Early Maladaptive Schemas

Emotional Deprivation

Early Maladaptive Schemas

Emotional Deprivation

Do you often feel like you don’t have anyone to turn to for support or guidance? That you lack an emotional bond with others and feel an emptiness but don’t know how to explain it? If so, you might have the emotional deprivation schema.

To answer any questions you may have regarding this schema, this article will cover the following topics:

  • What the emotional deprivation schema is
  • An explanation of early maladaptive schemas (EMS)
  • The causes of the emotional deprivation schema
  • Signs of the emotional deprivation schema in childhood and adulthood
  • How the emotional deprivation schema affect a person’s life
  • Treatment methods for the emotional deprivation schema

What Is the Emotional Deprivation Schema?

Emotional deprivation is an early maladaptive schema (EMS). Having the emotional deprivation schema usually means that you expect your needs for affectionate care, empathy, and/or protection will never be fully met. This expectation can leave you feeling lonely and unsupported.

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What Causes the Emotional Deprivation Schema?

The emotional deprivation schema develops in childhood when the primary caregiver is not attuned to the needs of their child. Similar to how insecure attachment develops, such caregivers may miss their child’s cues that they need: affection, empathy, or protection, or they may misinterpret these cues as a need for something else. 

Alternatively, a caregiver may correctly identify their child’s need but might not have the internal resources to satisfy it – for reasons such as mental illness or maladaptive schemas of their own.

Moreover, not all caregivers of someone with the emotional deprivation schema are neglectful – but the child may still have missed out on a specific need, such as to feel listened to or protected.

Signs of the Emotional Deprivation Schema

The effects of the emotional deprivation can be far-reaching, affecting individuals both physically and mentally. For this reason, extreme versions of the emotional deprivation schema can become a disorder. There are three different forms of emotional deprivation that can impact how someone thinks and feels about themselves. They may not have been given love, affection, and nurturance/they may have been deprived of empathy/or they might not have had anyone to rely on for support. 

The signs of emotional deprivation in childhood and adulthood are as follows:

Emotional Deprivation in Childhood

Emotional deprivation in childhood usually manifests as feelings of loneliness, depression, and/or anxiety. As a result of how their needs were catered to by their caregivers, these children believe that their desires are unimportant and stop communicating them.

Consequently, children with the emotional deprivation schema feel alone or empty. Extreme emotional deprivation within infancy can cause failure to thrive, leading to growth issues and developmental delays.

Emotional Deprivation in Adults

Emotional Deprivation in Adults

Alongside feelings of loneliness, depression, and anxiety, emotional deprivation in adults may manifest as viewing innate needs as unimportant or secondary to other peoples. People with the emotional deprivation schema may also have the view that “strong” people do not have emotional needs. Therefore, they may attempt to push down their emotions, avoid talking about their feelings and needs, and act tougher than they are. Such individuals may also have issues with health behaviors, such as eating disorders or drug abuse.

Emotional Deprivation Schema Test

If you wish to find out if you have the emotional deprivation schema, take the free EMS quiz on our website. It will provide you with a rating of how highly you score on each of the 18 maladaptive schemas – including emotional deprivation.

How People Cope With the Emotional Deprivation Schema

The emotional deprivation schema may result in someone attempting to cope with their difficult beliefs in one of three ways: avoidance, overcompensating, or surrendering. 


Some individuals with the emotional deprivation schema may try to avoid situations in which their schema is triggered. For example, they may avoid relationships because they believe them to be unfulfilling, or they may sidestep talking about their needs in order to circumvent disappointment in having those needs left unmet again.


Alternatively, some people with the emotional deprivation schema may overcompensate for their beliefs by acting in opposition to them. For example, such individuals might act clingy, express their needs more vocally and assertively, and possibly even blame others for their negative feelings.

Overcompensation may make the person feel uncomfortable and vulnerable as it goes against the beliefs of their schema. This discomfort alone can reinforce the schema by making the person feel as though they are behaving inappropriately. 

Moreover, if overcompensation does not work in regards to getting the individual’s needs for affection, empathy or protection met, it can further reinforce the schema. This then leaves them with the impression that no matter what they do, their needs will remain unfulfilled. 


Others with the emotional deprivation schema may cope with the difficult beliefs of their schema by surrendering to them. When someone surrenders to this schema, they give in to the belief that their loved ones won’t meet their need for love, empathy, or safety. They might even be attracted to people that are clearly incapable of meeting their emotional needs, so they become a self-fulfilling prophecy by acting in a way that reinforces the idea that others won’t care for them.

Emotional Deprivation Treatment/Therapy

Maladaptive strategies are difficult to change as they are more based on emotion than logic. However, with dedication, consistency, and appropriate emotional deprivation disorder treatment, it is entirely possible to achieve positive change. Schema Therapy uses a variety of techniques to address maladaptive schemas by focusing on early childhood experiences and the therapeutic relationship itself.

Adaptive Strategies

Learn about the schema

People with the emotional deprivation schema are used to not getting their emotional needs met. Moreover, many may not realize why they feel the way they do or even that they have an issue. The first step to overcoming the emotional deprivation schema is to become more aware of what it is and how it affects you. Check out our page on maladaptive schemas if you wish to find out more.

Be mindful of the company you keep

Ask yourself if the people closest to you are reinforcing your schema, and make changes if necessary. Try to surround yourself with people who help you to feel loved, understood, and safe.

Assess your expectations of people

Not having your emotional needs met for such a long time could mean that your needs outweigh what other people can realistically fulfill. Try to come to the realization that people are likely not withholding affection, empathy, or protection on purpose, but instead that they usually offer what they can and when they feel they can give it.

Practice vulnerability

It may be uncomfortable, but try to experience your emotions as you are feeling them. Do not sweep them aside or ignore them as you were taught to. Recognize that experiencing your emotions is a sign of bravery and not a weakness. If you have a partner or close friends, try to open up about how you feel and what you would like more of. Do so gradually, starting with something small. For example, “Holding your hand when we walk makes me feel loved. Is it OK with you if we do that more?”

Padesky C. A. (1994) Schema change processes in cognitive therapy. Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy, 1(5), 267–278.

Schmidt, N. B., Joiner, Jr., T. E., Young, J. E., & Telch, M. J. (1995). The schema questionnaire: Investigation of psychometric properties and the hierarchical structure of a measure of maladaptive schemas. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 19(3), 295-321.

Young, J. E., Klosko, J. S., & Weishaar, M. E. (2003). Schema therapy. Guilford Press.

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