Have you noticed yourself choosing the same kind of partner again and again, even though you know deep down that they are not truly good for you? Are you curious about how you can heal from your rough, or even painful childhood? Or do you have an inner critic that actively stops you from feeling good about yourself? If you answered yes to any of these questions, Schema Therapy may be a great fit for you, as it can offer you guidance to attain the clarity and understanding you have always been searching for.
WHAT ARE SCHEMAS?
You have likely never heard of Schema Therapy, and possibly not even schemas. Before we dive into the nitty gritty of this form of therapy, let’s unpack some of the basics. A schema is a set of beliefs about yourself, others, and the world which developed in early childhood. These tend to be highly influenced by your primary caregivers and peer relationships. Once developed, these schemas organize your thoughts and perceptions in a patterned and somewhat predictable manner. Schemas are self-perpetuating, highly resistant to change, and are as stable as personality traits.
Although there are several positive and helpful schemas, twenty unhelpful schemas have been identified—each with their own paired treatment plan within therapy. Examples of unhelpful schemas include Abandonment, Negativity/Pessimism, and Emotional Inhibition.
WHAT A SCHEMA MIGHT LOOK LIKE
Someone with an Abandonment schema may have a deeply engrained belief that they are destined to be deserted and that relationships will inevitably end. Likely because of early experiences of abandonment, expecting this outcome can feel intuitive and comfortable, however painful the experience of ongoing abandonment actually is for them. A person with this schema is likely to unconsciously choose relationships that “prove” this schema to be true, such as consistently choosing emotionally unavailable partners who cannot be there for them in a committed way. Alternatively, they may design their life to prevent the schema from ever being triggered by avoiding dating altogether.
SCHEMA THERAPY ASSESSMENT
If you are curious about which schemas are most relevant to you, your Schema Therapist can offer a detailed assessment that will identify these and work alongside you to develop a customized treatment plan that will allow you to understand yourself on a much deeper level and help to reduce the power these schemas have over you. Once you begin to become conscious of your schemas by developing awareness about their origins, the process of healing can begin.
It is important to have realistic expectations regarding what Schema Therapy entails, as it will require consistent effort and time to reshape the way you view yourself, others, and the world. Although this requires work, the payoff can be incredibly worthwhile. Within a few months, you can make considerable progress in your targeted schemas and experience greater joy and fulfillment in your relationships, as well as developing a more positive and hopeful attitude toward life in general. Learning to recognize which areas you have the ability to control will allow you to consciously design the life you have always wanted.
WHAT MAKES SCHEMA THERAPY DIFFERENT
Provided you have had experience in other forms of therapy, working with a Schema Therapist is likely to feel different. Your Schema Therapist works to validate and fulfill your previously unmet core emotional needs, which is likely to be an incredibly enriching experience overall. At first, however, it might feel slightly uncomfortable to receive validation in areas that you had never experienced it in before. However, soon enough you will start to absorb and believe the positive sentiments and genuine care you are receiving. By working with your Schema Therapist, you are likely to develop increased self-esteem, self-love, and self-acceptance.
Having your needs met to a certain extent within therapy will translate into you feeling greater confidence that you are worthy of having your needs met outside of therapy. You will learn how to better understand your needs, communicate how others close to you can meet your needs, and eventually be able to meet your own needs.
Additionally, your brain undergoes cognitive restructuring during Schema Therapy, meaning your new healthy thinking patterns become strengthened while your unhealthy ones become weakened. Although this takes some time to occur, the results are that you will experience meaningful and lasting change.
CORE EMOTIONAL NEEDS
With all this talk of needs, you might be asking yourself, “Well, what exactly are these needs that appear to be so important?” To answer your burning question, I have outlined the seven core emotional needs below:
- Secure attachments to others (includes safety, stability, nurturance, and acceptance)
- Autonomy, competence, and sense of identity
- Freedom to express valid needs and emotions
- Spontaneity and play
- Realistic limits and self-control
The schemas in Schema Therapy are created from any, some, or all of these seven core emotional needs not being sufficiently met, most typically in early childhood. Those specific needs that had been previously unfulfilled are the ones that get targeted attention within therapy, bringing about immense healing.
WHY NOT TO BLAME OTHERS FOR YOUR SCHEMAS
Wait a minute… Does this mean that I can blame my parents or caregivers for all of my problems?! Not quite. It’s actually more complicated than that. For instance, one parent can behave similarly toward two of their children, and for one child, their needs will be sufficiently met, and for the other, they won’t. The difference in how each child responds to the same style of parenting might seem confusing at first, but once we bring each child’s unique temperament and personality into the mix, things start to make a little more sense.
Put differently, “good enough” parenting really can be good enough for many children, and the majority of their needs will be sufficiently met. However, children with more sensitive, anxious, or passive temperaments, for instance, will likely require a higher degree of attention and attunement by their caregivers than one might realize or expect in order to prevent unhelpful schemas from developing. Additionally, your parents’ schemas could have even been transmitted to you through modelling. Alternatively, your experience of socializing or not socializing with your classmates might have contributed to your schema development, meaning your parents might not be a relevant factor at all. Chances are that your parents or caregivers likely did the best they could with the skills they had at the time, and frankly, pointing the finger won’t help in your schema healing process anyways. Instead, understanding the general origins of your schemas and experiencing validation for your valid feelings will.
Although it is helpful to understand the origin of your schemas, it is not helpful to remain stuck in the past. It is important to note that your schemas helped you make sense of the world at the time they were created and are likely no longer serving you. You have more control over your life than you might realize. Learning a few new tools and insights may be just what you needed to bring about meaningful change for you personally and for your relationships.
HOW TO GET STARTED
Schema Therapy may be a great solution for you, whether you are simply curious to jump in and see how this works, or if you are coming from a discouraged or jaded place from previous unsuccessful attempts to change your thoughts, feelings, or behaviours. If you are interested in learning more about Schema Therapy, and to receive your individualized assessment, I encourage you to book a therapy session with me at Crossroads Collective at (604) 532-5340.
Written by Julie Beauregard for Crossroads Collective
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