In part one of this episode, I introduced you to schema. Schemas are deep-set beliefs, or negative patterns, that develop during childhood and perist and expand throughout adulthood.
If you listened last week, you’ll know the first 9. Have spent this last week thinking about what schemas may impact you or those around you? I know it’s been on my mind lately after talking about this topic with all of you.
This week, we’re going to introduce the other 9 schemas, and also dig a bit deeper into how they operate.
The belief that you’re superior to others. Some may have an exaggerated focus on aspects that they believe display this superiority (e.g. being amongst the most wealthy or successful). I think, in present-day language, we might call them clout chasers; however, individuals with this schema are engaging in these behaviors to achieve power and control, and not primarily seeking approval or attention. Sometimes those with this schema may engage in excessive competitiveness, force their perspective on others, or attempt to control the behaviors of others to be more in line with their own desires without empathy or concern for the other person’s feelings.
11. Insufficient Self-Control or Self-Discipline
This schema refers to the inability to tolerate any frustration in reaching your goals, as well as an inability to restrain the expression of your impulses or feelings. In its milder form, you may have an exaggerated emphasis on discomfort avoidance: avoiding pain, conflict, confrontation, responsibility, or overexertion at the expense of personal fulfillment, commitment, or integrity. When lack of self-control is extreme, criminal or addictive behavior may rule your life. If you struggle with this schema, remember that pain is a mandatory aspect of life, it’s impossible to have a healthy existence and avoid all discomfort.
This is the excessive surrendering of control to others because you feel coerced. This behavior is usually done to avoid things like conflict, anger, or abandonment. There are two major forms of subjugation. The subjugation of needs, which involves suppressing your desires, preferences, or decisions, and subjugation of emotions which involves the suppression of emotions, especially anger. People with this schema typically think that their experiences, opinions, feelings, and desires are invalid or not as important as those around them. Many times, subjugation can lead to a build-up of anger over time which may display itself in unhealthy symptoms such as passive-aggressive behavior, anger outbursts, withholding affection, and substance abuse.
This schema refers to the excessive sacrifice of your own needs in order to help others. The most common reasons are: to prevent causing pain to others; to avoid guilt from feeling selfish; or to maintain the connection with others perceived as needy. This sometimes leads to a sense that your own needs are not being adequately met. You may develop resentment towards those for who you are making sacrifices for.
14. Emotional Inhibition
This schema involves the belief that you must suppress spontaneous action, feeling, or communication. This is usually to avoid disapproval by others, feelings of shame, or losing control of your impulses. The most common areas of suppression involve anger and aggression and positive impulses such as affection, joy, play, or sexual excitement. Additionally, you may have difficulty expressing vulnerability or freely communicating your needs or feelings and may disregard emotional experiences for an excessive emphasis on being rational or intellectualizing situations.
15. Approval Seeking/Recognition Seeking
This schema refers to placing excessive emphasis on gaining the approval and recognition of others at the expense of your own genuine needs and sense of self. It can also include an excessive emphasis on status and appearance as a means of gaining recognition and approval. This belief frequently results in major life decisions that are inauthentic or unsatisfying; or in hypersensitivity to rejection.
This schema refers to a pervasive, lifelong focus on the negative aspects of life while minimizing, ignoring, or discounting the positive aspects. People with this schema have great difficulty enjoying things because they are always concerned with elements of displeasure or potential future problems that could possibly arise. If you’re always on the lookout for the other shoe to drop or the type who would say your entire vacation was ruined because you didn’t get one thing you wanted then this schema might be operating for you.
17. Unrelenting Standards/Hypercriticalness
This schema refers to a belief that you have to meet extremely high standards of performance or behavior. The person with this belief pattern is usually doing this to avoid criticism. This way of thinking and behaving typically results in the person feeling immense pressure, having difficulty slowing down, and being hypercritical of themselves or others. The unrelenting standards typically present as perfectionism, rigidity, and living by a lot of maladaptive “shoulds” in several areas of their life (e.g. we “should” always be productive), and a preoccupation with optimizing time to be more efficient and accomplish more things on a daily basis. This schema often leads to significant impairs in a person’s ability to experience pleasure and relaxation, can negatively impact health, self-esteem, sense of accomplishment, and relationship satisfaction.
This is the belief that people should be harshly punished for making mistakes. People with this schema tend to be critical and unforgiving of themselves and others. This often presents itself as people who are angry, intolerant, punitive, and impatient with people (including themselves) who do not meet their standards. Additionally, people with this schema may have difficulty with forgiveness of both themselves and others because of a reluctance to take into account contributing factors, allow space for imperfection, or empathize with the emotional experiences of others.
Unhelpful responses to schemas
There are 3 main unhelpful responses to schemas: surrender, avoidance, and overcompensation.
Schema surrender refers to ways in which people passively give in to the schema. They accept the schema as truth and then act in ways that confirm the schema.
For instance, a person with an abandonment/instability schema might choose partners who are unable to commit to long-term relationships. I’ve treated many patients over the years with this schema as one of their predominant issues. I was just observing the other day that a patient has a tendency to only choose people who are unavailable to them. These are people who are not emotionally ready to engage in a relationship, or even people who are “perfect” but somehow happen to live on the other side of the country.
I tell my patients on a weekly basis that, above feeling good, we want to be right. If you believe something to be true, you will do everything in your power to create that reality, even at the expense of your own happiness.
Schema avoidance refers to the ways in which people avoid activating schemas. As mentioned earlier, when schemas are activated, they cause extreme negative emotions. People develop ways to avoid triggering schemas in order not to feel this pain.
There are three types of schema avoidance: cognitive, emotional, and behavioral. Cognitive avoidance refers to efforts that people make not to think about upsetting events. These efforts may be either voluntary or automatic. People may voluntarily choose not to focus on an aspect of their personality or an event, which they find uncomfortable. There are also unconscious processes that help people to shut out information that would be too upsetting to confront. You can see this in PTSD reactions, in which a person may have difficulty remembering aspects of trauma or the trauma in its entirety.
Emotional avoidance refers to automatic or voluntary attempts to block painful emotion. Often when people have painful emotional experiences, they numb themselves to the feelings in order to minimize the pain. For instance, a person may engage in substance abuse to avoid feeling their feelings.
Next is behavioral avoidance. People often act in such a way as to avoid situations that trigger schemas and the associated psychological pain. For instance, a person with the failure schema may avoid applying to new jobs or seeking a promotion. By avoiding the challenging situation they can avoid the pain or anxiety that might temporarily arise from seeking more gainful employment, but if they keep acting on this schema they will never get any forward movement in their career.
The third is schema overcompensation. The individual behaves in a manner that appears to be the opposite of what the schema suggests in order to avoid triggering the schema. On the surface, it may appear that you are behaving in a healthy manner, but overdoing it is just another extreme that has its own set of consequences. More likely than not, you will only create more problem patterns that lead to your schemas being triggered anyway.
For instance, a person with subjugation as a predominant schema may overcompensate by engaging in passive-aggressive rebellion. They may appear compliant on the surface (to avoid conflict), but could engage in procrastination, talking behind someone’s back, or complaining. These behaviors will likely lead to conflict and criticism from others thereby confirming their belief that they have to give in to fit in versus the reality that with proper communication skills they could honor their needs and those around them.
Remember what I said in Part One of this episode: these early maladaptive schemas can be developed in all types of families, from the abusive to the well-meaning. I know that can be hard to understand, but quite honestly, a fish doesn’t know it’s wet. When we don’t have awareness, it’s impossible to make changes. This brings me to my second reminder: awareness is a skill! Now that you have an idea of what these schemas look like and how you might be responding to them, it now gives you the opportunity to choose a different pathway.
What’s a different pathway you’re going to choose going forward? Let me know in the comments on Instagram @kindmindpsych, via my email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave a voicemail at (929) 256-2191.
All content here is for informational purposes only. This content does not replace the professional judgment of your own mental health provider. Please consult a licensed mental health professional for all individual questions and issues.