Adverse childhood experiences and early maladaptive schemas in adulthood

Adverse childhood experiences and early maladaptive schemas in adulthood

A systematic review and meta-analysis.

Pilkington, P.D., Bishop, A., & Younan, R. (2020).



Schema Therapy is based on the theory that trauma and neglect in childhood lead to early maladaptive schemas and psychopathology in adulthood. The aim of this review was to evaluate support for this theory by synthesizing the literature on childhood adversity and schemas.


A systematic review and meta-analysis were completed in compliance with PRISMA. PsycInfo, CINAHL and PubMed were searched to identify eligible studies that reported unadjusted association(s) between adverse childhood events and schema scores when participants were 18 years or older. Meta-analyses were conducted to estimate the pooled effect size of associations between schemas and experiences of childhood adversity.


A total of 33 studies met inclusion criteria and provided sufficient data for meta-analyses on childhood experiences relating to toxic frustration of needs (emotional neglect and physical neglect) and trauma and victimization (emotional abuse, physical abuse and sexual abuse). Of the 124 meta-analyses, 65 indicated that schemas show small to large correlations with emotional neglect (range: r = .16 [Failure] to r = .51 [Emotional Deprivation]); small to moderate correlations with emotional abuse (range: r = .20 [Vulnerability to Harm] to r = .44 [Emotional Deprivation]); and small correlations with physical neglect, physical abuse and sexual abuse (range: r = .16 [Vulnerability to Harm] to .26 [Emotional Deprivation and Social Isolation]).


Of the 33 included studies, only one used a longitudinal design. However, based on the correlational studies available, early maladaptive schemas in adulthood are associated with a history of childhood abuse and neglect.