All posts by bacbt

Drop the Gun and Embrace Your Emotions

Society tries to convince us that we can control our internal experiences. We constantly hear messages like “Don’t worry about it. Relax. Calm down.”

That’s dead wrong.  Just hearing the words “Don’t worry” can make us anxious.

Telling yourself “Don’t worry” isn’t much different.  The more often we think, “Don’t feel anxious you can’t feel anxious don’t be depressed don’t be sad you shouldn’t be upset” the more anxious, depressed, sad and upset we’ll become.

Let’s take a metaphor from Acceptance and Commitment Therapy as an example of how this process works. Imagine that you’re hooked up to a very sensitive polygraph machine. This polygraph machine can pick up the slightest physiological changes that occur in your body, including any changes in heartbeat, pulse, muscle tension, sweat, or any type of minor arousal.

Now suppose I say, “Whatever you do, don’t get anxious while you’re hooked up to this highly sensitive device!”

What do you imagine might happen?

You guessed it. You’d start getting anxious.

Now suppose I pull out a gun and say, “No seriously, whatever you do as long as you are hooked up to this polygraph machine you cannot get anxious! Otherwise, I shoot!”

You’d get extremely anxious.

Now imagine I say, “Give me your phone or I’ll shoot.”

You’d give me your phone.

Or if I say “Give me a dollar or I’ll shoot.”

You’d give me a dollar.

Although society tries to sell us the idea that we can control our internal experiences the same way we do objects in the external world, the truth is that we actually can’t. We can’t control our thoughts, feelings, and sensations, the way we can control objects in the world. In fact, the more we try to control or change our internal experiences the more out of control we feel. The more we try to get rid of distressing thoughts and feelings the stronger they become.

This is what many of us do to ourselves when we experience uncomfortable feelings.  Our minds, like the polygraph machine, pick up sensations in our bodies.  Then we pull out the gun against ourselves and tell ourselves not to have certain emotions. We start struggling with trying to control and eliminate certain thoughts and feelings. The more we try get rid of our experience the more they intensify.  What if we dropped the gun and were kind to ourselves instead?  Thoughts and feelings shift and change like the weather. They are temporary. They intensify when we bully ourselves, and fade away with acceptance and self-compassion.

Painful feelings such as loneliness, fear, sadness, deprivation, rejection, and disappointment are an unavoidable part of life. They are just a part of being a human being. Although we don’t have control over having painful emotions that are a part of being alive, we always have control over our actions. We can always choose to respond in ways that are consistent with our values, regardless of how we feel. We may sometimes think that our emotions force us to act a certain way. We think our emotions are in charge. They’re not. We are. We are never ever truly trapped into actions we don’t want. We can always choose to respond to our emotions in ways that leave us free. So, how can we drop the gun and embrace all our internal experiences?

  1. Notice when you’re pulling out a gun on yourself—judging or struggling with your internal experience.
  2. Drop the struggle. Instead, give the emotion a neutral label. Say to yourself “I feel scared,” or “I feel hurt.”
  3. Notice the sensations in your body that comes with that emotion. Stay present with the sensations. Notice the size, shape, color, and texture of the sensation.
  4. Drop the story in your head about “why” you’re feeling this way. Focus on sensations and feelings rather than ideas.
  5. Open up to the emotional experience. Practicing self-compassion and loving kindness helps us soften up to our emotional experience without pushing it away. Put your hand on your heart and speak to yourself as you would to someone you love. You might say, “This is really difficult” or, ““it makes sense that I feel sad now. “
  6. Remember we are all in this together. Think of all the people right now in this world who are feeling helpless, lonely, deprived, or rejected. You are not alone. Being human comes with pain.

Those steps are the essence of self-compassionate care. Self-compassion is embracing your humanness.

Choose self-compassion and you will be free to act in line with your values.

For now, please take this message to heart. Much of the time, you’re the one with the gun. Don’t pull out the gun and you will be free.

The following questionnaire will help you determine which schemas are most relevant for you in relationships. Schemas are core beliefs or stories that we have developed about ourselves and others in relationships. When we are unware of these stories we are more likely to engage in behaviors that create a self-fulfilling prophecy and reinforce these beliefs. Your responses can provide you with insight into your relationship patterns and dynamics as well as information that will help you deal more effectively in your relationships.

Note: This questionnaire is for informational purposes only and is not intended to function as a psychological assessment or a clinical diagnosis. If you have any questions about your results, please speak with a qualified health professional.

Instructions: 

For each statement, choose the answer that best describes you. At the end of the questionnaire you will receive your results for each schema and how it may be impacting your relationships.

This questionnaire has 110 questions on 4 pages.

 

8 Ways to Procrastinate Effectively

8 Ways to Procrastinate Effectively

Most of us were taught that procrastination is not an effective strategy for getting things done. The common belief is that we shouldn’t put off assignments or projects until the last minute. The implication is that completing a task at the last second would mean being doomed to stress, chaos, and maybe even total failure if things didn’t come together as planned. But is it possible that procrastination may actually be an efficient strategy for some?

Some individuals are happier when completing a task immediately because they derive satisfaction from completing the task. As soon as the task has been completed, they feel relieved and are able to easily let it go. We’ll call these people “non-procrastinators.”

In contrast, procrastinators don’t experience that relief in the same way. They are perfectionists and therefore, even once the task is complete they continue to worry, ruminate, and work towards improving it. Because of this struggle, they only feel satisfied once they have achieved closure through meeting the deadline. If a project is due on Friday and they expect it to take about a day or two to complete, they prefer to begin working on the project on Wednesday and meet the deadline, rather than starting it sooner and still worrying about it for just as long.

Procrastinators also work more efficiently under time pressure. Therefore, they tend to get more done under less time. You may wonder, why not just begin the project on Monday and get it done faster? For people who are natural procrastinators, if they were to begin work on Monday, it’s likely that the project would still stretch out until Friday as they continue tweaking and correcting the work until the deadline. For procrastinators, it can actually be more productive to wait until Wednesday to begin the project.

We know now that procrastination can actually work more effectively and efficiently for some people depending their style of accomplishing goals.

A new perspective on procrastination

When our teachers warned us against procrastinating, they assumed that all procrastination is detrimental and leads to failure. However, some people are inherently inclined to complete work immediately prior to the deadline and are just as successful in doing so.

In fact, research has shown that people who procrastinate can be highly effective. It’s important to distinguish between ineffective procrastination, which causes missed deadlines and doesn’t result in work getting done, versus effective procrastination in which the work happens close to the deadline without sacrificing quality.

If you feel naturally oriented towards procrastinating, you can choose to stop beating yourself up about it and instead actively and mindfully practice effective procrastination. Rather than struggling to change your natural inclination, focus on learning effective procrastination. Below Dr. Lev provides 8 techniques to practice mindful procrastination:

8 tips for procrastinating effectively

1. Use “structured procrastination” to your advantage. Also called “active procrastination,” this phrase means that if you’re avoiding one thing on your to-due list, you use that time to accomplish something less imminent on the list instead. For example, if you are procrastinating on finishing your paperwork, rather than using that time to look at Facebook, you could make several phone calls, clean the dishes, or return emails and check those off the list.

2. Find ways to create external deadlines or consequences. Involving other people can be a good way to keep yourself accountable. Create a deadline by letting another person know that you’ll give them something by a specific date. As an example, if you’re procrastinating on tidying up your guest room, inviting a friend for dinner will motivate you to accomplish this task before your friend arrives.

3. Learn the skill of time allocation. Get good at knowing how much time to allocate to get certain things done. If it only takes twenty minutes to accomplish a certain task, then there’s no harm in waiting until half an hour before the deadline to do it. If there’s a larger project that may take several hours but the typical advice of working on it for an hour a day just doesn’t fit your work style, then you will need to accurately assess how many hours are needed and then block off that time in one or two marathon sessions to get the work done.

4. Accept that this strategy works for you. Don’t feel guilty for procrastinating—there is nothing inherently bad about it. Make procrastination a deliberate choice for yourself, call it a work style instead of a bad habit, and create systems around it that feel right for you. Beating yourself up for having a different work style is not going to help you be more efficient or successful. Accept that you are an effective procrastinator and treat yourself with kindness and self-compassion. Remember, that If you’re finding yourself missing deadlines then its no longer effective procrastination.

5. Know when it’s time to let go. Some items on your to-due list simply may not be that important to accomplish. If you have been putting off dealing with a particular item on your list for weeks or even months and no negative repercussions have occurred, it may be time to take it off the list entirely. It’s also possible that this item still needs to happen but you’re not the person who should do it, in which case you can find someone to delegate to so that it will get done.

6. Use passive preparation. There are a lot of ways to work on a task or project, and not all of them seem obvious to others. You can passively prepare a paper or a project in several ways: read articles about it, think about it creatively, talk with people about it, write down thoughts about it, or create a timeline. This approach means that you can allow yourself to explore ideas without the pressure of needing to get the actual product done just yet. 

7. Get better at prioritizing tasks. One challenge for procrastinators is to decide whether a task is urgent or can wait. Identifying the true degree of urgency for each new task will help you order your to-due list so that “structured procrastination” can be seamless.

8. Reward yourself when you’ve accomplished a task. Treat yourself when you’ve accomplished tasks by their deadline. Give yourself permission to celebrate, eat your favorite dessert, watch a movie, or buy yourself something you’ve been wanting. This will positively reinforce your behaviors in the long run.

Procrastination is what you make it

Procrastination can be a destructive force or a productive one—it’s all about understanding your style and learning the right tools. So, if you’re a procrastinator stop judging yourself for it and start doing it effectively. For more information on effective procrastination or to take a procrastination quiz click here.

Mindfulness, Acceptance, and Self-Compassion

You may have noticed that “mindfulness” and “self-compassion” have become popular phrases on magazine covers and in self-help books. Unfortunately, it’s also true that people sometimes refer to mindfulness, self-compassion, and acceptance as if they are synonyms for the same idea.

These three words actually represent distinct concepts, although they are interconnected. In short, mindfulness is a practice that gives us a starting point for acceptance, and self-compassion is like an advanced level of acceptance that gives us the space for a new way of being in the world and within ourselves.

Here is a simple guide to understanding the differences between these terms, as well as the ways that mindfulness and acceptance are important building blocks for self-compassion.

Mindfulness: Starting with where you are

We have to begin with cultivating mindfulness, which is about noticing what is occurring right now in this moment. Mindful awareness will always be the necessary starting point. It makes sense that we cannot accept something or be compassionate about it when we have not yet become aware of it.

Being mindful means making contact right now, in the present moment, with our own experience. This can include our thoughts, feelings, urges, and physical sensations. Our societal conditioning has led us to always be focused on the future (what will happen next) or the past (what has already happened). This can distract us so much that we are barely aware of how we are reacting to circumstances right now.

What mindfulness teaches us is that our sensations and inner experience exist only in the present. When we practice mindfulness, we create a habit of noticing our own experience from moment to moment. For example, noticing the physical sensations and thoughts that accompany an emotional trigger can help us to understand and change how we react to that trigger.

Acceptance: Letting go of the urge to resist

Acceptance is about willingness. Accepting our experience means dropping the struggle. Often it is our internal resistance to negative experiences that makes them so painful for us. When we use our mindfulness practice to observe our thoughts, feelings, and sensations without automatically reacting, we can then choose to accept the reality of what is happening without needing to control or change it.

This does not mean that we have relinquished responsibility for the situation, or that we are resigned to allowing these circumstances to remain unchanged. Acceptance just means that we are willing to engage with the reality of what is actually happening rather than pretending things are different or attempting to force an outcome. It’s about accepting what is out of our control and taking responsibility for what is in our control. It is about staying present and willing to have all of the experiences that are occurring in the moment.

You are probably familiar with the Serenity Prayer: “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” The most difficult part of that equation is knowing the difference between what we can and cannot change. The practice of mindful awareness and acceptance can help to get us to that point of discernment.

Mindfulness and acceptance are not passive

It would be easy to assume that mindfulness (noticing the present moment) and acceptance (letting go of resistance) require us to passively observe what is occurring without intervening in any way. However, these tools actually allow us to become active creators of our own circumstances.

Mindfulness is about observation, but it is also about action. Our values can guide our behavioral choices, helping us decide what actions to take in the moment. We refer to mindful and intentional actions as “values-based actions.” The human tendency is to revert to old coping behaviors that lead to self-fulfilling prophecies. These behaviors tend to be based on what has happened to us in the past, rather than what is actually happening right now in the present moment. Mindfulness practice helps us to break this cycle by taking action intentionally based on our experience in the moment.

In the same way, acceptance is not a passive state, but an active way of opening ourselves to reality. We use the phrase “radical acceptance,” first coined by Marcia Linehan (founder of Dialectical Behavior Therapy), to describe the complete and total acceptance of our experience with all its flaws and frustrations. When we are able to fully accept our experience in this way, we are able to learn how to replace unhelpful behaviors with values-based actions.

The next step beyond acceptance: Self-compassion

Self-compassion takes acceptance one step further—not only accepting our internal experiences as they are, but also sending them loving kindness.
Dr. Kristin Neff outlines three aspects of self-compassion on her website, self-compassion.org:

1. Self-kindness vs. self-judgment. Instead of ignoring experiences that are painful or uncomfortable, or criticizing ourselves for handling a situation badly, we can choose to hold those experiences gently and with warmth and compassion.

2. Common humanity vs. isolation. Self-compassion requires us to understand that there is nothing unique or special about suffering, which is an experienced shared by all humans. It can be freeing to remember that no matter what we experience, we are not alone in feeling that way.

3. Mindfulness vs. over-identification. We must be able to find a balance between acknowledging the particular sensations of our experience without being overwhelmed by what is happening.

Using mindfulness, acceptance, and self-compassion

As you can see, there is more to mindfulness and self-compassion than is commonly implied. But it’s good news that these tools are interconnected, because mindful awareness plus acceptance can lead you to a place where self-compassion is possible—creating a more sustainable way to be and act. Therapists who are trained in mindfulness can guide you through this growth and transformation process.

At the Bay Area CBT Center, we offer individualized therapy that provides the tools you need to reach your goals and be more fulfilled. To learn more about how we can help, you can click here to book an appointment online. We have office locations in both San Francisco and Oakland.

Schema Chemistry: The Entitlement/Self-Sacrifice Trap

Schemas are the core beliefs we develop as a result of our early childhood interactions. They can inform many things about our adult lives, including the way we approach romantic relationships.

For example, if you have ever found yourself feeling resentful and lonely in a relationship, a self-sacrifice schema could be at work. This is a pattern in which you tend to be vigilant about others’ needs while ignoring your own needs.

“Schema chemistry” refers to the human tendency to be drawn to people who reinforce our own core beliefs. A person with a self-sacrifice schema may notice a pattern of being with partners who view their own worth and needs as a priority in any situation—in other words, partners who have an entitlement schema. That’s because the self-sacrifice schema and entitlement schema reinforce each other. With every new interaction, both people in the relationship have their core beliefs strengthened by the ongoing dynamic.

At the Bay Area CBT Center, we want you to be able to break this cycle and enjoy a relationship that is positive and uplifting for you and your partner. We help couples develop effective communication and healthy boundaries so the relationship feels more reciprocal—a collaborative effort between you and your partner. The first step is to understand how this “schema chemistry” works and where it’s showing up in your relationship. Then you will be able to implement specific strategies to change that dynamic.

Before we describe some of the specific strategies taught to clients in our practice, here is a closer look at the characteristics of these two schemas.

Self-Sacrifice/Subjugation Schema

If you have a self-sacrifice schema, these characteristics may describe how you interact in intimate relationships:

      • You prioritize taking care of other people above yourself. You feel overly responsible for other people’s feelings and may put your own feelings aside.
      • Taking the blame. You claim responsibility for other people’s behaviors.
      • You struggle with asking for what you need. You feel guilty or selfish if you make your own needs a priority. You may be afraid to ever do this because you sense that your partner may dismiss your needs, get angry at your request, or even leave you.

    Entitlement/Grandiosity Schema

    As someone with a self-sacrifice schema, you may be drawn to relationships with partners who have characteristics of an entitlement schema, such as:

        • They feel entitled to get what they want in any situation.
        • They use controlling and manipulative tactics to get what they want.
        • They see themselves as special—the rules don’t apply to them.
        • They believe they are victims and should not be accountable for their own actions.

        People with an entitlement schema are drawn to self-sacrificers who are unlikely to challenge the entitled partner’s beliefs. Since the entitled person’s needs are always getting met, that person has no incentive to change the dynamic.

        What Can I Do to Get My Needs Met?

        With the help of a trained therapist, it is possible for you to learn how to assert yourself in your relationship so that it is rewarding and fulfilling for you—not just for your partner.

        Here are some of the skills that your therapist may help you build:

        • Discern between needs and wants. Identify your needs and recognize them as non-negotiable, while also recognizing your wants as negotiable and becoming more flexible with your requests.
        • Practice saying “no.” No matter how small a request is, try saying “Maybe, let me think about it” instead of automatically complying with the request. Give yourself more time to explore whether it’s something you’re willing to do, rather than agreeing out of fear or guilt.
        • Clarify and prioritize your needs. What is most important to you in a relationship—honesty, affection, encouragement? What is non-negotiable—respect, safety, fidelity? It’s okay to have one or two “deal-breaker” needs that absolutely must be met in order for you to continue in the relationship.

        Remember, a healthy relationship is one in which both partners are able to express needs on an equal basis without fear of retaliation or abandonment. A trained therapist can help both you and your partner to understand and practice relationship skills that create a balanced, fair, and reciprocal dynamic between the two of you.

        In couples therapy at the Bay Area CBT Center, we help partners clarify the values they wish to emphasize in their relationship. To learn more about how we can help, you can click here to book an appointment online. We have office locations in both San Francisco and Oakland.

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!

Overcoming 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 like 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 our deepest values.

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Interpersonal 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 interactions with others and notice moments when your schemas get 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. Click here to read about the common triggers and feelings that are connected to particular schemas.

3. Identify your values: Clarify the kind of person you want to be when your schema is triggered. What do you want to stand for, 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.

4. Identify the thoughts and the feelings that come up for you when your schema gets activated. What automatic thoughts are connected to your schemas? Do any of these thoughts stop you from taking important actions? Do they have to stop you? What feelings get triggered when you have these thoughts? Would you be willing to embrace these difficult emotions and still take actions that bring you closer to your values and what matters?

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 this behavior this week and commit to it. When will you practice these new behavior? Keep in mind, the new behaviors will not eliminate 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 had hoped for, the long-term outcome will bring you closer to having the relationships that you desire.

Click here to take the schema quiz and identify your own schemas in relationships. To read more about your schemas check out the Interpersonal Problems Workbook.

At the Bay Area CBT Center, we offer individualized therapy that provides you with the tools you need to improve well-being and create the life you desire. To learn more about how we can help, you can click here to book an appointment online. We have office locations in both San Francisco and Oakland.

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.

Click here to take the schema quiz and identify your own schemas in relationships.

At the Bay Area CBT Center, we offer individualized therapy that provides you with the tools you need to improve well-being and create the life you desire. To learn more about how we can help, you can click here to book an appointment online. We have office locations in both San Francisco and Oakland.