What Are Schema?
The term ‘schema‘ refers to the fundamental beliefs and feelings we have about ourselves, others, and the world in general – together with how these interact. They are very deep rooted and enduring.
We develop our schema during childhood and if our childhood is traumatic these schema can become extremely negative, dysfunctional and maladaptive.
This is especially likely to occur if :
– our parent is abusive/cruel/constantly highly critical
– our parent is highly punitive, leading us to internalize this negative voice
– our parent abandoned/rejected us
– our parent failed to meet our basic needs, such as to be loved, to be shown affection, to be made to feel safe
– we experienced neglect/deprivation
– our parent ignored us/constantly derided us/treated us with contempt
Once negative schema are formed, they become deeply embedded into our personality structure and very hard to change.
THE EFFECTS OF HAVING DEVELOPED NEGATIVE SCHEMA DUE TO CHILDHOOD TRAUMA :
When situations occur in our adult life which remind us (usually unconsciously) of a traumatic experience in our early life, the specific schema which formed due to that traumatic experience can be TRIGGERED (see diagram above), which, in turn, will :
– negatively distort our thinking
– negatively disrupt our emotions
– negatively disrupt our behaviour
– negatively affect how we feel
EXAMPLES OF NEGATIVE SCHEMA :
1) If we were betrayed by our parents as children, we are likely to develop a schema of general mistrust of others
2) If we were constantly criticized/disapproved of/punished as children, we may develop a schema of self- inadequacy
DYSFUNCTIONAL COPING STRATEGIES :
Sometimes, in order to try to deal with negative schema, a person may employ dysfunctional coping strategies. For example, an individual who possesses a schema that causes him to view himself as essentially inadequate may attempt to over-compensate by becoming an obsessive workaholic.
INTERPERSONAL SCHEMA, REPETITION AND RE-ENACTMENT :
Our interpersonal schema are largely dictated by the relationship we had with our parent/s as we grew up. If these relationships were bad, the negative schema we develop as a consequence (eg. that others cannot be relied upon) can sabotage our adult relationships.
One reason for this is that, as was originally pointed out by Sigmund Freud, very often we are UNCONSCIOUSLY COMPELLED to form adult relationships which MIRROR our childhood relationships. For example, a person who was physically abused as a child may be drawn into forming relationships in her adult life with partners who are also likely to physically abuse her. This occurs as a subconscious attempt to gain mastery over the original, traumatic, childhood relationship with the abusive parent.
WHY ARE NEGATIVE SCHEMA SO DIFFICULT TO CHANGE?
The reason for this is that schema are stored in the EMOTIONAL centre of the brain, called the AMYGDALLA. It follows, therefore, that they are not susceptible to being easily corrected by rational and logical means – in other words, through no fault of the person who holds them, negative schema caused by childhood trauma tend to be irrational in so far as they lead to dysfunction in adult life.
POSSIBLE THERAPIES :
However, it is necessary to change these maladaptive schema if the person who has them wishes to feel safe, self-assured and empowered in their adult relationships. Two therapies that can be effective are :
– SCHEMA FOCUSED COGNITIVE/HYPNO-THERAPY (click here to read my article on this)
– EYE MOVEMENT DESENSITIZATION AND REPROCESSING THERAPY, or EMDR (click here to read my article on this)
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David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).