I’m ready for November to be over. I don’t want it anymore. I’ve never had a particular problem with November but I’m starting to get paranoid and obsessive and I just want it to stop. Ugh. I really didn’t want to write today but I forced myself to anyways. So here’s the next schema.
Typical Presentation of the Schema
Patients who have a Failure Schema believe that they have failed relative to their peers in areas of achievement such as a career, money, status, school, or sports. They feel that they are fundamentally inadequate compared to others at their level – that they are stupid, inept, untalented, ignorant, or unsuccessful, and that they inherently lack what it takes to succeed.
Typical behaviors of these patients include surrendering to the schema by sabotaging themselves or performing halfheartedly, avoidance behaviors such as procrastinating or not doing the task at all, and overcompensating behaviors such as working nonstop or otherwise overachieving. Over compensators with Failure schemas believe that they are not as smart or talented as other people, but they can make up for it by working extra diligently. They are often quite successful, yet still feel fraudulent. These patients appear successful to the outside world but feel underneath that they are on the brink of failing.
This is me all over. All three aspects: Surrender, Avoid, and Overcompensate. I cycle or shuffle through them all because I’m afraid I don’t have what I need to do what I need to do. Despite all the evidence to the contrary. I always feel like a fraud. No matter how well I know something, how well I’ve done something, no matter how much effort I’ve put towards accomplishing a task well.
It is important to distinguish between the Failure and Unrelenting Standards schemas. Patients with the Unrelenting Standards schema believe they have failed to meet their own (or their parents’) high expectations, but they will acknowledge that they have done as well or better than the average person in the same occupation. Patients with the Failure Schema believe they have done worse than most others in their occupation, and very often they are right. Most patients with the Failure schema have not accomplished as much as the average person in their peer group. Failure has become a self-fulfilling prophecy in their lives. It is also important to distinguish between the Failure schema and the Dependence/Incompetence schema, which has more to do with daily functioning than with achievement. The Failure schema involves money, status, career, sports, and school; the Dependence/Incompetence schema involves everyday decision-making and taking care of oneself in daily life. The Failure schema often leads to a linked Defectiveness schema. Feeling like a failure in areas of achievement, the person feels defective.
This distinction is important for me. I constantly feel like a failure though I can admit when I have achieved some goal or accomplishment. I think I fit the Unrelenting Standards schema must closer in this respect. While I constantly fear I don’t measure up and am a failure or will fail, this has thus far never been proven true. My fear of failure creates an anxiety to succeed.
|Sounds simple enough, right?
Goals for Treatment
The central goal of treatment is to help patients feel and become as successful as their peers (within the limits of their abilities and talents). This usually involves one of three scenarios. The first is increasing their level of success by building skills and confidence. Second, if they are, in fact, successful relative to their potential, it involves raising their appraisals of their level of success or changing perceptions of their peer group. The third scenario involves patients accepting unchangeable limitations in their abilities, while still feeling they have value.
Strategies Emphasized in Treatment
It is important to assess carefully the origin of the Failure schema for each patient, because the strategies the therapist emphasizes will depend on this assessment. Some patients have failure due to an innate lack of talent or intelligence. In these cases, the therapist tries to help the patient build skills and set realistic goals. Other patients have the talent and intelligence to succeed but have never applied themselves fully. Perhaps they have lacked direction or focused on the wrong areas. In these cases, the therapist aims to provide direction or to shift their focus to areas in which they have more natural talents. Perhaps patients have another disorder that has interfered with their development (such as ADD)., in which case the therapist needs to treat the other disorder. Perhaps they lack discipline: Many patients with the Failure schema also have the Insufficient Self-Control/Self-Discipline schema. In these cases, the therapist allies with the patient to fight Insufficient Self-Control/Self-Discipline schema. Perhaps patients are flooded with negative affect from another schema, such as Defectiveness or Emotional Deprivation, which they spend a lot of time and effort trying to avoid – by abusing drugs, drinking alcohol, playing the stock market, surfing the Internet, gambling, viewing pornography, or having sexual affairs – and the avoidance interferes with their dedication to work. In these cases, treatment involves working on the underlying schemas. It is important to assess why the patient has failed, in order to design the proper treatment for the problem. In most cases, the cognitive and behavioral aspects of the treatment take precedence.
Another cognitive strategy is to highlight patients’ successes and skills. Typically, patients with this schema have ignored their accomplishments and accentuated their failures. The therapist helps correct this bias by teaching patients to notice each time they are successful. It’s also important to set realistic long-term goals.
Ugh. I hate it when Therapist does this. I hate it when she lists my positive attributes and ticks off all the things I’ve accomplished. It feels so phony. I hear these nice words and it feels hollow, like someone trying to make you feel better. All surface, no substance. I think Therapist hopes that with repetition I will begin to internalize these positive attributes as my own. Currently they belong to my not so evil doppelganger. I’m sure her life is lovely.
Experiential techniques can be helpful in preparing patients to undertake behavioral change. In imagery, patients relive failure experiences from the past and express anger at the people who discouraged them, or mocked and devalued them for failing. Doing this helps patients reattribute the failure to the other person ‘s criticalness rather than to their own lack of ability. Getting angry at parents and others for not recognizing and accepting their strengths and limitations is an important part of the process of letting go of the schema emotionally.
Get angry. I like this strategy. I can’t say that my parents failed to realize my limitations and pushed me anyways. Well, I can and I can’t. They failed to recognize my emotional limitations. Physically, I’ve managed to accomplish everything I’ve set out to do. I may not be perfect the first time, but I push myself harder and harder until I get it and move on to the next even harder thing. Yeah, for me this is Unrelenting Standards, not so much Failure. But I can definitely get angry. Anger focused in an appropriate manner can be a very constructive tool. It’s a source of strength and motivation. I get caught up in being angry with myself. I get angry and blame myself for things that others have done because I believe “I’ve allowed” others to do those things to me, when really, I did not ask for it, it was not my choice. It was their doing, their fault. The blame is theirs. My anger should be for them as well.
Alternatively, the patient’s parents may not have wanted the patient to succeed. Although the parents may have been unaware of it, they did not want the child to become too successful. They were afraid that the child would surpass or abandon them. The parents gave the child subtle messages that they would reject him or her or withdraw emotionally if the child became too successful. The child developed a “fear of success”. Experiential techniques help the patient identify this theme and relate to it emotionally. Getting angry with the Undermining Parent helps the patient understand that this was an unhealthy message, and one that the patient need no longer believe. Healthy parents do not punish their children for succeeding. Getting angry can help patients fight the view that people will reject them if they are too successful.
My parents certainly wanted me to succeed. I think I’m afraid of succeeding in my own way though. If I accomplish something it still means there’s more to go, something harder, something more challenging. One more opportunity for me to prove that I won’t measure up to what is expected of me. One more opportunity to fail. Not-so-amusingly, I also have an inability to say ‘No’ to projects, so while I may not want to do them for fear that I might fail at them, I also am incapable of saying ‘No’ and letting someone down or allowing them to believe that I can’t handle it, so I wind up with the task anyways. Then I balk and waver between doing it, pushing it around on my desk, finding other things that ‘are more important’, and finally tacking it with a single minded ferocity that gets it done efficiently and flawlessly.
The behavioral part of the treatment is usually the most important. No matter how much progress patients make in the other areas, if they do not stop their maladaptive coping behaviors, they are going to keep reinforcing the schema. It’s necessary to replace behaviors that surrender to, avoid, or overcompensate for the schema, with more adaptive behaviors. Patients set goals, set grade tasks to meet them, and then carry out the tasks as assignments.
Behaviorally I act as though I will succeed. Hell, I act as though I’ve already succeeded at whatever I’m doing. Perception is important. If you appear successful people will believe you are successful, so hiding the insecurities is crucial.
Special Problems with This Schema
The most common problem is that patients persist in their maladaptive coping behaviors. They keep surrendering, avoiding, or overcompensating for the schema instead of trying to change. Patients are so convinced they are going to fail that they are reluctant to commit themselves fully to trying to succeed.
I can see my problems being in fooling the people that are trying to help me. I know what I’m supposed to say to appear as though I’m not a failure. I suppose it helps that I also have the evidence to back up these claims. For me it’s really just a feeling of failure. It’s not a reality of failure. Except in the reality of not being able to feel like a success. I fail and feeling properly. But we all knew that. That’s pretty much why we’re here. Regardless of how I feel I HATE admitting to being anything less than perfect, so admitting that I feel like a failure or a fraud is just out of the question.
*Schema Therapy: A Practitioner’s Guide by Young, Klosko, and Weisshaar