Today I just want to provide a clearer overview and a more in depth look at what Schema Therapy actually is, where it originates, what it’s looking for and the basic goals of it. I’m leaving on vacation for a week tomorrow so I don’t want to jump right into the meat of it only to leave concepts hanging in the air. Is it silly that I feel guilty about not being able to blog for the next week? I’ll have practically no electricity, let alone internet connection, though I may try to hop on if the chance presents itself.
The word ‘schema’ in general terms means a structure, framework, or outline. In psychology a schema can be thought of as any broad organizing principle for making sense of one’s life experience. Schemas are formed throughout your life, though some of the most pivotal are developed during childhood. Once a schema has taken root in your personality it stays with you. Often these schemas, especially ones formed as coping and defense mechanisms, will superimpose themselves onto later areas of your life, even when they are no longer needed. Needed or not, it’s a kind of cognitive consistency that your mind creates to maintain a stable view of oneself or the world around you. That doesn’t mean these mechanisms aren’t inaccurate or distorted, just consistent. Schemas can be positive or negative, adaptive or maladaptive and form all throughout your life.
Young, the author of Schema Therapy: A Practitioner’s Guide (which is what I will be referencing often) believes that some of the schemas might be at the core of personality disorders and many chronic Axis I disorders.
There are five core emotional needs for human beings. Early Maladaptive Schemas result from unmet core emotional needs in childhood or early adolescence. These five need are:
1. Secure attachments to others (includes safety, stability, nurturance and acceptance)
2. Autonomy, competence, and sense of identity
3. Freedom to express valid needs and emotions
4. Spontaneity and play
5. Realistic limits and self-control
Everyone has these needs. A psychological healthy person can adaptively meet these core needs. However often early in life innate temperament and early environment result in the frustration of these needs. The combination and resulting schemas are theorized to be at the root of personality disorders. These frustrated developments present as early maladaptive schemas. Early Maladaptive Schemas are self-defeating emotional and cognitive patterns that begin early in our development and repeat through life.
“Early Maladaptive Schemas fight for survival. This is the result of the human drive for consistency. The schema is what the individual knows. Although it causes suffering, it is comfortable and familiar. It feels “right”. People feel drawn to events that trigger their schemas. This is one reason schemas are so hard to change. Patents regard schemas as a priori truths, and thus these schemas influence the processing of later experiences. They play a major role in how patients think, feel, act, and relate to others and paradoxically lead them to inadvertently recreate in their adult lives the conditions in childhood that were most harmful to them.”
Now, this doesn’t mean a person’s behavior. Behaviors are a response to certain schemas. They are driven by the underlying causes, schemas, but not the heart of the issue itself. Schemas are also dimensional. They have different levels of severity and pervasiveness. Depending on circumstances some schemas will be more severe and therefore more easily triggered. This especially happens with those schemas that develop early in childhood. I know I have Mistrust/Abuse issues, but they developed later in my life and are not nearly so severe as my Defectiveness/Shame schema presentations. Don’t worry, I’ll cover every single schema to the best of my ability, and there are a lot of them; 18. I should also note, EVERYONE, has schemas. Everyone. Some adaptive, some maladaptive. If you have one or two maladaptive ones it doesn’t mean you have a personality disorder per say, just that you, are human, and like the good majority of the people in this world did not lead a perfectly golden life free from struggle or strife. Something to consider looking in to? Sure. Major disorder of your person? Eh, probably not. One of the interesting things about Borderline Personality Disorder is HOW MANY of the maladaptive schemas we present with. It’s intense.
The goal of schema therapy is to help patients find adaptive ways to meet their core emotional needs and as a result correct the maladaptive behaviors that also present. To recognize which areas affect you, how they affect you today, and work to replace these maladaptive coping strategies with healthy adaptive ones. Know your enemy. It’s the only way you can truly defeat it.
I’m no psychologist (yet). I can’t diagnose or decide what may or may not actually present as a truly problematic schema for anyone. All I can do is present information and hope that it brings some enlightenment.