Mistrust/abuse - "I'm not safe"

How to feel safe emotionally and where it stems from.

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If you have the mistrust/abuse schema, the world itself may feel like a dangerous place. You find it hard letting new people in. Because when you do, they only ever hurt you.

Perhaps you start dating someone new and there’s a flurry of excitement. It’s going to be different this time, you say to yourself. But somewhere along the way a throwaway comment triggers your defences. Alarm bells ring and instinctively, you retreat.

The echo of past experiences tells the same story over and over: “Everyone uses you. No one can be trusted”.

How did this schema develop?

This schema typically develops when we’ve been badly hurt and betrayed - exposed to some of the very worst sides of human nature. Growing up, you may have suffered abuse - emotionally, physically or sexually. Your boundaries were violated and disregarded. 

Most importantly, you likely did not feel safe - a basic right of every child.

Most parents are able to offer an environment that is safe and loving for their children. It may not be perfect but it is enough. 

However, some parents are not.

It’s possible that you grew up in an environment where a parent abused drugs or alcohol. They were neglectful and “out of it” a lot of the time. Or you may have had a parent who was highly narcissistic and cruel. They taunted you, pushed you around and called you names. 

Whatever the case was for you, your parents were unable - or perhaps unwilling - to offer you adequate love and protection. 

This is a painful way to grow up as a child... And unfortunately, these are the types of environments where abuse can sometimes go unchecked.

Today, you probably recognise that what happened was wrong. But when you were young, it would have been a different story. 

As children, we simply don’t have the life experience to tell the difference between right and wrong. We might feel like something is wrong, but we don’t have the maturity to know for sure. We are therefore dependent on the adults in our lives to protect us and keep us safe.

Because of this, when bad things happen, we are more likely to internalise them, believing that it says something about us (rather than placing the blame with our abuser, where it belongs).

This schema can also develop following abuse or a betrayal that happened later in life. You may have had an ex who was volatile, deceptive or emotionally manipulative, for example.

Either way, you received the same message: people are not to be trusted. 

Some people are also modelled this way of being in the world. You may have had a parent who was anxious and untrusting because of their own life experiences.

If you can relate to this, you may recognise some of the following messages:

“You can’t trust anyone”

“People are only ever out for number one” 

“Don’t talk to strangers”

“I don’t believe you”

“Everyone’s out for themselves”

“That never happened”

“The world is a scary place!”

It’s true that we need to exercise some degree of caution in the world. If we don’t, we leave ourselves vulnerable to being taken advantage of. But if we approach the world from a place of mistrust, it’s not just other people who are the problem. What we’re really saying is that we also don’t trust our own judgement either.

One of the most difficult things about this schema is that it also leaves us out of tune with ourselves.

Signs you have this schema:

  • You can be sceptical of people’s intentions even when you have no reason to be
  • You worry that people will lie to you, manipulate or humiliate you if you let them in
  • You may have lots of friends but only very few are able to get truly close to you
  • You date people but things never progress to the next stage because you don’t let your guard down
  • You’re quick to cut things off with people at the first hint of anything
  • You have a pattern of dating people who are abusive and/or highly critical

The journey to better relationships starts with you.

Get on demand dating and relationship support.

Rooted in proven psychological principles.

Take a free relationship assessment to explore what’s holding you back.

Find out your Relationship Style