonable expectations of what others should do (for them). They demand: they cannot take a no. They’ll be perceived as self-centred, narcissistic and even abusive and will always put the blame on others. Their demands will drain the people around them. Or by counterattacking they could develop entitlement as a result of multiple deprivations while growing up and start demanding everything as an adult. This lifetrap is the hardest to change because it’s not necessarily a pain spot for the concerned person, but more for the people around, so the person has little motivation to change.
Lifetraps are deeply ingrained in our perception and identity. It takes constant observation and self-disciplined intervention to change.
But first, start with identifying your lifetrap and for this you need to reach deep into your childhood and allow yourself to be vulnerable, to feel the pain. More often than not, a couple of lifetraps overlap, but tackle the one that’s more approachable first.
Talk to the child you once were and comfort him or her.
Then ventilate your anger (in a letter or out loud) against whoever did you wrong as a child.
Prove that your lifetrap is not valid: bring evidence pro and con your lifetrap ie things that confirm or invalidate your perception of yourself and of the world.
Friends can help give you a clearer picture of yourself. No need to go in this alone.
You can summarise the evidence in a flashcard you keep with you.
Identify patterns in your past (relationships) that manifest the lifetrap. Draw a list of habits that reinforce your lifetrap and ways to change them.
Develop a thorough action plan to challenge each debilitating situation, trait or habit. But approach change gradually with what’s more manageable.
Resist strong chemistry with people that are likely to just reinforce your lifetrap by leaving you or criticising. Instead, go for more stable, emotionally available partners where the same attachment will appear with time.
Don’t allow people to mistreat you anymore. You deserve much more.
Accept love – as strange as it may sound, it’s not such an easy thing to do.
Change is to be brought through empathic self-confrontation, where you are gentle and compassionate with yourself while striving to change.
Do not blame your parents. Take responsibility for who you are.
If you’d like to know more about these lifetraps, their origin and how to change them, I recommend reading Reinventing your life, by Jeffrey and Klosko, which includes a self-diagnose questionnaire, lots of case examples and separate chapters on how to tackle each lifetrap. I hope it’s as eye-opening as it was for me.