Day 2: What the hell is a schema?

What is a schema? Have you ever even heard of them?

A schema, or life trap, is an unconditional assumption about ourselves and others that develop in childhood and become self perpetuating over time and remain throughout our life. It affects our thoughts, feelings and behaviours and how we interact with others and the world. When these are triggered by an event, a situation, a memory, a person, a thought etc. we respond in ineffective and unhealthy ways. Schemas have a significant influence on how our identities are formed and are more resistant to change than even our ‘core beliefs’ are.

When I was inpatient, I had to take a test to determine what my top 3 schemas were. I had 6 that were very close in number, so I use my top 6. My top six schemas are

  • Mistrust/Abuse
  • Defectiveness/Shame
  • Social Isolation/Alienation
  • Self-Sacrifice
  • Unrelenting Standards/Hypercriticalness
  • Insufficient Self-Control.Self-Discipline 

So what do these all mean, now that I’ve just thrown a bunch of random words at you?

Let’s start with Mistrust/Abuse. This schema refers to the expectation that others will intentionally take advantage in some way. People with this schema expect others to hurt, cheat or put them down. They often think in terms of attacking first or getting revenge afterwards, In childhood, these people were often abused or treated unfairly by parents, siblings, or peers.
Defectiveness/shame refers to the belief that one is inherently flawed and that if others get close, they will realize this and withdraw from the relationship, This feeling of being flawed and inadequate often leads to a strong sense of shame. Generally parents were very critical of their children and made them feel as if they were not worthy of being loved.
Social Isolation/Alienation refers to the belief that one is isolated from the world, different from other people, and/or not part of any community. This belief is usually caused by early experiences in which children see that either they, or their families, are different from other people.
People with the Self-Sacrifice schema sacrifice their ow needs to the point of excess in order to help others. When these people pay attention to their own needs, they often feel guilty. To avoid this guilt, they put others’ needs ahead of their own. Often people who self sacrifice gain a feeling of increased self-esteem or a sense of meaning from helping others. In childhood the person may have been made to feel overly responsible for the well being of one or both parents.

Unrelenting Standards/Hypercriticalness refers to the belief that whatever you do is not good enough, that you must always strive harder. The motivation for this belief is the desire to meet extremely high internal demands for competence, usually to avoid internal criticism. People with this schema show impairments in important life areas, such as health, pleasure or self esteem. Usually these people’s parent were never satisfied and gave their children love that was conditional on outstanding achievement.

The Insufficient Self Control/Self-Discipline refers to the inability to tolerate any frustration in reaching one’s goals, as well as an inability to restrain expression of one’s impulses or feelings. When lack of self-control is extreme, criminal or addictive behavior may rule your life. Parents who did not model self control, or who did not adequately discipline their children, may predispose them to have this schema as adults.

There are several other schemas, including:
  • Negativity/Pessimism, 
  • Punitiveness, 
  • Entitlement/Grandiosity, 
  • Approval Seeking/Recognition-Seeking, 
  • Emotional Inhibition, 
  • Subjugation, 
  • Failure, 
  • Enmeshment/ Undeveloped Self, 
  • Vulnerability to Harm and Illness, 
  • Dependence/Incompetence, 
  • Abandonment/Instability, and 
  • Emotional Deprivation.

So now what? I’ve told you what my deepest, most secret issues are, and even explained them a bit. Now we’re going to delve in them more as this week goes on. I plan on taking each one of the six, and going into deeper detail  for every day this week. This has been a therapy assignment that my therapist has been ragging on me to do, so I’m killing two birds with one stone here. If there is interest, as my final piece in schemas, I’ll do a post about those other schemas that don’t affect me.

I hope I’ve not bored you too much through this post, but I’m excited to delve deeper into the various sschemas I have here, and I hope you’ll join me as I do a little self therapy πŸ™‚

Based on these definitions I’ve provided, and the titles of the other schemas, do you have any guess on what yours may be? Let me know in the comments below!


5 thoughts on “Day 2: What the hell is a schema?

  1. Great information. Mine is self sacrifice and I'm well aware of it. Over the last year I kept it in my head that 2013 would be my year. After 30 years of kids in school my last two graduated, my mortgage is paid off and it's time I think about me some. In fact I reached a point when I asked my family, "when is it my time? When is what I want going to be important? They now get it that now is the time. So I'm visiting my oldest in Austin later this month all by myself. πŸ™‚ heck, I'm 56, I deserve it!Now I never thought about it steaming from things from childhood but it is true. My father was never in the picture. My mother, brother and I lived with my grandmother in the house my mother had been in since 12, which is like the 1940s. I was 18 when my grandmother died and I had to just about do everything to settle the estate, my mother just couldn't. My mother was diagnosed bipolar about 25 years ago. So I think, in looking back on some things, she must have been her whole life, or at least beginning at my teenage years when we noticed she would get these moments when she thought she could take on the world. My brother moved to NJ so I was the one left to figure out my mother's care.Anyway, point is, now that you mention all this in your post it does make since why I self sacrifice too much. But since 2009 I've been writing again (other than history which is part of my job) and I started preparing everyone then that in 2013 they were just going to have to figure a lot of things out for themselves. Don't get me wrong, I love my family, but I think they relay on me too much and I must admit I had allowed it well this was long but thanks for sharing you experiences in your blog.History Sleuth's Milk Writings UBC

  2. I'm glad you're enjoying my blog postings and finding them informational. I'm excited that more people are able to comment now as well, I look forward to hearing from you more as I do the UBC this month!

  3. Hey Tricia am back again πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ see I love your spirit of sharing πŸ™‚ :)…. I knew such issues existed but I really was unaware that these are so serious and there were tests to determine these… your post is not at all boring.. it was very informative and especially the way you write it with so much personal touch… I really like reading them :)… thanks for sharing this… and yayyy now I can comment too πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ you changed the comment style πŸ™‚

  4. If you're interested, amazon has several self help books relating to schemas, just search schema therapy in amazon's search bar. Or you could talk to your therapist if you happen to have one.

  5. Hi I'm visiting from UBC. I think Learned something new and that I recognize several of these things in myself. I think my main three would be defectiveness/shame, social isolation and approval seeking. Now what should I do with this?

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