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.”
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. The 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. Negative 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.