Interpersonal schemas are basically mental frameworks or blueprints that we develop throughout our lives to make sense of our interactions with other people. They’re like ingrained patterns of thinking and feeling that influence how we perceive, interpret, and respond to social situations. For example, if we have a schema that says “people are generally trustworthy,” we might approach new relationships with openness and trust. On the other hand, if our schema says “people are always out to get me,” we might be more cautious and suspicious. These schemas can shape our expectations, behavior, and emotions in various social contexts, and they can have a significant impact on our relationships and interactions with others.
Our interpersonal schemas are often formed through our past experiences, cultural influences, and the messages we receive from our families, friends, and society. They act as mental shortcuts that help us navigate social situations, but they can also lead to biases and assumptions. For instance, if we have a schema that says “people from a certain background are untrustworthy,” we might unintentionally treat individuals from that group unfairly based on that belief. Becoming aware of our interpersonal schemas and examining their accuracy and validity is crucial for fostering more empathetic and inclusive 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 thoughts and feelings that accompany them:
1. Social Alienation/Isolation Schema:
A social alienation/isolation schema refers to a pattern of thinking and feeling that leads an individual to perceive themselves as disconnected or isolated from others in social situations. It can manifest as a persistent belief that one doesn’t fit in, isn’t understood, or is excluded from social connections.
People with this schema may interpret interactions with others through a lens of loneliness or rejection, which can result in feelings of sadness, anxiety, or a desire to withdraw. This schema can be influenced by past experiences of rejection, bullying, or a lack of social support, and it can impact an individual’s confidence, self-esteem, and willingness to engage in social activities. Recognizing and challenging this schema is important for fostering a sense of belonging and building meaningful connections with others.
- 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/Grandiosity 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 experience other people’s needs as demands on you or as an inconvenience. You strongly resist feeling obligated to anyone, often perceiving situations where others depend on you as controlling or manipulative. This perspective frequently leads you to feel victimized, harboring a sense that you been wronged or unfairly treated 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. Perfectionism/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. Dependence 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.