The Process by which our Adult Relationships can be Ruined


As we grow up, we form MENTAL MODELS representing what our relationships with others are like. The term that psychologists often use to refer to such mental models is INTERPERSONAL SCHEMA.

These interpersonal schema develop from early infancy and throughout childhood. Overwhelmingly, the form they take is influenced by the quality of our relationships with our parents/primary caregivers.

Vitally, these interpersonal schema FUNDAMENTALLY AFFECT how we interact with others in later life. Those who suffer mistreatment by parents/caregivers are very likely to form NEGATIVE INTERPERSONAL SCHEMA which ADVERSELY AFFECT their relationships with others as they get older ; problems relating to others may start, for example, at school, and then, later,  become apparent at work (or, indeed, in any other context in which it is necessary to interact with others).

images (4)


The individual who, due to his/her traumatic experiences as a child, has developed negative interpersonal schema very frequently becomes unconsciously compelled to form relationships which lead to a re-experiencing or re-enactment of the original trauma (it is theorized that this occurs as an unconscious attempt to master the original trauma).

An example of this would be that of a woman who was physically beaten by her father as a child being unconsciously driven to form intimate relationships with men who are likely to physically abuse her during her adulthood.

Another example would be of someone who was rejected by parents as a child becoming unconsciously driven to ensure he is also rejected by those he forms relationships with as an adult.


In this way, the negative interpersonal schemas which we developed during our traumatic childhoods lead us to sabotage our adult relationships for reasons that are operating below the conscious threshold (until we are made aware of these unconscious mechanisms, for example, through undergoing the appropriate therapy eg schema therapy).

images (5)


Essentially, the process by which the development of our negative interpersonal schema develop occurs as follows :

1) As infants and children, we are ‘programmed’ by our evolutionary history (for survival reasons) to endeavour to form strong emotional attachments with our primary caregivers; this remains true even if they are ‘bad’ caregivers (bad care is better than no care from an evolutionary perspective).

2) The negative interpersonal schema we learn from our experience of our dysfunctional early relationships PROFOUNDLY INFLUENCE how we behave in our future relationships, and what we expect from them.

3) This will tend to lead to repeated difficulties in the relationships we form as adults – they, too, will tend to be dysfunctional and destructive.

4) This in turn reinforces and strengthens the negative interpersonal schema that we formed during our childhoods, further compounding our already serious problem.

5) These negative schema, and the relationship difficulties which accompany them, can last well into adulthood, or, even, a lifetime, preventing us from ever developing emotionally fulfilling and satisfying intimate relationships.

6) Often , the problem may only be properly resolved by the affected individual undergoing the appropriate therapy eg schema therapy.

Recommended Resources :


David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

(Visited 962 times, 1 visits today)
Please follow and like us:

About David Hosier MSc

Holder of MSc and post graduate teaching diploma in psychology. Highly experienced in education. Founder of Survivor of severe childhood trauma.

Leave a Comment

Post Navigation


Found this blog interesting? Please share.