Mistrust/Abuse Schema

Individuals who experience some form of disconnection or rejection may develop one or more of these five schemas: abandonment, mistrust/abuse, emotional deprivation, defectiveness/shame, and social isolation.

We may all have the occasional doubt that someone else isn’t playing with open cards, may want to take advantage of us, or will in some way harm us. If you have developed a mistrust/abuse schema, this fear is more persistent and likely to quickly engage your defences. There may be a conscious or subconscious expectation that other people are a source of danger; whereby they may hurt, abuse, manipulate, humiliate, cheat or otherwise cause harm. This may come together with the sense of always being at a disadvantage or other people always having one up on us.


When activated, understandably this schema may trigger high levels of defence or even attack behaviours, when feeling threatened or disadvantaged. It can leave you second-guessing other people’s intentions, putting a strain on relationships with family and friends. The true need behind this schema is often wanting to feel safe in our emotional attachments.



Here are some questions to think about if you are considering whether the mistrust/abuse schema resonates with you:

Do you find it difficult to take what someone says at face value?

Do you find it difficult to trust people?

Are you sceptical about people’s intentions, especially if they act in a nice way?

Do you find it difficult to let your guard down with people?

Do you have the sense that people try to take advantage of you?

Do you have the sense that you always seem to be getting the short end of the stick?

Do you find that in the past, people you have trusted have turned on you?

Do you have the expectation that people close to you are likely to hurt you?


If you generally answer no to most these questions, you are unlikely to have developed the mistrust/abuse schema. If you think the mistrust/abuse schema applies to you, start observing when it comes up in your daily life. Recognition is key to changing patterns that stop you from achieving your goals.


To find out more about your own personal schemas, book a consultation with Dr. Terrighena on (852) 2715 4577 or e.terrighena@mind-balance.org.

Dr Esslin Terrighena - Psychologist in Hong Kong

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