Category Archives: Blog

The Costs of Social Media Overuse and How to Practice Moderation

How many times have you walked into a restaurant or a movie theater and noticed that everyone is on their phone? Four friends might be sitting together having lunch, yet they are not really together, preferring to connect with a piece of technology, choosing to interact with an object rather than the people right in front of them. What does this mean about us? What are the implications for future generations? What is the long-term impact of this addiction to technology on modern relationships? What will the next generation look like?

Internet addiction affects nearly 6 percent of the global population. Symptoms of online addiction include anxiety, depression, euphoric feelings when in the presence of devices, lost sense of time, weight gain, and the avoidance of work. It also has serious ramifications for those in romantic relationships. Excessive usage of Twitter and Facebook has been linked to cheating, breakups and divorce, often rooted in conflicts over time spent on these platforms.

dreamstime_m_40519981Heavy internet use can cause people to identify more with online identities than real life ones. Online, you my find it easy to frame your life as one of total fulfillment and it’s likely that many in your network are doing the same. Because of this, it’s often easier to interact online because of its superficiality: it is simple to avoid awkward or vulnerable moments that reveal our insecurities and problems.

And there’s evidence that this is leading to an increasing preference for online interactions over those in real life. According to one study, one in four people spend more time on social media than in real-life social situations, and as many as 11 percent of adults prefer to spend a weekend communicating online than socializing.

The Other Side

Research indicates that social media use can make us feel sad. According to a study from the University of Michigan, the more participants used Facebook, the worse they felt. This, researchers said, is likely due to social comparisons. You most likely have experienced social comparisons when looking through your social network’s glamorous photos and happy messages and feel that your own life pales in comparison. Repeated exposure to these comparisons can lead to unhealthy beliefs about our self worth. A recent study has shown that social media can either increase or decrease feelings of loneliness, depending on how people use it. People who tend to be more passive online (reading other’s posts) are at a higher risk for increasing feelings of loneliness and a lack of belonging.

What can we do to reduce the negative effects of social media overuse?

  1. Practice moderation.

Just like in any other activity, moderation is the key. Too much social media can cripple your social skills, while too little can make you feel as though you are on the outside looking in. Use technology in a mindful way. Try to differentiate between online interactions and real life interactions. Whenever you hang out with your friends, turn off your smartphone and focus on face-to-face interactions. Conversely, when you’re on a business trip, social media can be a lifesaver because you can use it to chat with your friends and family.

  1. Change your perspective.

The first thing we need to recognize is that social media is just a tool like any other. We use it in order to make our lives a bit easier. Think about the main purpose of your online behavior. Is it a way of avoiding real life problems or is it a way of being more productive and efficient? Identifying the main reason why you choose to go online can make a difference.

  1. Assume responsibility.

Just like in real life, social media is a place where everybody is responsible for their own actions and each of us can choose effective and authentic behavior. Despite recent Internet laws and regulations, people are still somewhat free to do as they please, as long as they don’t cause harm to other people. Make sure that what you post (if it’s public) is something you’d be comfortable sharing with your future boss, your friends, and your family. Don’t act quickly or impulsively, take your time, choose your words, save an email as a draft before sending it.

  1. Be transparent.

Relationships are built on mutual respect and trust. Authentic connections are based on honesty and openness. If you want a lasting relationship with your significant other, being honest and open about your social media use, while at the same time keeping healthy boundaries, is the way to go.

As for collegial relationships, the best thing you can do is to act naturally in both real and online interactions. Don’t try to be someone you’re not just because you’re hidden behind a screen.

  1. Be mindful

It’s easy to get distracted by notifications. Social media, e-mails, news, videos, phone calls and text messages interrupt us hundreds of times every day.

Make sure you schedule some time every day in which you are fully aware of what you are doing, whether it’s brushing your teeth in the morning or talking to your significant other. Also practice doing one thing at a time. Some time off with no distractions helps you focus better, improves your cognitive abilities and your performance. It also reduces stress and tension, and this will allow you to enjoy your free time and the company of other people.

These 5 easy steps are only a guide that you can follow in order to improve your relationships and to reduce the negative effects of social media overuse. However, the most important thing is your inner voice and what it tells you. Learn how to pay attention to your needs. We’re not built to sit in front of a screen most of the day. Our bodies also need some time out in the nature. Don’t forget to also interact with real-world people and objects. Furthermore, learn to make the most of your time online by choosing to use what is helpful and removing what is simply noise and distraction.

Don’t forget that you are in charge of your actions and you might as well enjoy the whole process of building the lifestyle that you want for yourself!

Schema-driven Relationship problems

We often find ourselves repeating the same patterns over and over in relationships, so much so that it can sometimes feel that we’re dating or marrying the same person over and over. This is a common phenomenon, but there is a way to break these patterns, to have fulfilling relationships that reflect the types of people we want to be.

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Schemas are strongly held core beliefs that we have about ourselves, others, relationships, and the world. Schemas are hard to let go of because they make us feel safer by providing us with a level of predictability and certainty about how people will respond to us.

Schemas get developed in early childhood through our experiences with our environment, including our family, peers, and siblings. We then learn to cope and respond to our environments. These coping responses are usually adaptive and reasonable reactions to our environments and our upbringing. For example, individuals who have an abandonment schema may have been abandoned by someone they love or may have had a relationship with a caretaker in early childhood who was either unstable or unreliably available to them. Therefore they learned that people are unreliable, unstable, and may leave at any moment.

All of our schemas come from somewhere as a response to our environment, and the coping responses that we’ve learned regarding how to deal with our schemas were also adaptive at some point. If our caretaker was unreliable and unstable then we might cope with it through excessive independence and autonomy or we might cope with it by becoming really clingy and needy with the people we love for fear that we will lose them.

Whatever coping strategies we learned or stumbled onto, we now continue to use over and over again in our adult relationships. This leads us to create a self-fulfilling prophecy in our current relationships where the same needs that were not meant for us in childhood continue not to get met in our current relationships.

When we respond to our schemas in very rigid and inflexible ways, it may lead to schema-driven relationship problems. Schema-driven relationship problems occur when we continue to cope with our schema pain in a way that continues to reinforce and maintain our core belief about ourselves, which ends up damaging our current relationships.

For example, if an individual has an emotional deprivation schema, they hold the belief that their emotional needs and their need for nurturing, support, and understanding will not be met in relationships. They believe that people will continue to deprive them of their basic needs and that they will continue to be left feeling deprived and alone in all of their relationships. When their schema gets triggered in a relationship they might cope with it by not asking for help. They do not express their needs because they don’t believe their needs will be met. This behavior leads to their needs not getting met in relationships, thus reinforcing their core beliefs.

They may also oscillate between not expressing their needs at all and getting to a point of such a high level of deprivation that they become very demanding and urgent about their needs. They may demand that certain needs get met right away and may become very critical and blaming others if they are not. This behavior leads to schema reinforcement and a self-fulfilling prophecy in which their needs are even less likely to get met in their current relationships.

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We all have core beliefs and schemas about ourselves and others, but if we don’t have flexible coping responses and ways to effectively express our feelings and needs, we will continue to have the same barriers show up for us, as they did in early childhood. We will continue to re-create the same pain of our early childhood’s unmet needs.

The goal is to understand what triggers our schemas, what our typical coping responses are when our schemas get triggered, and to be able to identify new alternative behaviors that are based on our values and the kind of person we want to be. When we are clear on our core beliefs in our relationships and how these beliefs affect the way we behave in relationships, we then have the freedom and the flexibility to try out new behaviors that might lead to new outcomes. This creates the opportunity for us to get our needs met in our current relationships and to learn the tools and strategies to express ourselves effectively. By doing so, we give others the real opportunity to disconfirm our core beliefs and schemas. When we truly allow others the opportunity to disconfirm our core beliefs, we find the right people and we build healthy, fulfilling, collaborative, and fair relationships.

5 Steps to Overcoming Schema-driven Relationship Problems:

1. Identify your schemas: you can click here to take a schema questionnaire and identify your primary schemas. You can also ask yourself several questions to identify your schemas. This is called the downward arrow technique: What is a strong negative belief that I have about my relationships? –Ask yourself if this belief is true what does that mean about you? If this next belief is true, what does that mean about you and your relationships? Keep asking yourself what these beliefs mean and say about you and your relationships. Once you can’t go any further, you have reached a schema.

2. Identify your triggers. Stay mindful during the week of all you’re into personal situations and noticed moments when you’re schema was triggered. Identify and write down all the triggers that activate your schema. For example, if you have a self-sacrifice schema, it is very likely that anytime someone needs a favor from you or has a request from you, your schema will be triggered.

3. Identify the thoughts and the feelings that come up for you when your schema gets activated. Click here to read about the common thoughts and feelings that are connected to particular schemas.

4. Identify your values: Clarify the kind of person you want to be when your schema is triggered. What kind of person do you want to be, how do you want to respond, when you feel guilty, lonely, deprived, or hurt? Think about the kind of person you want to be and the kind of partner you want to be and write down all these values. Click here to read more about values and how to assess your values.

5. Identify new behaviors. Now that you’re clear about your values, pick three of the most important values and write down a specific behavior that will bring you closer to those particular values. Think about how you will try out each of these behavior this week and commit to it. When will you practice these new behaviors? Keep in mind, the new behaviors will not erase the thoughts and feelings that are connected to your schema. Are you willing to notice all the thoughts and feelings connected to your schema and still carry out these new behaviors, if it means that it will bring you closer to the kind of relationship you want and the kind of person you want to be?

Good luck and remember to stay curious about the outcomes of your new behaviors. It’s very important to stay mindful and observe the outcomes of your values-based actions. Even if the immediate outcome is not what you desired, the long-term outcome will bring you closer to the life you desire.

 

Schemas and Self-Distortions

This video really touched me because it captures a common problem that I regularly see; the way that our schemas and core beliefs radically distort our perceptions of ourselves. While these thoughts may never completely disappear, they don’t need to be so distressing and powerful. By understanding schemas, and learning how to relate to uncomfortable thoughts and feelings with more compassion and acceptance, you can learn to become your own best friend and ally.

Dove, the household name and manufacturer of beauty goods, performed an experiment. In the embedded video, a forensic police sketch artist draws women, hidden from view, based on their description. Next, strangers who have briefly met these women describe them to the same artist.  The difference between the self-described sketches and those dictated by casual observers were startling. The self-described portraits appeared caricature-like and featured sadder looking people with harsher features. One participant said the portrait she helped create looked “closed off and fatter,” while the portrait that was created by the outside observer looked “more open, friendly and happy.”

Schemas

Our schemas can often be wildly inaccurate, like fun-house mirrors. They’re frequently biased by perfectionism—holding ourselves to unreasonable standards—and incomplete comparisons—relating our self-worth to how we feel others are—resulting in harsh self-judgments that impact our health and happiness. The solution to this self-shaming? Self-compassion, distancing from harsh thoughts and defusing from them. Use the following two metaphors to help you relate to your mind differently and make distance from your thoughts:

 

Thoughts as Commercials

Instead of thinking of your thoughts as carriers of absolute truths, think of them like commercials, filled with salespeople pitching products that aren’t necessarily good for you. If we don’t pay much attention to the commercials, they pass by without notice. However, if we call the number at the bottom of the screen, we’re giving into a conversation about something we never needed. negative schemas affect our relationships - Bay Area CBTThe next time you find yourself absorbed in a commercial-like conversation with yourself about your worth, ask yourself which negative thoughts feel most compelling, which thoughts do you notice yourself automatically accepting, buying into, or getting caught up in?

Now, instead of doing what may feel natural, like negating or criticizing these thoughts, notice them without judgment. Approach them with curiosity and empathy, and politely decline the products your mind is trying to sell you. Notice your mind trying to sell you old stories and negative hypotheses about yourself and recognize that you don’t have to buy into it. Simply thank your mind for doing what minds do and reply by saying:  “thank you mind for that enticing story, but I’m not going to buy this product right now.”

Thoughts As Bullies

One of the hardest skills for my clients to learn is how to cultivate and practice self-compassion. Many of us believe the best way to correct a behavior is to punish—or bully—the person responsible. bullies and negative schemas - Bay area CBTNegative thoughts are met with more negative thinking, which creates a vicious cycle of self-criticism.

However, our negative thoughts are not bad deeds. When you find yourself bullying yourself into being a better person, ask your inner bully a few questions. What does it need, what is it trying to protect you from? What are you afraid might happen if the bully stops?

Next, just like the commercials, stop engaging and arguing. Place your hands over your heart and consciously send love and compassion to yourself and all your inner bullies. Give the bully compassion and validation. Thank the bully for its misguided attempt to do a good deed, but remind it that this approach isn’t helpful.The more you practice non-judgmental awareness of these thoughts, the more you’ll be able to let them go. Just like the women in the Dove video, you’ll find you’ll be able to see a more beautiful you; the way many others already see you.

Adults Need Time-Outs Too

take a time-out - It's OK. Bay Area CBTI’m frequently asked whether it’s ever OK to walk away from a fight.

The short answer is yes. You should take a break from a heated argument because the type of creative and objective problem solving that makes you a whiz at work shuts down when you feel the strong negative emotions associated with fights.

However, you can’t leave the conflict unresolved. Instead, have a time out, allowing you both the space and perspective to calmly assess the conflict.

 When is a Time Out Necessary

A time out is necessary when one or both partners are so triggered that they are no longer able to have a productive conversation. When we are triggered at 90% or 95% our skills go downhill and we are incapable of exploring a conflict with the same level of openness. If feelings of jealousy, insecurity, anger or hopelessness are at high intensity, then our capacity for effective problem solving is diminished. Learning to use time outs to calm ourselves down and clarify our feelings and needs can help us return to the conversation at a later time, when we are less triggered, and resolve the conflict effectively.

How to Make Time Outs Clear and Fair

To make a time out fair, you need clear-cut rules that give the both parties assurances that their space is respected and the conflict will be addressed. It is better to identify and agree on the rules of a time out in a moment when neither partner is in a triggered state. Try these tips:

      • Agree on a word or phrase that signals a time out is necessary.
      • Convey to your partner that resolving the issue is important to you.
      • Don’t use accusatory language. Say, “I feel triggered,” not, “you made me angry.”
      • Agree on a time to talk again, soon. It generally takes around 30 minutes to calm down.

 

How to Have an Effective Time Out

A time out is not merely a break, but an opportunity to feel our negative emotions and gain perspective. To do so, perform an inventory of the emotions and thoughts you’re experiencing. Write down your thoughts and feelings to the following questions:

        • What sensations am I experiencing in my body right now?
        • Where in my body does this experience feel most intense?
        • On a scale of 0-10, how intense is this physical experience?

 

Next. imagine your feelings have a physical form and describe their attributes:

    • Color
    • Shape
    • Size
    • Level of intensity
    • Movement

 

After, turn your attention to your immediate concerns about the time out:

      • What are my fears about this time out?
      • What are my thoughts or beliefs about this?
      • What do I predict will happen?

 

Make note of your prediction. Notice what you predicted, and the future story your brain imagined. Finally, identify what triggered you. Now, check in on your values and the kind of partner that you want to be and use the following steps from Nonviolent Communication to identify and express your needs effectively:

      • When x happened, I felt _____
      • I need _____
      • Would you be willing to _____

 

After a brief period of calm introspection, you should feel closer to the heart of the problem and further away from its intensity. Use this as a tool as often as you and your partner feel triggered in arguments, and you’ll find you’re both better able to listen and be aware of differing needs. If you’re concerned about how to handle yourself when discussing the issue again, consult the University of Texas at Austin’s comprehensive post on building healthy relationships.

Ride the Waves with Urge Surfing

How do you tend to respond to a powerful urge? Are there certain experiences that show up more frequently for you? Are there particular experiences that you attempt to avoid? Let’s be proactive by getting curious and mindful of these urges and learn how urge surfing and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy can help.

 What urges come up for you when you:

      • get home from work?
      • wake up in the morning?
      • get rejected?
      • when a relationship ends?
      • are faced with a challenge?
      • feel bored?
      • feel lonely?
      • have a need you want to express?
      • feel criticized?

What exactly is an urge?

Urges are very interesting to think about. An urge is a strong desire or craving to act impulsively and out of habit. An urge occurs right before a behavior and is experienced as an intense physical and emotional experience. Urges get triggered by an event, a thought, feeling, memory, or image and pull us towards automatic ways of responding. Urges can feel like waves, they rise in intensity and tug and pull us towards using old behaviors that may provide us a temporary relief, but often lead to negative consequences in the long run. Rather than struggling and fighting an urge we can ride it by staying present and mindful, noticing the moment it peaks and the moment it crashes. acceptance and commitment therapy, ACT and Alan Marlatt For example an individual may have developed the urge to log on to Facebook or reach out to someone as soon as he/she experiences any sign of loneliness or boredom. Others may have gotten conditioned to have a drink right after work or in social situations, creating a link between a common uncomfortable experience and a behavior that has temporarily relieved the discomfort. Now they continue to use the same old behavior to avoid feelings of anxiety, loneliness, boredom, or distress. They continued to reinforce a bad habit as a coping response to challenging situations and experiences.

Using a short-term solution to resolve long-term struggles will only increase the distress in the long run. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) refers to this outcome as “secondary pain”. The more that we use old response styles, the more that our pain grows. Rather than fighting our experiences lets practice staying with our experiences, befriending them, and getting curious about them by using urge surfing.

What is Urge Surfing?

Urge surfing is coined by Alan Marlatt in preventing relapses among patients recovering from drug addiction. Urge surfing is not only used with addictions, but with any coping behavior that results in a short-term decrease in suffering, but exacerbates our pain in the long run. The principle advocates that fighting the craving is futile. The urge is seen as a water force such as a wave or a waterfall that we can’t control. In fact, fighting them could only feed them. Instead, we can observe the waterfall or surf the wave and watch it go right past. Urge surfing is an empowering tool because it trains us to stay mindful of our urges and impulses so that we have more control over the behaviors we choose.

5 Simple Urge Surfing Steps:

1.    Identify the Physical Sensation in the Body

Stop for a few minutes and be mindful of your physical responses to your urge. You can close your eyes or simply sit in a comfortable position. Pinpoint which specific body part is being affected. Where in your body does this sensation feel most intense? Is it your stomach? Your gut? In your chest? Your jaw?

2.    Focus on the Sensations

Now, having that specific body part in mind explore the sensations related to it. For instance, if it is the head, do you feel a bit dizzy? Is there pain? Does it feel warm? Is it more on the right side? If you feel the need to focus on other body parts, you may do so following the same process.

3.    Notice Breathing

For 1-2 minutes, be mindful of your breathing pattern. It may be a good idea to think of a body part specifically related to breathing such as your diaphragm, lungs, or nose. It is better to inhale through the nose and slowly exhale through the mouth.

4.    Refocus on Your Body

After noticing your breathing, gradually refocus on the body part that has been affected by the urge. Visualize how each breath lessens the weight, pain, or distinctive sensations. It may be helpful to imagine each cleansing inhalation as white light rejuvenating your body and each exhalation a dark smoke that you are happy to get rid of. Pay attention to how these processes change how you feel.

5.    Stay Curious and Present

Think of your physical and psychological sensations as a wave that you can successfully ride out with your breathing. See if you can gently make space for the experience. Send loving kindness and compassion to the deep longing and yearning that is showing up for you, if you’re your mind starts selling you stories or distracting you, just simply notice the mind and the thoughts that it pops up and return to your breath and the physical sensations. Anticipate it’s coming and breathe it in as it peaks and exhale as you think of the urge crashing down. Then after 2 minutes or longer, congratulate yourself for a surf well done!

By recognizing how urges pull us towards old avoidant coping strategies, we can have the effective tools to choose behaviors that benefit us in the long run and bring us closer towards our values. By focusing on who we truly want to be in our life and what we want to stand for, we can learn how to successfully surf our urges.

PRACTICE MINDFULNESS:

Training our minds to stay curious and open with our urges will make us stronger not only for specific addictions, but in our overall existence as well. Practicing mindfulness can help us train our brain to stay more present and observe our internal experiences and discomfort without having to act on it. The more we can sit and tolerate our uncomfortable experiences and urges the less influence they have over our behaviors. When we practice breathing and staying present with our discomfort, we can become more able to ride out the cravings that lead to damaging consequences and engage in more effective and consistent behaviors.

LET IT PASS:

Urges are temporary. Therefore, you don’t have to act in them for them to change and morph. Whenever you feel the impulse or have the nagging thought, bring your attention to your breathing and bodily sensations and stay curious and present with your present moment experiences. Keep in mind that this doesn’t mean that you should suppress your urges, but that staying mindful of your urges increases your behavioral choices. It is understandably challenging specially in the beginning. However, after practicing this skill your urges will no longer act as barriers or be your enemies, instead your urges will inform you about what matters to you and what kind of person you want to be. If we learn to get very curious about our urges and extend the moment when these impulses arise, we can start creating behavioral flexibility. By being aware of our reactions, we can better manage our actions and decisions.

Podcast Interview with Dr. Lev

Dr. Lev interview with Marilu Henner

Dr. Lev discusses relationships, schemas, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, and her books on The Marilu Henner show.

Dr. Avigail Lev is a licensed clinical psychologist in California  and a certified mediator. She utilizes evidence-based practices, including cognitive behavioral therapy and acceptance-based treatments, to treat both couples and individuals struggling with relationship problems, anxiety, trauma, depression, emotional dysregulation, trichotillomania, OCD, and mood disorders.

She specializes in integrating Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) and Schema Therapy to address interpersonal problems and unhelpful patterns in relationships.  She has coauthored two books integrating these treatments to help improve relationships. The first, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy for Interpersonal Problems: Using Mindfulness, Acceptance, and Schema Awareness to Change Interpersonal Behaviors, presents a complete treatment protocol for therapists working with clients who fall into unhealthy relationship patterns and helps them overcome maladaptive interpersonal behavior. The second book, The Interpersonal Problems Workbook: ACT to End Painful Relationship Patterns, combines research and evidence-based techniques for strengthening relationships.

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Schemas and Relationships

According to Jeffrey Young, schemas are core beliefs and stories that we have constructed about ourselves and our relationships in the world. A schema is a deep-rooted cognitive structure or framework that helps us organize information and make sense of the world. A schema is like a lens through which we view the world, organize our experiences, and interpret events.

These are stories that we have constructed about ourselves throughout our life. These stories are like lenses that distort our perceptions and experiences with others and can lead to self-fulfilling prophecies in relationships. Schemas develop in childhood from early experiences we have with our family and peers.

schemas and cognitive therapy, Oakland and San Francisco

Our minds are built to create cause-and-effect relationships and make connections between events, even if there isn’t much of a correlation. Making these correlations is advantageous in many ways, but schemas can become maladaptive when we take random events in the world and make causal connections about what these events mean about our identity and ourselves. These stories were developed in childhood from early experiences where our basic needs were not met. We build stories and theories about ourselves as to why it is that our needs did not get met. We form these schemas as we attempt to interpret events in the world and make sense of why they happened. For example, if you grew up with a mother who was depressed and who was inconsistently available, you might develop an abandonment/instability schema and build a story that you can’t rely or depend on others to be there for you consistently. You may even convince yourself that if you were just different or if you were better, then your needs would have been met, you may build a story that your emotions are too much and that you are the cause of your mother’s depression.

Schemas are like sunglasses that distort how we take in information and how we make meaning of events. For example, an individual with an abandonment schema is predisposed to interpreting others as rejecting or abandoning, and is more likely to reach the conclusion that they are being abandoned even if there is little evidence to suggest it. These lenses distort our perceptions and experiences with others and can lead to self-defeating patterns in relationships. Schemas are hard to give up because they help us organize our experience and create an illusion of safety and predictability in the world. They are hard to challenge because they create the impression that we can make predictions about the outcome of our relationships and protect ourselves.

portrait of amazed man with 3d glasses

Maladaptive schemas may lead to self-defeating themes and patterns that continue to repeat throughout our adult life. These schemas that were formed in childhood continue to get triggered throughout our life in stressful situations and the way you respond when you get triggered can create a self-fulfilling prophecy. Once a schema gets triggered, it brings up specific powerful, automatic, and conditioned thoughts and feelings about ourselves.

Schemas can influence interpersonal behaviors and interfere with our ability to satisfy basic needs in current relationships. When our schemas get triggered in relationships we tend to use certain coping behaviors, which we have learned in childhood, to try to control or block the pain connected to our schemas. These coping behaviors can end up reinforcing and maintaining our schemas by creating a self-fulfilling prophecy.

For example, if someone with an abandonment schema gets triggered, he/she may cope with this experience by seeking excessive reassurance, getting clingy, acting jealous and possessive, or by blaming or accusing. These coping behaviors may actually increase the likelihood that others will withdraw or abandon. Reducing these maladaptive behaviors can help you heal as you learn new more effective ways of getting your emotional needs met, both inside the session with your therapist and in your everyday life. The goal of Schema Therapy is to help you identify the coping behaviors you do that damage your relationships and substitute these behaviors with more effective responses. Schema therapy aids you in healing your early maladaptive schemas, the stories you have constructed about yourself, and breaking self-defeating patterns in relationships.

To read more information about specific schemas click here

 

Interpersonal Schemas

interpersonal schemas - cognitive therapy in Oakland and San FranciscoAccording to Jeffrey Young, the developer of Schema Therapy, a schema is a core belief about oneself and one’s relationships. When a schema gets triggered, it brings up a whole experience, including thoughts,  feelings, memories, sensations, and images connected to the schema.

The following are eleven interpersonal schemas including their descriptions and particular feelings that accompany them. To read more about all the schemas visit SchemaTherapy.com.


1.
Social Alienation/Isolation Schema:

The core pain that shows up with a social alienation schema is that you feel that you are different from others and that you don’t belong. You fear that others won’t accept you—that you will be exposed, judged, or excluded.

  • You feel that you have no friends or community.
  • You feel that you don’t belong anywhere.
  • You feel different from everyone else.
  • You fear rejection by social groups.

Common emotions connected to this schema include feeling ashamed, guilty, dejected, embarrassed, lonely, desolate and isolated.


2. Self-Sacrifice Schema:

The core belief with this schema is that your needs are not as important as others and that if you make your needs a priority, then you must be selfish and bad. You believe that you don’t deserve the amount of respect, nurturing, understanding, and empathy that you need. You may feel like your needs and feelings are too much, and you feel guilty burdening others with your needs and feelings.

  • You feel guilty and often take responsibility for other people’s feelings.
  • You struggle with saying no to others.
  • You worry about disappointing others.
  • You have difficulty making requests or asking for help.
  • You agree to do things that you don’t want to do.


Common emotions connected to this schema include feeling guilty, angry, resentful, afraid, and helplessness.


3. Subjugation Schema:

A person with a subjugation schema has a core belief that setting boundaries and limits with others will feel like a rejection to the other person or will lead to the other person rejecting you. You believe your boundaries will hurt or cause others pain and suffering if you say “no”, or set a limit, or have a different need. You fear disappointing others, making others feel rejected and hurt. You also fear that others will retaliate against you or punish you for standing up for your own needs. You feel obligated and pressured to meet others’ needs, and fear retaliation if you don’t accommodate to others. The strategies you use to avoid this pain often lead to feelings of resentment and anger towards others.

  • You feel pressured to do things that you don’t want to do.
  • You feel obligated to meet others’ needs.
  • You feel scared that others will be hurt, reject you, or retaliate against you if you don’t meet their needs.
  • You feel controlled by others.
  • You feel that you always have to do things on other people’s terms.
  • You have difficulty recognizing what you want or need.


Common emotions connected to this schema include feeling guilty, obligated, pressured, coerced, afraid, angry, powerless, and resentful.


4. Entitlement Schema:

The core belief for an individual with an entitlement schema is that you shouldn’t have to accommodate or meet other people’s needs. Your needs come first. You easily feel engulfed or trapped in relationships and easily get overwhelmed and frustrated by other people’s emotions and needs. You feel you deserve to have your independence and shouldn’t have to accommodate or subjugate yourself to others. You experience other people’s needs as demands on you or as an inconvenience.  The core feeling that you are attempting to avoid is that of being engulfed, or the feeling that someone is depending on you. You don’t want to feel obligated to anyone. You might feel controlled or manipulated by others.

  • You feel that you deserve to always get what you want.
  • You have difficulty taking “no” for an answer.
  • You feel that others need too much from you.
  • You believe your needs always come first.


Common emotions connected to this schema include feelings of anger, shame, envy, engulfment, mistrust, and fear.

5. Abandonment/Instability Schema:

If you have an abandonment schema, your core belief is that those you love are unreliable or too unstable to consistently be there. This creates a fear that you can’t count on others, that people are too unpredictable, and that ultimately they will leave you. You believe that you are likely to get abandoned and rejected in your relationships and that any false move you make could lead to the relationship ending. You fear that you can’t count or depend on others to be consistently available. You get preoccupied with worry that others will leave you, get fed up of you, or will be there in such an inconsistent and unpredictable way that you can’t depend on them.

  • You tend to view people in your life as unreliable and unavailable.
  • It is difficult for you to count and depend on others.
  • It’s difficult for you to feel stable and safe in relationships.
  • You often feel rejected by others.
  • You’re afraid people you love will leave you.
  • You worry about losing people you’re close to.
  • You have difficulty spending time alone.
  • You worry about people pulling away or distancing themselves from you.


Common emotions connected to this schema include loneliness, shame, yearning, fear, anxiety, and anger.

6. Failure Schema:

With a failure schema, you have a fear of failing along with a persistent and pervasive belief that you are not good enough. You worry that you will ultimately fail and disappoint others. You don’t trust that you can succeed. Your core belief is that you are inadequate, you should be better, you aren’t meeting your potential, and you will disappoint and fail the people you love.

  • You feel inadequate in many aspects of your life.
  • You view others as more successful and competent than you.
  • You believe that you are incapable of meeting your full potential.
  • You feel inferior to others.
  • You doubt your decisions.
  • You believe that you make more mistakes than others.
  • You have difficulty trusting your own judgment.


Common emotions connected to this schema include shame, guilt, helplessness, fear, anger, disappointment, grief, and sadness.


7. Emotional Deprivation Schema:

The core belief with this schema is that others will always deprive you. You believe that others will never be able to meet your needs or satisfy you and that you will continue to get deprived of the understanding, affection, validation, or emotional support that you need.

The main theme is that believe that your emotional needs will not get met in your relationships. You expect that you will not receive the understanding, attention, attunement, validation, or support that you truly need. The core fear underlying this view is that you will be unsatisfied in your relationships for the rest of your life, that you will never find someone who truly sees you, understands you, or validates and supports you in the way you need. You either believe that you need too much or that others will be unable to provide you with what you need. You constantly feel that something is missing in your relationships. You feel lonely and disconnected from others. When the experience of deprivation gets triggered, it feels extremely urgent.

  • You don’t feel gratified or fulfilled in your intimate relationships.
  • You fear that you won’t get the love and support that you need.
  • You often feel lonely and deprived in your relationships.
  • You expect that others won’t be able to nurture and support you in the way you need.
  • You feel that no one is able to provide you with the care and attention that you need.
  • You often feel unseen and unloved.
  • You believe that you are not a priority for others.
  • You believe that important people in your life don’t make your feelings and needs important.
  • You rarely find someone who can truly understand you or empathize with your feelings and needs.


Common emotions connected to this schema include feelings of yearning, urgency, loneliness, deprivation, hunger, sadness, helplessness, and anger.

8. Defectiveness/Shame Schema:

People with this schema share the core belief that something is fundamentally wrong with them. In this case, you have constructed a story about yourself that tells you that you are broken, defective, and deeply flawed and that no one could love you if they really knew you. You fear exposure: if anyone really got to know you, your true self would be exposed and your true self is unlovable and unacceptable. You might excessively worry or ruminate about the problem, trying to figure out what’s wrong with you, so you can fix yourself and stop yourself from being so broken.

  • You believe that you are broken or bad.
  • You are afraid of being exposed or found out.
  • You fear that if others really knew you, they wouldn’t accept you.
  • You feel that you are unworthy of love and acceptance.
  • You feel that you are fundamentally messed up and that there is something wrong with you.


Common emotions connected to this schema include shame, helplessness, anger, sadness, and fear.

9. Unrelenting Standards Schema:

This is the perfectionist’s schema. You tend to set very high standards for yourself and others. It is difficult for you to feel satisfied; you get overly critical of your own and behaviors and accomplishments as well as of what others do. The core belief is that you have to be perfect; it is hard for you to accept anything less. Your unrealistic standards may set you up for failure and lead you to easily identify tiny mistakes, flaws, and imperfections. Continually thinking that could have done better leads to chronic dissatisfaction. You’re very hard on yourself and tend to beat yourself up for unmet expectations.

  • You have very high standards and expectations for yourself and others.
  • You believe that if a task doesn’t get done exactly right, it’s not worth doing at all.
  • You set unreasonable deadlines and goals for yourself.
  • You often feel disappointed by your accomplishments and focus on the ways things could have been done better.
  • You have difficulty tolerating any form of failure.
  • You put a lot of pressure on yourself to do things perfectly.
  • You’re highly critical of yourself and others.


Common emotions connected to this schema include discontent, shame, emptiness, fear, anxiety, and disappointment.

10. Mistrust/Abuse Schema:

The core belief of a mistrust/abuse schema is that others are untrustworthy and that others will intentionally hurt and/or damage you. You fear that others will lie to you, deceive you, take advantage of you, or purposefully harm you. You feel suspicious of other people’s agendas or intentions. You might feel manipulated and/or deceived by others.

  • You don’t know whether people close to are being completely honest with you.
  • You believe that others are likely to take advantage of you.
  • You fear that others will use your flaws and weaknesses against you.
  • It is difficult for you to trust others.
  • You believe that you have to be careful and guarded.
  • You are suspicious that others will deceive you or use you.
  • You don’t trust others to follow through on their word.
  • You are fearful that people will betray or hurt you.


Common emotions connected to this schema include feeling suspicious, afraid, skeptical, unsafe, mistrustful, alone, hesitant, and/or doubtful.

11. Dependency Schema:

If you have a dependency schema, you have a core belief that you are incompetent and incapable; this leads you to struggle with trusting your own judgment and intuition about what you need, and it acts as a barrier for you in taking actions. You doubt yourself and your decisions; you overly rely on other people’s feedback and assistance before you can take a step forward. Your view of yourself is that you need the help and assistance of others in order to effectively live in the world.

  • You struggle with making decisions on your own.
  • You need constant reassurance from others.
  • You have difficulty trusting your own judgment.
  • You need a lot of feedback from others before making decisions.
  • You overly rely on others to accomplish daily tasks.
  • You have difficulty handling problems on your own.


Common emotions connected to this schema include feeling lost, afraid, uncertain, indecisive, scared, lonely, vulnerable, inferior, doubtful, confused, deprived, or paralyzed.

 

 

Values Are The Journey

Values

Values represent and define the kind of person you want to be and what is important to you. One strategy for starting to clarify your values is to imagine witnessing your own funeral. Ask yourself if you were observing your own funeral, what would you want the people you love to say about you?

  • What would you want your life to be about?
  • What do you want to stand for?
  • In an ideal situation, what would you want most to hear about yourself?
  • What kind of partner do you want to be? (For example: being spontaneous, appreciative, affectionate, accepting, emotionally available, expressive, assertive)
  • What kind of friend? (For example: being loyal, consistent, reliable, genuine, supportive, honest)
  • What kind of coworker/boss/colleague? (For example: being fair, open, flexible, curious)
  • What kind of parent do you want to be? (For example: being nurturing, patient, accepting, supportive, loving, non-judgmental)
  • What kind of person do you want to be when you feel angry, with your partner, with your parent, with your friend? (compassionate, assertive, expressive, vulnerable, kind)
  • What kind of person do you want to be when you feel sad?
  • How do you want to be with yourself and with others when you feel inadequate or insecure?  (persistent, self-disciplined, compassionate, productive, kind)

Values are like a compass they guide your direction, but they are not the destination.

Values are freely chosen: This means that your 1values are not based on rules that you have about yourself, others, the world, relationships, or about how you “should be”, but rather they are freely chosen and represent your deeply held beliefs. They reflect the kind of person you want to be, what you want to stand for and what you find important in life.

Values are not emotions or thoughts. Feeling less anxious, feeling happier, or more confident is not a value. These are emotional states. Emotional states come and go just like the weather in the sky changes. Values are a way of being in the world. Thoughts and feelings come and go just like the whether changes, but values are consistent. They are not contingent on external circumstances and limitations.

Our values are not contingent on a particular outcome. For example if your value is to be assertive and you set a limit with a friend, your friend’s’ reaction to you setting a boundary may not feel good and might not be an ideal reaction, but you still took a step that brought you closer to being more assertive.

  • Thoughts, feelings, sensations are out of your control.
  • Other people’s responses are out of your control.
  • Your behaviors and your values are always under your control.

Taking deliberate steps that bring you closer to the kind of person you want to be is always under your control. This means staying connected in the present moment and in the process. Values are not a means to an end they are the end. They are not the destination they are the journey. Remembering that it’s not just the end goal, but the process of how you approach it. Did you reach your goal while staying consistent with your values and the kind of person you want to be?  If you were unable to reach your goal, were you able to stay consistent with the kind of person you want to be?

values and cognitive therapy, Oakland

Taking this path is not easy. Sometimes taking steps in a particular direction will bring up intense and uncomfortable thoughts and feelings about ourselves. These thoughts and feelings about ourselves will try to stop us from doing new behaviors and taking the steps that bring you towards your values.

Values motivate us towards behavioral change. The clearer we are about our values and what we want to stand for in our life, the better informed choices we are able to make in the present moment.

Values are not tangible and they are not achievable. Meaning you can never be 100% honest, authentic, loving, kind. You can only be taking steps that bring you closer or further away honesty. Every moment is a choice that brings us further away or closer to the kind of person we want to be. We will never be that person 100%, but sometimes we can be 95% closer, or 80% closer, or 75% closer. Values guide our present moment choices and guide us in the direction we want to go.

Values vs. goals: goals are tangible you can reach a goal, but values are a constant work in progress – every moment in life provides you with an opportunity to engage in a behavior that brings you closer to particular value or further away. Closer to the kind of person you want to be and the kind of relationship you want or further away from a particular direction.

Examples of Values: (values are active, how you want to be, like being loving, being kind)

  • Kind
  • Assertive
  • Spontaneous
  • Genuine
  • Loving
  • Patient
  • Humorous
  • Honest
  • Self-disciplined
  • Consistent
  • Reliable
  • Flexible
  • Sensual
  • Appreciative
  • Expressive
  • Vulnerable
  • Sensitive
  • Compassionate
  • Fair
  • Forgiving

 

Goals vs. Values

Goals are more specific, they are specific actions or steps that you can take to bring you closer to your value and the kind of person you want to be. Values motivate goals because although we don’t always have control of the outcome of a particular goal we always have control over whether we got closer or further away from our value.

Value: Being appreciative
Goal: Say thank you every time my partner makes dinner, give a compliment.
Value: Being assertive:
Goal: Say “no”, say “let me think about it” to any request, ask for help, express  discomfort.
Value: Being vulnerable:
Goal: Share a fear, share an emotion, call a fiend, ask for help.

 

 

Welcome Anxiety

We tend to place judgments and labels on the physiological sensations that we experience. We may label a fast heart rate as “bad” or as “anxiety.” These judgments and labels often make our experiences worse. The more we judge them and the more we try to escape these “bad” experiences, the scarier and more intense they become. For example, if you’ve ever been on a roller coaster ride, then you have experienced the intense physiological arousal that roller coasters produce. Your heart starts racing, you feel dizzy and shaky, and you experience a rush in the pit of your stomach. There’s the intense anticipation as the roller coaster slowly moves upward before a huge drop, which is both thrilling and scary all at once.

anxiety and therapy, counseling in San Francisco and OaklandExperiencing such physiological symptoms on a roller coaster ride is far less threatening than experiencing them when you don’t expect to, such as while lying in bed and trying to fall asleep. In the latter case, you may feel terrified. Your mind starts labeling the experience as “bad” and attempts to figure out reasons, explanations, and hypotheses for why you are feeling the way you are. Your mind asks, “Why am I feeling dizzy?” “Why is my heart racing?” “Is it because I had too much coffee?” “Is it because I didn’t get enough sleep?” “Why am I anxious?” “Am I having a panic attack?” “Did I forget something important?” The more your mind labels the experience as bad, the more anxious and nervous you become. The more you try to eliminate the experience and fall asleep, the harder it is for you to fall asleep.

Our sensations are not in our control. When we are on a roller coaster, we can’t control our heart rates. When we have an important test, we can’t control the thoughts, feelings, and sensations that it brings up. However, we can make an active choice about how we choose to relate to these experiences. We can choose to resist and fight the experience, or we can choose to willingly go for the ride and observe it with kindness and compassion toward ourselves. We can notice that when we get off the roller coaster, it takes three to five minutes for our bodies to come back to homeostasis and for all of those physiological experiences to diminish—and then we may be ready to go on another ride.

So, how can we take the ride with our physical sensations of anxiety, fear, pain, and panic in the same way we ride a roller coaster? The key is to notice what our minds try to sell us about our experiences and still choose to stay present and aware of those experiences. In other words, we can observe the experience in the moment and notice the labels, explanations, and hypotheses that our minds concoct.

We can ask ourselves, “Where in my body do I feel this feeling right now? What color is this feeling? What shape is this feeling? How heavy is it? How intense is it on a scale of 1 to 10? Is this an experience I have had before? How many times have I had this experience in the past month? Does this experience have to be my enemy, or is it something I can handle right now, in this moment? Am I willing to stay in contact with this feeling 100 percent, exactly as it is at this moment? Have I ever managed to get rid of this experience before? Is it possible for human beings to permanently eliminate this experience? How do I usually respond to this experience? Do I try to push it away and get rid of it? How does that work for me? How can I behave differently with this experience? If this experience is not my friend, does it have to be my enemy? Does it have to be something I refuse to tolerate and have? What would it be like if this experience weren’t my enemy?”

Physiological experiences come and go, just like the weather. No experience is permanent. Sometimes you feel pain, and sometimes the pain can be worse than others—a 6 or even a 9 on a scale of 1 to 10—but your experience is always changing.

Again, when you resist the experience and try to understand it, explain it, and get rid of it, the experience becomes only more intense. The more you resist, the worse it gets.

We don’t try to explain or understand why we need to go to the bathroom. We just accept the sensation as a fact. We don’t ask why or resist it or try to understand it or change it. Other experiences of pain, like having a headache, or feeling dizzy, or having stomach pain, are unavoidable, and they don’t last forever. Are you willing to welcome back all your experiences with open arms, watch how long they last, stay very curious, go along for the ride with compassion and tenderness, and notice the very moment when they change and you feel differently?