Crossroads, Intentions and Schemas
I’m at some sort of therapeutic cross roads right now. Who knows what is further down the road for me. I don’t know if Linda will be right for me long term… this has caused a huge amount of heart ache and uncertainty over the past couple of months, on top of the grief I’ve been going through, but I realised more recently that there really isn’t a desperate need to make any urgent decisions about that. I know that working with her right now is what I need to do. And I think that’s one of the most powerful things I’ve learned through all of this… that we really don’t know what is going to happen in the future, tomorrow or in years to come, but we have this moment right now. That’s all we have. So, in this moment, I need Linda and I’m grateful I have her.
It’s been 7 weeks since Anna called me to end our work and every single day of those 7 weeks I have woken up thinking about her and gone to sleep thinking about her. She is everywhere, all day. But not always in a painful way. Quite often she accompanies me in moments where I need encouragement or a sense of safety. She coaches me from the sidelines in my mind. I don’t remember her and feel the loss and abandonment, I remember her and feel her love. She broke my heart wide open when she left and in doing so she let me experience everything. All the feelings. I gave myself permission to experience and become absorbed in the uncensored and all consuming expression of grief as a way of loving her from a distance. In doing this I have learned something I never would have discovered had she not gone. That to feel anything, we have to feel everything. I wholeheartedly believe this to be true. I have read and been told that you can’t numb one feeling or ‘just the bad feelings’ – if you numb them then you numb them all. The minute I decided to feel the grief, though it felt like it might kill me, it awakened me to the love.
This ‘crossroads’ which isn’t really a crossroads, it’s more of a change or a side step or a new fork in the road… whatever it is, it has made me reflect and in doing so I’ve revisited some of my old session notes. My friend reminded me how important it is to look back, to draw parallels and build self awareness which can help with feelings of stuckness in therapy. It’s like we’re staring at a wall so long we can’t even see the room we’re in anymore, we have to turn around and view things from all sorts of different angles… I’ve been thinking about my journey and what my life looks like now – what progress have I made, what more do I want to focus on, what keeps coming up for me, what am I avoiding?
I remember being so fascinated when Paul presented me with the results to my Schema questionnaire back in 2013. It was the first step towards knowing myself on a deeper level and realising that the way I was made sense and was a familiar pattern for people who had similar experiences to me. It was a major catalyst in what would be a long lasting hunger to learn and understand the psychology behind childhood trauma and it’s impacts.
I’ve been thinking quite a lot about intention. The fact that if we want change there needs to be a deep realisation that something HAS to change, then the intention to make the changes, then I guess maybe the courage to ask for help, trust that the help will in fact be available… then we have to take the leap. We have to make the step outside the comfort zone, we have to MAKE THE CHANGE. This has been going round and round in my mind for a while now, this idea of making the change. Not doing the same thing I’ve always done. I did that with Linda and it has made so much difference to how the therapy feels. I decided from the first session to drop my guard because if I was going to get anything out of our sessions I needed to come to them uncensored and lacking all defences. Anna would call them the games people play being a Transactional Analysist. The way I approached therapy with both Paul and Anna with fear and the assumption I would be hurt and shamed. With Linda I feel like I marched into the early sessions with no intention of absorbing any shame, I just wanted to talk openly about how I was feeling and I trusted that I’d be able to ensure my own safety and get my needs met.
Along the lines of thinking about schemas, I’m reflecting on how my birthday felt yesterday. It was distinctly different to any other birthday and I think the biggest shift has been in noticing my repeating patterns and making a conscious decision to choose a different route. Birthdays were always very disappointing for me as a child and quite often filled with guilt, shame and loneliness. I learned that I was a burden and that I didn’t deserve to have what I wanted or even ask for anything. I must make myself small and not have needs. In my twenties I partied and drank my way through my birthdays with various nights out and house parties that were a lot of fun but always ended with me feeling very empty or desperately grief stricken… lots of drunk crying. In my thirties birthdays have been quieter yet still disappointing. Under the guise of being focused on my children.
The past two years I worked on birthdays with Anna and she helped me see the patterns. One cycle I was repeating was based around the belief that I am not worthy of attention or love. That I must not ask for anything or have needs. Just as I was taught as a child. I would proclaim that I didn’t want a fuss and tell people not to get me anything then I would end up disappointed with the empty non event that my birthday would be. Martyrdom. As a result I’d feel guilty for feeling disappointed when actually it was what I asked for in the first place. People aren’t psychic. We can’t expect them to guess what we really mean. I was repeating the abuse I’d experienced because it felt comfortable. It confirmed my core belief that I am not worthy of positive attention, that people feel burdened by me and that in order to be lovable I must never ask for anything and never expect anything. This year I committed to making the changes that Anna instigated. I had honest conversations with the people close to me about what would make me happy. Then I made a conscious decision to let the love in. To let people attend to me. To receive with open gratitude. And to connect with any inner children that were present. I did just that and I had the best birthday I’ve ever had. I’ll share some of the notes I wrote to my inner children in another post. But I want to explore the schemas more here just now.
“There are 18 Early Maladaptive Schemas which are core themes that we repeat through our lives. The most basic concept in Schema Therapy is an Early Maladaptive Schema – “broad, pervasive themes regarding oneself and one’s relationship with others, developed during childhood and elaborated throughout one’s lifetime, and dysfunctional to a significant degree.”
Early Maladaptive Schemas began with something that was done to us by our families or by other children, which damaged us in some way. We might have been abandoned, criticized, overprotected, emotionally or physically abused, excluded or deprived.
Schemas fight to stay alive. We distort our view of the events in our lives in order to maintain the validity of our schemas. Schemas may remain dormant until they are activated. Schemas are like tsunamis. They remain dormant until an earthquake erupts under the surface to trigger your schema(s) and then you behave in ways that are extreme or inappropriate for the situation.
My core schemas are. UNRELENTING STANDARDS / HYPERCRITICALNESS, ABANDONMENT / INSTABILITY, EMOTIONAL DEPRIVATION (I’ll copy them all in at the end.) Once we know what our main schemas are (there are books and maybe even websites with questionnaires to help us figure out what we need to focus on) then we can work at repairing those areas. There is so much power in knowing ourselves. SO much strength in being able to focus on the areas we want to change.”
We have grouped these 18 schemas into 5 broad developmental categories of schemas that we call schema domains. Each of the five domains represents an important component of a child’s core needs. Schemas interfere with the child’s attempts to get the core needs met within each domain.
DISCONNECTION & REJECTION
(Expectation that one’s needs for security, safety, stability, nurturance, empathy, sharing of feelings, acceptance, and respect will not be met in a predictable manner. Typical family origin is detached, cold, rejecting, withholding, lonely, explosive, unpredictable, or abusive.)
1. ABANDONMENT / INSTABILITY (AB)
The perceived instability or unreliability of those available for support and connection.
Involves the sense that significant others will not be able to continue providing emotional support, connection, strength, or practical protection because they are emotionally unstable and unpredictable (e.g., angry outbursts), unreliable, or erratically present; because they will die imminently; or because they will abandon the patient in favor of someone better.
2. MISTRUST / ABUSE (MA)
The expectation that others will hurt, abuse, humiliate, cheat, lie, manipulate, or take advantage. Usually involves the perception that the harm is intentional or the result of unjustified and extreme negligence. May include the sense that one always ends up being cheated relative to others or “getting the short end of the stick.”
3. EMOTIONAL DEPRIVATION (ED)
Expectation that one’s desire for a normal degree of emotional support will not be adequately met by others. The three major forms of deprivation are:
A. Deprivation of Nurturance: Absence of attention, affection, warmth, or companionship.
B. Deprivation of Empathy: Absence of understanding, listening, self-disclosure, or mutual sharing of feelings from others.
C. Deprivation of Protection: Absence of strength, direction, or guidance from others.
4. DEFECTIVENESS / SHAME (DS)
The feeling that one is defective, bad, unwanted, inferior, or invalid in important respects; or that one would be unlovable to significant others if exposed. May involve hypersensitivity to criticism, rejection, and blame; self-consciousness, comparisons, and insecurity around others; or a sense of shame regarding one’s perceived flaws. These flaws may be private (e.g., selfishness, angry impulses, unacceptable sexual desires) or public (e.g., undesirable physical appearance, social awkwardness)
5. SOCIAL ISOLATION / ALIENATION (SI)
The feeling that one is isolated from the rest of the world, different from other people, and/or not part of any group or community.
IMPAIRED AUTONOMY & PERFORMANCE
(Expectations about oneself and the environment that interfere with one’s perceived ability to separate, survive, function independently, or perform successfully. Typical family origin is enmeshed, undermining of child’s confidence, overprotective, or failing to reinforce child for performing competently outside the family.)
6. DEPENDENCE / INCOMPETENCE (DI)
Belief that one is unable to handle one’s everyday responsibilities in a competent manner, without considerable help from others (e.g., take care of oneself, solve daily problems, exercise good judgment, tackle new tasks, make good decisions). Often presents as helplessness.
7. VULNERABILITY TO HARM OR ILLNESS (VH)
Exaggerated fear that imminent catastrophe will strike at any time and that one will be unable to prevent it. Fears focus on one or more of the following: (A) Medical Catastrophes: e.g., heart attacks, AIDS; (B) Emotional Catastrophes: e.g., going crazy; (C) External Catastrophes: e.g., elevators collapsing, victimized by criminals, airplane crashes, earthquakes.
8. ENMESHMENT / UNDEVELOPED SELF (EM)
Excessive emotional involvement and closeness with one or more significant others (often parents), at the expense of full individuation or normal social development. Often involves the belief that at least one of the enmeshed individuals cannot survive or be happy without the constant support of the other. May also include feelings of being smothered by, or fused with, others OR insufficient individual identity. Often experienced as a feeling of emptiness and floundering, having no direction, or in extreme cases questioning one’s existence.
9. FAILURE (FA)
The belief that one has failed, will inevitably fail, or is fundamentally inadequate relative to one’s peers, in areas of achievement (school, career, sports, etc.). Often involves beliefs that one is stupid, inept, untalented, ignorant, lower in status, less successful than others, etc.
(Deficiency in internal limits, responsibility to others, or long-term goal-orientation. Leads to difficulty respecting the rights of others, cooperating with others, making commitments, or setting and meeting realistic personal goals. Typical family origin is characterized by permissiveness, overindulgence, lack of direction, or a sense of superiority — rather than appropriate confrontation, discipline, and limits in relation to taking responsibility, cooperating in a reciprocal manner, and setting goals. In some cases, child may not have been pushed to tolerate normal levels of discomfort, or may not have been given adequate supervision, direction, or guidance.)
10. ENTITLEMENT / GRANDIOSITY (ET)
The belief that one is superior to other people; entitled to special rights and privileges; or not bound by the rules of reciprocity that guide normal social interaction. Often involves insistence that one should be able to do or have whatever one wants, regardless of what is realistic, what others consider reasonable, or the cost to others; OR an exaggerated focus on superiority (e.g., being among the most successful, famous, wealthy) — in order to achieve power or control (not primarily for attention or approval). Sometimes includes excessive competitiveness toward, or domination of, others: asserting one’s power, forcing one’s point of view, or controlling the behavior of others in line with one’s own desires — without empathy or concern for others’ needs or feelings.
11. INSUFFICIENT SELF-CONTROL / SELF-DISCIPLINE (IS)
Pervasive difficulty or refusal to exercise sufficient self-control and frustration tolerance to achieve one’s personal goals, or to restrain the excessive expression of one’s emotions and impulses. In its milder form, patient presents with an exaggerated emphasis on discomfort-avoidance: avoiding pain, conflict, confrontation, responsibility, or overexertion — at the expense of personal fulfillment, commitment, or integrity.
(An excessive focus on the desires, feelings, and responses of others, at the expense of one’s own needs — in order to gain love and approval, maintain one’s sense of connection, or avoid retaliation. Usually involves suppression and lack of awareness regarding one’s own anger and natural inclinations. Typical family origin is based on conditional acceptance: children must suppress important aspects of themselves in order to gain love, attention, and approval. In many such families, the parents’ emotional needs and desires — or social acceptance and status — are valued more than the unique needs and feelings of each child.)
12. SUBJUGATION (SB)
Excessive surrendering of control to others because one feels coerced — usually to avoid anger, retaliation, or abandonment. The two major forms of subjugation are:
A. Subjugation of Needs: Suppression of one’s preferences, decisions, and desires.
B. Subjugation of Emotions: Suppression of emotional expression, especially anger.
Usually involves the perception that one’s own desires, opinions, and feelings are not valid or important to others. Frequently presents as excessive compliance, combined with hypersensitivity to feeling trapped. Generally leads to a build up of anger, manifested in maladaptive symptoms (e.g., passive-aggressive behavior, uncontrolled outbursts of temper, psychosomatic symptoms, withdrawal of affection, “acting out”, substance abuse).
13. SELF-SACRIFICE (SS)
Excessive focus on voluntarily meeting the needs of others in daily situations, at the expense of one’s own gratification. 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. Often results from an acute sensitivity to the pain of others. Sometimes leads to a sense that one’s own needs are not being adequately met and to resentment of those who are taken care of. (Overlaps with concept of codependency.)
14. APPROVAL-SEEKING / RECOGNITION-SEEKING (AS)
Excessive emphasis on gaining approval, recognition, or attention from other people, or fitting in, at the expense of developing a secure and true sense of self. One’s sense of esteem is dependent primarily on the reactions of others rather than on one’s own natural inclinations. Sometimes includes an overemphasis on status, appearance, social acceptance, money, or achievement — as means of gaining approval, admiration, or attention (not primarily for power or control). Frequently results in major life decisions that are inauthentic or unsatisfying; or in hypersensitivity to rejection.
OVERVIGILANCE & INHIBITION
(Excessive emphasis on suppressing one’s spontaneous feelings, impulses, and choices OR on meeting rigid, internalized rules and expectations about performance and ethical behavior — often at the expense of happiness, self-expression, relaxation, close relationships, or health. Typical family origin is grim, demanding, and sometimes punitive: performance, duty, perfectionism, following rules, hiding emotions, and avoiding mistakes predominate over pleasure, joy, and relaxation. There is usually an undercurrent of pessimism and worry — that things could fall apart if one fails to be vigilant and careful at all times.)
15. NEGATIVITY / PESSIMISM (NP)
A pervasive, lifelong focus on the negative aspects of life (pain, death, loss, disappointment, conflict, guilt, resentment, unsolved problems, potential mistakes, betrayal, things that could go wrong, etc.) while minimizing or neglecting the positive or optimistic aspects. Usually includes an exaggerated expectation — in a wide range of work, financial, or interpersonal situations — that things will eventually go seriously wrong, or that aspects of one’s life that seem to be going well will ultimately fall apart. Usually involves an inordinate fear of making mistakes that might lead to: financial collapse, loss, humiliation, or being trapped in a bad situation. Because potential negative outcomes are exaggerated, these patients are frequently characterized by chronic worry, vigilance, complaining, or indecision.
16. EMOTIONAL INHIBITION (EI)
The excessive inhibition of spontaneous action, feeling, or communication — usually to avoid disapproval by others, feelings of shame, or losing control of one’s impulses. The most common areas of inhibition involve: (a) inhibition of anger & aggression; (b) inhibition of positive impulses (e.g., joy, affection, sexual excitement, play); (c) difficulty expressing vulnerability or communicating freely about one’s feelings, needs, etc.; or (d) excessive emphasis on rationality while disregarding emotions.
17. UNRELENTING STANDARDS / HYPERCRITICALNESS (US)
The underlying belief that one must strive to meet very high internalized standards of behavior and performance, usually to avoid criticism. Typically results in feelings of pressure or difficulty slowing down; and in hypercriticalness toward oneself and others. Must involve significant impairment in: pleasure, relaxation, health, self-esteem, sense of accomplishment, or satisfying relationships
Unrelenting standards typically present as: (a) perfectionism, inordinate attention to detail, or an underestimate of how good one’s own performance is relative to the norm; (b) rigid rules and &qout;shoulds&qout; in many areas of life, including unrealistically high moral, ethical, cultural, or religious precepts; or (c) preoccupation with time and efficiency, so that more can be accomplished.
18. PUNITIVENESS (PU)
The belief that people should be harshly punished for making mistakes. Involves the tendency to be angry, intolerant, punitive, and impatient with those people (including oneself) who do not meet one’s expectations or standards. Usually includes difficulty forgiving mistakes in oneself or others, because of a reluctance to consider extenuating circumstances, allow for human imperfection, or empathize with feelings.”
Schema Therapy – Jeffrey Young, Ph.D