Schema Therapy & Emotional Deprivation

By Rosie Barton, LMSW

I often work with men and women who describe a feeling of emptiness and persistent loneliness, but can’t seem to articulate why they feel this way. Often times, these clients lead lives that they feel “should” be fulfilling, though nonetheless they are plagued with this sense that something is missing. Although these clients may have successful careers, have friends they care about, social skills, and hobbies, they might feel as if they are going through life checking off boxes or a to do list, rather than truly being present or enjoying themselves.

Some of these clients benefit from integrating Schema Therapy into their treatment. A schema is a stable, enduring pattern which influences the way we view the world and ourselves. Schemas are often self-defeating, and they lead to maladaptive ways of coping with emotions and situations. An example of one such schema is called “emotional deprivation,” which is one of the most common, yet also one of the hardest to detect. Those with a schema of emotional deprivation might feel that they had a perfectly adequate childhood and that there’s no underlying reason for them to feel such a sense of disconnection. Some indicators that you might have this schema are: 

  • You feel disconnected, even from the people closest to you
  • You feel that no one is there to really listen and understand your true needs and feelings
  • You find it hard to let someone else protect or guide you, even if it’s what you really want inside 
  • You are lonely a lot of the time

If some of these resonated with you, know that you aren’t alone. More and more people are choosing to seek therapy to address these issues, rather than using self-defeating strategies to cope. These negative coping strategies are usually grouped into three categories: surrender, counterattack, and escape. 

Those who surrender to their emotional deprivation schema believe that they will never get the type of love that they crave, and thus might remain in relationships with cold and distant partners who can’t meet their needs. Those who counterattack might become demanding in their relationships, asking for more and more in an attempt to overcome the deprivation and emptiness that they feel in their core. A hard shell of anger might cover up the grief that is underneath. And finally, those who attempt to escape their schema might avoid intimate relationships altogether. By avoiding relationships, one doesn’t have to deal with the disappointment of feeling empty or dissatisfied yet again. 

There are many ways to cope with the emotional deprivation schema that keep you stuck in the same cycle of loneliness and disconnection. However, you aren’t doomed to feel this way forever. It takes a lot of practice and insight, but through therapy it is possible to have a different experience in your relationships. In my next blog, I will be writing about the three types of emotional deprivation and some of the exercises that can help you make sense of your schema and shift the power it has over you and your relationships.

Rosie Barton is a therapist at Cobb Psychotherapy. If you would like support in prioritizing and taking care of your mental health, contact Cobb Psychotherapy and see how therapy can help.