What is Schema Therapy?
Schema Therapy, also called Schema-Focused Cognitive Therapy or Schema-Focused Therapy, helps people identify and replace their maladaptive schemas with healthier ones.
Schemas are self-defeating patterns of thinking, feeling, and behaving. Schemas are thought to develop from unmet needs during early life, and become the lenses through which people view the world. When a schema is activated you can feel like someone is “pushing your buttons”. Schemas are deeply rooted beliefs that lead us to over-react or over-compensate to prevent us from feeling hurt. Unfortunately, the ways that we try to unconsciously avoid schema reactions can also be problematic. In fact, the people usually tend to engage in coping methods that unintentionally reinforce schemas. For example, if I hold the belief that others are rejecting, I might not open up to them. Then, because I don’t open up, others reject me. This then reinforces the belief that others are rejecting. In this process, maladaptive beliefs become a self-fulfilling prophesy, and are resistant to change.
How does Schema Therapy work?
- Assessment: Identify underlying maladaptive schemas.
- Emotional or experiential awareness: Notice the schemas getting activated in everyday life.
- Behaviour change: Replace maladaptive schemas and behaviours with healthier ones.
What are Maladaptive Schemas?
- Abandonment/instability: The belief that others are unreliable and unable to provide continued support due to their emotionally instability, likelihood to suddenly die, or possibility to abandon the person for someone else.
- Mistrust/abuse: Anticipating that others will cause oneself pain (e.g., by lying, cheating, abusing, humiliating, manipulating, or taking advantage), either intentionally or due to negligence.
- Emotional Deprivation: The belief that others will not provide a normal amount of nuturance, empathy, or protection.
- Defectiveness/Shame: The belief that one is flawed, unlovable, inferior or bad, and that others will notice this and the person will feel shame.
- Social isolation/ Alienation: The feeling that one is different from others and cannot fit into to a group or community.
- Dependence/Incompetence: The feeling that one is incapable of doing things on one’s own, and must rely heavily on others.
- Vulnerability to harm or illness: Having fears that catastrophes are always just around the corner. This could include Emotional catastrophes (e.g., going crazy), Medical catastrophes (e.g., heart attacks), or External catastrophes (e.g., plane crashes).
- Enmeshment/ Underdeveloped self: Feeling emotionally intertwined with others (usually parents), to the degree that individual development is compromised, or one feels smothered, or has identity confusion.
- Failure: Belief that one is incompetent or inadequate and likely to fail.
- Entitlement/ Grandiosity: Believing that one is superior to others, and therefore deserves special rights and privileges, and to have whatever one wants. Can involve excessive competitiveness or domination of others, and the pursuit of power and control.
- Insufficient self-control/ self-discipline: Difficulty or refusal to restrain oneself or tolerate not getting what one wants. Can involve a desire to avoid all discomfort or pain even at the expense of personal fulfillment.
- Subjugation: Habitually putting the needs of others before one’s own, due to feeling that others’ needs are more important, or in an effort to avoid conflict or abandonment.
- Self-sacrifice: Excessively meeting the needs of others at one’s own expense, in order to maintain connection, alleviate their pain, or to avoid feeling guilty or selfish.
- Approval-seeking/Recognition-seeking: Excessive desire to obtain the approval or recognition from others, at the expense of fulfilling one’s own desires.
- Negativity/Pessimism: A tendency to see the negatives in life while overlooking the positives.
- Emotional inhibition: Preventing oneself from displaying emotions to others, often to avoid disapproval, feeling shame, or fear of losing control over oneself.
- Unrelenting standards/Hypercriticalness: Feeling like one must continually achieve the highest standards, at the expense of pleasure, relaxation, satisfying relationships, self-esteem, or sense of accomplishment.
- Punitiveness: The belief that others should be punished for making mistakes, often regardless of the circumstances.