A few months ago I started a new type of therapy called Schema Therapy. In this post I’m going to explain a bit about what that is, what schema’s are, what mine are and how they have given me both positives and negative qualities. I will also explain how they have a big impact on my life every day.
Schema therapy is based upon a theory, called schema theory. It is a very effective treatment for BPD (borderline personality disorder.) The theory was developed by a psychologise called Jeffrey Young. He developed this to address the needs of those who tried CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) and it wasn’t effective. The root of this type of therapy is firmly embedded in attachment theory, the main idea being that personality pathology develops from unmet core emotional needs in childhood. As I mentioned before, Jeffrey was trained in CBT therapy but could see that what he had been taught had been helping his clients with depression, but not those with problems such as personality disorders, so that’s where he began to add things like attachment theory into his work. The result of this was that although the cognitive techniques his clients were adapting to their lives were good and were change the way in which they were making choices in the present, they were now also able to now look into their childhood to understand where these patterns stemmed from in the first place.
A schema is a cognitive framework or concept that helps organise and interpret information. A schema describes a pattern of thoughts or behaviour that organises categories of information and the relationships among them.
“Imagine what it would be like if you did not have a mental model of your world. It would mean that you would not be able to make so much use of information from your past experience or to plan future actions.
Schemas are the basic building blocks of such cognitive models, and enable us to form a mental representation of the world”
Schemas are like lines of code that go through your brain telling you how to interpret things, feel about things, how to react, and how to predict the future. Schemas create thoughts and feelings that lead you to different actions and decisions. You view the world, yourself and other people through schemas.
The main characteristics of schemas are:
•They are mainly formed in early childhood, youth or adolescence
•Majority of schemas run on the unconscious level, most of the time you are completely unaware of them.
•They are beliefs and feelings you accept without question, about yourself, others and future
•The maladaptive schema beliefs are expressed in absolutes (e.g. I’m not lovable)
•They are constantly present and very hard to change
•They fight for their own survival, so for example if you have a certain belief about yourself which is negative that was developed when you were a child, its most likely that it will push through into adulthood.
There are lots of different schemas, but here I’m going to talk about the boldest schemas in my life and how I am coping with them. One of my biggest schemas is the Abandonment Schema. This schema is basically the belief that everyone who you have an emotional attachment to will leave you. It’s a never ending fear that everyone you get close to will leave you. Examples of this that I have experienced myself would be, overacting over something small such as your partner talking to someone you don’t know, because you aren’t thinking logically and begin to assume the worst. This schema tends to have been created due to one of your parents neglecting or abandoning you as a child, or not giving you the necessary amount of attention. Before I continue this, I would just like to say this is not a post where I am blaming my parents or my family, there is no doubt that my parents, just like everyone else, played a huge role in my development as a child, however I don’t believe it is fair to blame them for giving me these schemas, I believe my family tried their hardest with what they were taught when they were little, and will most definitely have schemas themselves that will have effected the upbringing of their children. I believe that I, as an individual, need to take responsibility for my own life and my own mind, and I am learning to take control of myself. I believe it is unfortunate that I have these certain schemas, of course that makes my life difficult, but I am taking control of my own life in sorting them out for myself. I am also very aware that we are all human and I do not believe anyone can ‘perfectly’ raise a child, and having these schemas are not uncommon at all. Although these schemas I have developed have mainly come from my parents, a lot of other wonderful qualities I have and great life lessons I have been taught have also been from them. I have nothing but love and respect for both of my parents and praise them for helping me become the woman I am today.
Anyways, It is very common for people that suffer with BPD to have abandonment issues, its been said that those that have BPD don’t quite have the same emotional ‘skin’ as other people do, meaning they are much more sensitive. I believe my relationships have suffered drastically due to this schema, and I have discovered that ironically in my life time the majority of my romantic relationships have been with people who trigger this particular schema, because it is what feels familiar to me. During a relationship I always find myself worrying excessively about the possibility that my partner will leave me or betray me, and what I would do if that happened. I struggle to be away from my partner for a long period of time and I have a tendency to get extremely jealous and possessive. I’ve been extremely clingy in the past, and had times where my life has just revolved around my partner. I have a constant cloud of doubt in my mind that my partner doesn’t want to be with me and that they won’t stay with me. I almost prepare myself for the worst all the time because I expect the relationship to fail. I have a very strong emotional reaction to anything negative or positive that happens in my relationship, for as long as I can remember I have very drastic responses to minor distribution. I often have felt disconnected whenever my partner leaves me, and I tend to not be able to shake that feeling until I am reunited with them. I’ve not only struggled with romantic relationships because of this schema but also in friendships. I am truly blessed to have a very close group of friends who have shown me nothing but care and emotional support for the 5 years I have known them, so they have definitely helped dull the fear of abandonment in my friendships with them. However, I do still have a tendency to fall into old habits and stress over little things when it comes to my friendships. Up until I met the group of friends I have now, friends have always come and go out of my life pretty quickly, and of course that just put pressure on the abandonment schema, and for the first year or so of my friendship with these girls, especially my best friend and now house mate Lauren, and another dear friend of mine, Laura will have noticed I was always so convinced they were going to leave me at some point, that I was not good enough and that their promises meant nothing to me because everyone always leaves, and I was certain that that was what they were going to do as well. 5 years later, they have indeed proved me wrong, my relationship with my friends are as strong as anything and I would like to take this time to thank them for being so kind, caring and patient with me and for teaching me how to trust in people again.
I have suffered with a lot of abandonment in my life, when I was 9 years old my Nan passed away who was my closet friend, I spent every day with her and she made my world a much brighter and happier place, so it really hit me hard when she passed. Dealing with my parents divorce and my dad moving out was something that also triggered my abandonment schema, alongside that I pushed away my best friend at the age of about 15, and losing her was extremely difficult for me. I also have had relationships where I have felt so happy and secure and then suddenly completely out of the blue, they have decided they want to leave me. So yes, for a lot of my life I have had to deal with people leaving, and me being left with the broken pieces and trying desperately to figure out what I did wrong, and wishing I could be different so people wouldn’t leave me. Through working with my therapist and understanding the reasoning behind my schemas I am learning to change this schema to become more healthy. I am learning to identify how sensitive I am to losing people, and am analysing my need to cling people and worries of being on my own. I am learning to review my past relationships and identify patterns that recur. I am recognising the importance of spending time on my own, and learning to be alone is better than running away. I am hopeful for a better future.
Another of my biggest schemas is emotional deprivation, this is the belief that ones emotional needs will never be met. For a long time I completely denied to my therapist that this was a scheme of mine and also probably one of the most challenging schemas for me. I originally expressed to my therapist that I have such a good relationship with my family especially mum, and she’s always shown me love and attention and support so how could this be a schema of mine? The further me and my therapist looked into this the more I have come to see that this is indeed a very big schema of mine. The main characteristics of this schema include, feeling that people haven’t been there to meet your emotional needs, feeling as if there haven’t been someone there to deeply nurture you or want to spend time with you or get close to you, you may feel as if people haven’t been there to give you much affection or attention, perhaps also feeling the need to give nurturance to others as a way of compensating for my unmet emotional needs. I often feel disconnected from the people closest to me, as I have a tendency to detach myself. Emotional deprivation comes from being chronically disappointed in people, people let you down a lot and therefor you cannot always count on people to be there for you. Often people who have the emotional deprivation schema are constantly being told by others or perhaps the people that they are in close relationships with that they are you needy or ask for too much. This also tends to happen when you form relationships with people who cannot emotionally meet your needs, perhaps they have a certain job that means they will never be able to fulfil you and your needs, or maybe they have a history of being extremely self detached and doesn’t have the skills to be able to provide you with emotional support. Relationships and friendships are tricky for people with this schema, I myself use a counterattacking coping style of anger, which unfortunately hardly does me any favours. In this coping mechanism I have taught myself to replace my grief with a hard shell of anger, this means in relationships and friendships I have a tendency to get very demanding, any of you who have read my previous blog posts will know I struggle with dealing with anger / upset in a healthy way because of having a personality disorder, so anger for me really is something I am trying my best to work on. I find myself often not feeling sadness or grief anymore as it is quickly replaced with an intense feeling of anger, which makes me lash out and accuse people of not caring enough about me etc.
This schema is in most cases developed as a child when you are receiving a less amount of emotional nurturance than you should be, so that could be by your parents / family not paying you enough attention as a child, or not tuning properly into your needs or feelings. Your relationships growing up are so important, they mould you and you become what you have been taught from childhood. The father figure is always extremely important, the first relationships become the prototype for those that follow. I was reading a book the other day and it said this “her father was the first man to half love her, her father was the first man to let her down, her father taught her to love men who would always make her feel as if he wasn’t good enough, her father version of love was the love she accepted from men who couldn’t love her correctly’ this is a prime example of what I mean about people taking the feelings / emotions about their first relationships in life, further on into their adulthood and into relationships with new people. I do believe if you have experienced a lot of neglect or lack of emotional support from your parents you will struggle to pick partners that will be able to provide you with the emotional support that you really do need, because cold people who aren’t ’t really in touch with their feelings, and hardly can provide support for you will feel like home to you, it feels familiar, you don’t really know anything apart from that.
The ways in which you can move forward in this schema involve a lot of understanding and acceptance, which is the same with every schema really. Its really important to understand your deprivation and come to terms with the truth of it. You can then monitor your current deprivation in relationships and get in touch with your needs for empathy and nurturance. You should review your previous relationships and try to spot any clear patterns that reoccur. Teach yourself to notice when your emotional deprivation schema is being triggered, and try to understand the feelings behind that trigger, I have realised it’s extremely important not to block out feelings or pretend they aren’t there, or try to replace them with anger etc, we must understand and explore these emotions to be able to move forward. When it comes to relationships I think the most important thing to do is to try to be calm as best as you can, when you’re upset or angry at someone for not meeting your emotional needs, try to explain to them how you feel without blame, communication is key. I remember my mum always said to me, when someone does something to you that makes you upset or angry, and you feel overwhelmed with your feelings / emotions, take a break before you react. Take 5 minutes, a day or even a week, however long it takes you to get yourself in a healthier mind set before you react, when you react to things in the moment everything is raw and heightened and you can often find yourself saying things you don’t mean or that you will later regret, take the time to process the situation, identify if your schema’s are being triggered and try find the healthiest way to deal with your emotions. I am learning that I have to push through feeling bad, upsetting, negative feelings in order for me to be able to deal with my emotions in a more healthy way. It’s going to be a struggle to teach myself how to feel sadness and upset instead of anger, I am almost afraid of feeling sad as it just feels far too overwhelming for me and I am afraid with how I will cope with that, but I know that it is the healthiest thing I can do for myself, you have to feel pain to fully grieve and move forward, being sad and allowing yourself to feel that sadness is very healthy.
I have a few more schemas that perhaps I will share with you if you guys enjoyed reading this. Thank you for taking the time to read up about my schema’s, I hope maybe you may know a little bit more about them now, perhaps you’ve never even heard of them before and now you can do your own research about what schema’s you may have and how you could go about exploring ways to help you deal with them.
Sending lots of love to everyone who has taken 10 minutes to read this, I highly recommend a book called Reinventing your life by Jefferey Young, he really goes into detail about each schema and I have found his book so useful so if you are interested in finding out more about schema’s you should 100% go and buy this!