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What happens if our Core Childhood Needs are not met?

Updated: Mar 3, 2022

Schema therapy looks at humans as having multiple parts of themselves competing for the role of being in charge. Ideally, we would like to see ourselves in the “healthy adult mode” when making our decisions and interacting with the world around us. However, based on our past experiences starting in childhood, we may have established so-called early maladaptive schemas. These schemas are beliefs, feelings, and expectations about us and our environments that we developed when some of our important childhood needs were repeatedly not met. These can then lead to negative patterns of thoughts, feelings or behaviours that perhaps were once adaptive to challenging circumstances, but now as adults have become maladaptive.

Ironically, often the same needs that led to the schema forming in childhood, will continuously be prevented by this schema in adulthood. An example of this can be found in individuals who have a fear of being abandoned, which, when triggered, causes them to act in clingy or confrontational ways that ultimately push their partners or friends away. This then fulfils and thereby confirms the expectation of abandonment.

When schemas are triggered, the healthy adult mode often loses in the competition for control. Instead, we may find our emotional child mode or our critical authority mode take the reins, resulting in things like temper tantrums, anxiety attacks, harsh self-criticism or catastrophizing. To ease our discomfort, we may engage in coping modes that can make things worse. Examples of these include perfectionism, avoidance, detachment or self-soothing with food, alcohol, sex or drugs.

We all have some form of the eighteen schemas determined by schema therapy, but it is relevant to examine which ones lead to patterns in our lives that do not serve us well. Identifying the schemas that apply to us is a first step to taking away the power they have to back us into negative, overwhelming or dysfunctional thoughts, feelings, and behaviours. Importantly, schemas developed over time in childhood when important core needs of ours were not met.

Check out my previous article on core childhood needs here. Over the next few months, we will look at core childhood needs, 18 different schemas, inner critics, and maladaptive coping behaviours to see how these can interact to prevent you from achieving your needs and goals, and enhancing your wellbeing.

To find out more about your own personal schemas, book a consultation with psychologist in Hong Kong Dr. Terrighena on (852) 2521 4668 or

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