What Are Maladaptive Schemas?
The term ‘schema’ can be defined as basic, fundamental beliefs we have in relation to ourselves, others, and the world in general. They are very deep rooted, persistent, enduring and difficult to change.
Our schemas develop during our childhood and, if our childhood involves significant and chronic trauma, abuse or neglect, resulting in our core emotional needs going unmet, these schemas can become extremely negative, maladaptive and dysfunctional, leading to myriad severe problems in adult life.
Research conducted by Young et al., (2003) provides empirical evidence for the existence of eighteen maladaptive schemas that may be displayed by individuals who, as a result of their disturbed and emotionally turbulent childhoods, have gone on to develop borderline personality disorder (BPD) or other personality disorders.
Schema Domains :
Young and his colleagues also proposed that these eighteen maladaptive schemas fit into five categories which they called SCHEMA DOMAINS. These five schema domains reflect the basic emotional needs of the individual which went unmet during his/her childhood ; I list each of the five below :
- DISCONNECTION AND REJECTION
- IMPAIRED AUTONOMY AND PERFORMANCE
- IMPAIRED LIMITS
- OVERVIGILANCE AND INHIBITION
The Eighteen Schemas Grouped Within Their Corresponding Schema Domains :
DISCONNECTION AND REJECTION (First schema domain) :
Abandonment : The belief that significant others cannot be depended upon to provide support and will, sooner or later, abandon one.
Shame : The belief that one is a bad person, inadequate, deeply flawed in character and inferior to others.
Alienation : The belief one does not fit into society and that one is doomed to be a permanent outcast and social pariah
Emotional deprivation : The belief that one will never receive the emotional support that one requires.
Mistrust : The belief that others will always manipulate, use, take advantage of, mistreat and betray one
IMPAIRED AUTONOMY AND PERFORMANCE (Second schema domain) :
Dependence : The belief that one is incompetent and incapable of functioning adequately in life without substantial help and support from others
Vulnerability : The excessive and abiding fear that some disaster or catastrophe is imminent and that one is utterly powerless to prevent it
Undeveloped sense of self : The belief one must be deeply emotionally close (sometimes referred to as ‘enmeshment’) to others at the expense of one’s own sense of an independent identity.
Failure : The belief that one is an utterly inept and ineffectual person who will never be able to achieve any significant goals
IMPAIRED LIMITS (Third schema domain) :
Self-control : The belief that one cannot control one’s impulses or tolerate frustration.
Grandiosity and sense of entitlement : The belief that others are inferior to oneself and that one’s own behavior is exempt from being dictated to by societal norms, rules and conventions.
OTHER-DIRECTEDNESS (Fourth schema domain) :
Approval Seeking : The belief that one always needs to be approved of, and accepted by, others, at the expense of developing one’s own sense of an independent identity.
Self-sacrifice : The belief that one must meet the needs of others at the expense of meeting one’s own needs.
Subjugation : The belief one must subjugate (suppress) one’s own needs, desires and feelings to avoid the disapproval of others.
OVERVIGILANCE AND INHIBITION (Fifth schema domain) :
Extreme self-criticism : The belief that one must achieve exceptionally high (and unrealistic) standards in everything one undertakes (perfectionism) fueled by a fear of criticism or of not being accepted.
Punitiveness : The belief that others should be severely punished for their mistakes.
Emotional inhibition : The belief one needs to inhibit spontaneous action to an excessive degree in order to avoid negative repercussions such as bringing shame upon oneself, being disapproved of by others or losing control over of one’s impulses.
Negativity : Excessive pessimism involving obsessively focusing on the negative aspects of life whilst ignoring, or greatly minimizing, its positive aspects.
SCHEMA THERAPY aims to help the individual suffering from maladaptive schemas such as those described above by :
- identifying the individual’s maladaptive schemas (caused by his/her unmet emotional needs)
- to change these maladaptive schemas into more helpful ones
- to change the individual’s maladaptive life patterns into more helpful ones
- to improve the individual’s coping styles / coping strategies / life skills
David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).