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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.