This is the seventh in a series of articles that draw on the field of schema therapy, an approach to addressing negative thinking patterns that was devised by Dr. Jeffrey Young. You can find an introduction to schemas and schema therapy, a list of schemas, and links to other schema articles on The Willpower Engine here.
How vulnerability schemas work
A person with the vulnerability schema has thoughts like these:
- What if something happens to the plane while we’re in flight?
- He’s late. Maybe he got in an accident.
- Business hasn’t been good lately. What if I get fired and can’t get another job?
- I can’t sleep when it rains because I keep worrying about flooding
Being vulnerable is part of being alive. No one is completely immune to natural catastrophes, disease, accidents, war, financial setbacks, crime, and all of the other kinds of trouble that can arise even when things are going well. Most of us either ignore this (“I’ll deal with it if it ever comes up”) or accept it on some level (“Sometimes bad things happen; I’ll just try to be prepared and not worry too much about it”), but people with the vulnerability schema have a lot of trouble letting go of these worries. Fear of something bad happening causes them to be overprotective, hyperanxious, or too timid to take chances.
People with the vulnerability schema generally get it from a parent who worried too much about things that might happen and passed the idea along to their children, insisting that the world is a dangerous place. Some children don’t acquire these ideas from the parents, learning from others or from experience that harm doesn’t lurk around every corner. Others, however, follow the model their parents (or other significant people in their lives) set.
Getting past a vulnerability schema
As with any schema, the vulnerability schema tends to come out in part as a series of broken ideas, like fortune telling (“I’m going to get swine flu from a sick kid at school!”) and emotional reasoning (“I’m so worried about earthquakes that I know one will happen before long.”) The day to day healthy habit of repairing these kinds of ideas helps weaken the vulnerability schema.
Also as with any schema, getting past a vulnerability schema means both accepting the idea of harm (“Sometimes bad things happen, and I’ll just do the best I can to get through them when they come up.”) and rejecting an obsession with harm (“Just because I’ve been worried about all of these things in the past doesn’t mean that I have to continue to be worried about them, or that I’m justified in my worry.”)
Photo by tj.blackwell