Vulnerability to Harm/ Illness Schema

We may all occasionally be worried about bad things happening to us. However, for individuals with the vulnerability to harm schema, they experience a persistent sense of imminent threats to their safety. This is due to the belief that the world is a dangerous place. When activated, this schema triggers an overwhelming feeling of fear, withdrawal, avoidance, protective measures, and fight or flight responses. These emotions are experienced even in environments that are relatively safe. The true need behind this schema is physical and emotional stability and safety in our environments; and the ability to handle threats or challenges.


Possible fears

  • Medical issues and severe illnesses (eg. cancer, HIV)
  • Emotional issues
  • Financial problems
  • Victims of crimes (eg. robberies, murder)
  • Environmental disasters (eg. earthquakes, warfare)


If you agree with most of these statements, you may have this schema.

  • I worry excessively about potential bad things happening to me or my family
  • My predominant feelings are anxiety and tension
  • I feel unsafe when interacting with my environment
  • I feel that the world is unpredictable and dangerous
  • I tend to catastrophise potential outcomes of challenges I am facing
  •  I worry that I have a terminal illness or that I am going to have a heart attack even though there is no evidence for this
  • I worry about losing all my money 
  • I worry that I may be a victim of a crime


How this schema affects people’s lives

   Mental health issues

  • Anxiety disorders
  • Panic disorders
  • Phobias, especially agoraphobia
  • Obsessive-compulsive Disorder
  • Depression
  • Chronic stress


   Restricting our life

  • Be afraid to leave the house or travel far away from home


   Problems with physical health

  • Lack of sleep
  • Prolonged high levels of stress may lead to  hypertension, heart attack, or stroke
  • Frequently fall ill



  • Diminished friendships, romantic relationships and work relationships


Where it comes from 

  • Overprotective, very fearful, or very stressed parents, or sudden changes in life 
  •  Made you believe that your environment was dangerous 
  • Your amygdala would have been on constant alert and so would have become over-sensitive and hyper-reactive
  • This continues into adulthood as your brain is just trying to keep you alive in this “dangerous” environment


Schema Therapy

  • Understand the fear you experience in your daily life and where it comes from
  • Guide you to judge risk more accurately
  • Reduce reliance on others for reassurance or engaging in reassurance-seeking behaviours 
  • Changing unhelpful beliefs and breaking maladaptive behavioural patterns