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What Are Your Mental Schemas? A Quiz, Part 1

Handling negative emotions

Learning about mental schemas can be powerfully useful in that they seem to be very common, so knowing schemas can help us see ourselves and others more clearly and in more useful ways. I’d stop short of assuming that absolutely everyone has at least one mental schema to deal with, but if that turned out to be true, I wouldn’t be surprised. Throughout childhood, and as we grow and refine our attitudes and ways of being, there are so many things we would need for everything to go perfectly that it’s no surprise human beings tend to come through the process with some quirks or hang-ups.

Schemas in action are patterns of thinking that hurt us rather than help us–that is, patterns of “broken ideas.” For instance, a person with an Abandonment Schema might regularly have the thought “This person isn’t going to stick with me” and make decisions based on that idea even when there’s no real reason to believe that the other person will be leaving. Or a person with an Entitlement Schema might think “I should be able to have that!” even if “that” is something that will ultimately be harmful.

A person might have one schema or several, related or not, suffering severely or mildly from or having overcome any given schema. The following questions are an informal attempt to describe what each schema is like so that you can investigate schemas that seem to strike a chord. This isn’t an official approach to determining schemas, just a way to try some ideas on for size.

I’ll do this quiz in three parts. Here’s part one:

Do you feel that people are basically unreliable?
When you’re in a relationship, do you feel like it’s only a matter of time before the other person leaves?
Do you find it very difficult to trust that people will provide what you need?
If yes, you may want to take a look at the Abandonment Schema.

Do you find that you’re often doubtful about other people’s good intentions?
Do you tend to suspect that people will do you harm if you don’t protect yourself?
Do you feel safer keeping people at a distance?
These kinds of feelings may point to a Mistrust Schema.

Do you tend to feel that other people don’t understand you, and that they don’t want to understand you?
Do you find the way other people see you discouraging?
Do you feel as though you never get enough emotional support, or that people don’t really see you?
If so, you may want to read about the Emotional Deprivation Schema.

Are you highly sensitive to criticism compared to other people you know?
(Did you feel a strong twinge of defensiveness at reading that question?)
Do you often have the feeling, deep down, that you’re broken or unworthy?
These can be signs of a Defectiveness Schema.

More questions follow when the quiz continues with my next post.

Photo by LollyKnit

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Mental Schemas #13: Self-Sacrifice

Handling negative emotions

This is the thirteenth in a series of fourteen 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.

The mantra that goes with the Self-Sacrifice schema is “I should take care of other people; they shouldn’t take care of me.” A person with this schema will tend to ignore their own needs, wants, and worries but pay plenty of attention to other people’s problems.

When a person with a Self-Sacrifice schema starts paying attention to their own needs, they generally feel guilty. Their mental commentary is often full of “should statements” like “I shouldn’t need help with this” or “I shouldn’t be spending time on myself when someone else needs something.”

Self-Sacrifice schemas often arise in childhood when a parent is needy or unable to handle basic responsibilities. The child gets used to taking care of another person while suppressing their own needs and desires, and then has a lot of trouble getting out of the habit as they grow older. This often includes being in the habit of keeping emotions close, not sharing them so as to avoid anyone else being affected by those emotions.

As a result, says schema therapy originator Dr. Jeffrey Young, “almost all patients with Self-Sacrifice schemas have linked Emotional Deprivation schemas.”

On the bright side, a person with a Self-Sacrifice schema can do a lot of good in the world and experience increased self-esteem from their efforts. Yet the schema reflects a serious problem, an imbalance between taking care of themselves and taking care of others.

Dealing with a Self-Sacrifice Schema
Tackling a Self-Sacrifice schema, as is true with most problem habits, is first a matter of being aware when the problem is occurring, preferably in the moment (though it’s certainly better than nothing to at least reflect and recognize these situations afterward). When a person with a Self-Sacrifice schema notices that the schema is taking over–for instance, when they’ve been asked to volunteer for something and know it will cost them more sleep than they can afford to lose–the specific problem thoughts, usually close to invisible, can be brought out, examined, and reframed.

So in the example given, the person could realize the sleep problem but feel guilty about saying no. Examining her thoughts, she might realize that she is telling herself “I should do this even if I do lose sleep” and ask herself further “Should I do everything that other people ask me to do, no matter how hurtful or unhealthy it is to me?” Reviewing, reframing, and debating our own mental commentary helps us identify habits that make us behave in ways we wouldn’t choose to behave if we thought things through carefully.

Ultimately a person trying to give up a Self-Sacrifice schema will need to try risking embarrassment or guilt, whether that comes from refusing to do something for someone else, asserting their own needs, or receiving someone else’s help. If this is done with people who genuinely care, the results can help break down the idea that help isn’t deserved and doesn’t feel good, and over time this kind of cooperation and willingness to be helped can begin to feel as natural and good as helping others.

Photo of Rodin’s Les Bourgeois de Calais by Accidental Hedonist

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Mental Schemas #12: Subjugation

Handling negative emotions

This is the twelfth 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.

A person with a subjugation schema feels an overpowering obligation to submit to another person’s will, to be told what to do and be judged by someone else. Often such a person will believe in their heart that they need to do what another person says in order to be loved, valuable, etc., and/or will be afraid that they will be judged harshly or punished if they don’t fall in line.

Or a person may have the schema and act out because of it, accusing others of trying to be controlling when this isn’t the intention, or rebelling against other’s wishes regardless of the individual’s own feelings.

As a result, having the subjugation schema means burying or ignoring one’s own needs, desires, inclinations, judgments, and beliefs–whether this is happening due to giving in to others or to being preoccupied with rebelling against others, as in both cases the person with the subjugation schema is reacting to others’ needs, desires, and actions instead of their own.

A person with this schema may also assume other people are trying to take control or may tend to put them in positions of control even if they don’t want to be. Another common pattern with this schema is first complying with what someone else wants, then resenting “having to” do that thing. A person with this schema may have an overwhelming feeling of being trapped.

A typical way for a subjugation schema is to develop is through an overly controlling parent.

Overcoming a subjugation schema
As with other schemas, idea repair can be a key tool in overcoming a subjugation schema. Statements like “I have to do ____” or “I should do ___” are usually variations of “should statements,” which make it seem like something is necessary when it’s really only one of the available options. Thoughts about what will happen if a person doesn’t comply with what another wants are often fraught with magnification and fortune telling instead of being a true assessment of the likely results. Other kinds of broken ideas can also apply to this schema.

Communication is another a key skill for dealing with these issues. If a person wants to become more assertive without being destructive, it’s important to understand how to express one’s own thoughts and emotions without running over those of others. Two excellent books for learning how to resolve conflicts through communication are Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes are High and Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life.

Mindfulness is an important and powerful tool in overcoming subjugation schemas. In order to act on one’s own thoughts and emotions, it’s important to be in touch with those thoughts and emotions. This is also something that’s needed as a basis for idea repair.

Over time, the goal in overcoming a subjugation schema is to learn to recognize, value, and respond to one’s own thoughts, emotions, and needs, so any progress is becoming more aware of one’s own feelings, getting perspective, being constructive assertive, or communicating better will help.

Photo by Grufnik

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Good Resources on Mental Schemas

Resources

Mental schemas are an approach to understanding the kinds of issues that come up in our lives over and over, usually problems that we didn’t get a chance to work out when we were young that are still sticking with us today, like feeling abandoned or alienated, having trouble with trust or self-control, and so on. A brief introduction to mental schemas and a list of all of the schemas can be found on my mental schemas page, where you’ll also find links to the individual articles on each of the schemas that I’ve been adding to the site over time.

If you’re interested in learning more about mental schemas, here are some useful resources.

Dr. Tara Bennett-Goleman’s book Emotional Alchemy: How the Mind Can Heal the Heart delves into using mindfulness to make use of the insights of schema therapy. The link between mindfulness and schemas is an important one, because unless we learn to be aware (that is, mindful) of our schemas and notice when they’re kicking in, we have little hope of making progress in overcoming them.

Schema Therapy: A Practitioner’s Guide is a substantial, informative, readable book by the man who developed schema therapy, Dr. Jeffrey Young, with Janet Klosko and Marjorie Weishaar. It’s available in book form as well as for the Amazon Kindle, and most of it can be found online through Google Books.

Finally, a 13-page PDF called A Client’s Guide to Schema Therapy, by Dr. David Bricker with, again, Dr. Young, is available online for free. This gives a variety of helpful examples in the course of providing an introduction to the subject.

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Mental Schemas #11: Lack of Self-Control

Handling negative emotions

This is the eleventh 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.

A person with the Lack of Self-Control Schema has trouble with facing anything difficult or holding back impulses. Such a person might tend to avoid difficulty, pain, or responsibility even when the consequences are much worse than what’s being avoided. They might act out, choose rashly, react without thinking, or follow any desire that takes hold. Another common expression of this schema is having trouble putting up with boredom or frustration long enough to get something done.

To put it another way, the burden of the Lack of Self-Control Schema is that it prevents a person from working toward lasting happiness by sometimes keeping their focus on immediate gratification.

People with this schema generally don’t feel like they’re acting the way they want to: the impulsive actions feel (not surprisingly) out of their control.

Often, a person with a Lack of Self-Control Schema grew up in an environment where parents weren’t around enough or didn’t put enough effort into helping the child learn self-control. This schema can also arise when parents themselves have self-control issues, leaving a child with no ideal of self-control to follow.

Overcoming a Lack of Self-Control Schema
Unlike other schemas, Lack of Self-Control isn’t closely linked with specific broken ideas, but the approach to overcoming it is similar: the important skill to learn here is to recognize when the schema is kicking in and insert conscious thought between the impulse and the action. The key understanding to have along with that skill is that lasting happiness is different from immediate gratification–that doing exactly what we want whenever we want can actually be pretty miserable sometimes. That’s not to say that there isn’t a place for light-heartedness and spontaneity in life, only that longer-term thinking often pays off much better.

So if you have this schema, you might have a habit of reacting immediately. To overcome it, the new habit to create is to notice when the schema might be kicking in, stop yourself, think for a moment about your real goals and priorities, and focus on the things you want long-term instead of immediately.

For example, you might be in a conversation with someone you care about when that person says something thoughtless that is painful for you. A Lack of Self-Control schema might tell you to lash out, to insult or embarrass that person. Someone overcoming the self-control schema might still feel the urge to do that, but would stop and think something along the lines of “Wait: I care about my friendship with this person. If I start a fight over this, that could make ongoing problems for me and deprive me of my friend. Even though I’m angry right now, I feel better imagining the two of us getting along instead of imagining us fighting. Why don’t I try to just let go feeling offended about this, as a contribution to the friendship, or else tell my friend how I felt about what was just said and have a constructive conversation about it?”

The Lack of Self-Control schema is sometimes paired with another schema. For example, the Subjugation Schema, which we’ll talk about in the next article in this series, can lead a person to suppress emotions for a long time, after which they burst out uncontrolled. In these cases, while work on self-control will also help, progress on the other schema will relieve the pressure and intensity of the self-control problems.

Photo courtesy of MIT Open Courseware

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All About Broken Ideas and Idea Repair

Resources

Idea repair, called “cognitive restructuring” in the psychological literature, is a powerful tool for feeling better and for making it much easier to make good choices. We may hardly notice it, but it’s human habit to constantly comment about what’s going on around us with thoughts that help us make judgments and put things into a framework we can understand. But some of these comments are harmful to us because they’re misleading or even false. They encourage us to make bad choices, keep negative emotions going, and generally get in the way: these are broken ideas (or “cognitive distortions”). Here are some of the key articles on this site that for understanding broken ideas and learning idea repair.

Broken ideas and idea repair” explains what broken ideas and idea repair are, why they’re valuable, and the basics of how to use idea repair.

How to Detect Broken Ideas” demonstrates how to notice when broken ideas are causing trouble and how to find out what kind of broken idea you’re dealing with. 

Examples of Broken Ideas (Cognitive Distortions)” shows the categories of broken ideas and some typical broken ideas for each category.

How to Repair a Broken Idea, Step by Step” provides a guide to repairing broken ideas.

To get some perspective on broken ideas, you might be interested in reading “What Really Messed-Up Thinking Looks Like.”

For a better understanding of “should statements,” see ‘Good “should” and bad “should”.’

Broken ideas that we latch onto a lot early in life can become ingrained as mental schemas. To learn about these, see the resource page on mental schemas.

Idea repair is useful in a lot of different situations, and it comes up in quite a number of articles on this site. Here’s a link to all Willpower Engine articles on broken ideas.

Photo by Quod

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Mental Schemas #10: Entitlement

Handling negative emotions

This is the tenth 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.

While the articles in this series so far have been about schemas that I’ve seen mainly in other people’s lives, I’m all too familiar with the subject of today’s post, entitlement. This schema is sometimes referred to as “grandiosity” or “superiority,” but the version that I have experience with fits the term “entitlement” best: it’s the sense that you’re naturally owed something. People with the entitlement schema may feel as though there are things they should be getting regardless of how practical, reasonable, possible, or equitable that is. Entitlement is the sense that somehow, the world owes you a living. For some people, this goes with a sense of being superior to most other people, or of having a special status or destiny that means that the rules that apply to other people don’t apply to you.

Entitled to act like an idiot
An example: when I was young, money was very tight around our house. Being a Vermonter, I was very familiar with maple syrup, but since it was fairly expensive, we didn’t get much of it. My entitlement schema told me that this was unfair and inappropriate, and that I especially, considering my excellent qualities, deserved to have maple syrup pretty much whenever I liked. One morning I was up earlier than anyone in the house and was getting milk from the refrigerator for my morning cereal when I spied the syrup can. Instead of having the cereal, I took out a small glass and filled it–with maple syrup. Then I drank it. Finally! The maple syrup I deserved!

A lot of things didn’t seem to matter to me as I drank my glass of maple syrup. It didn’t occur to me that if this syrup were replaced, it would increase the family grocery bill in an uncomfortable way. It didn’t occur to me that the syrup would not be available to my siblings, who after all liked maple syrup just as much as I did (except for my older sister, who bizarrely and inexplicably preferred fake syrup). It did not seem to give me pause that after the first mouthful, the huge amount of sweetness began to be a bit sickening. And at that time I didn’t know, and by all the evidence wouldn’t have cared, that the jolt of simple sugars in my body would give me a dizzying sugar high followed by a crashing sugar low, probably with a headache in the bargain. No sir, I was entitled to that syrup, gosh darn it, and I was going to drink my syrup and like it.

I drank my syrup, but I definitely did not like it. I apparently could ignore the sickening effects as I downed the glass, but I couldn’t ignore the much-too-powerful taste afterward or the awful way it made me feel. After that incident, I couldn’t stand to eat anything maple for months.

Broken ideas for the entitled
Entitlement schemas are often traced to two kinds of childhoods. One version is the truly entitled child, who is constantly indulged and/or assured of having a special status above normal people. The other is of feeling deprived (regardless of whether or not the child can really be said to be deprived), in reaction to which the child develops a belief that something is owed them–often, again, with a sense of having a special status.

People with the entitlement schema get fixated on the idea that they should be able to have or do something, or should be treated a particular way–even if the thing they think they’re entitled to does them or others harm, isn’t available to others, isn’t practical, takes more resources than they can afford, etc. This amounts to a huge use of the broken idea called a “should statement”–that is, “I should be able to have this!” Entitlement can also come out as “emotional reasoning”: “I feel as though I have a right to this, so I do have a right to it.” These attitudes only reinforce feelings of deprivation and lead to disappointment, selfish behavior, and ignoring consequences.

Breaking out of an entitlement schema
I’m glad to say that while my entitlement schema still pesters me every once in a while, over time it’s been whittled down to almost nothing as I gradually was forced to face the results of actions that, over and over again, proved that feeling entitled wasn’t going to get me anywhere. Every time I stayed up well into the night on the idea that I was owed some time and then felt exhausted the next day, every time I ate food my body didn’t need and then didn’t feel healthy and energetic, and every time I was late because I thought I was entitled to do a few more things before I went out the door, I ran smack into the reality that the idea of “deserving” things is not only untrue and useless, but dangerous and painful. Our feelings about how appropriate we think it is to have something, regardless of where they come from, do not generally have any effect on how practical, fair, kind, appropriate, or beneficial having that thing will be.

So every time an entitled person’s schema claims “You should be able to have/do this!” in a situation where “this” is something that would be best to avoid, the response that will diminish the schema and help shape a healthier vision of reality is to redo that thought, to repair the broken idea. The repaired version will often be something like “I can see that I want that thing, but that doesn’t mean I have to get it, especially since it _____” (and here you list the things that matter to you that would be harmed by following through on the desire). In the case of my glass of maple syrup, that blank might have been filled with something like “will make me sick and I’ll regret it for months” or “will take scarce resources from my family.”

Like any schema, entitlement schemas supply plenty of opportunities to act embarrassingly or in ways that hurt ourselves or other people. What’s truly joyful is being able to break out of a schema by paying attention to our thoughts and shaping a future that will actually create happiness and fulfillment rather than being dragged down by the bad ideas we may have adopted long ago.

Photo by Sighthound

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Mental Schemas #9: Failure

Handling negative emotions

This is the ninth 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.

 

“Now Linus, I want you to take a good look at Charlie Brown’s face. Would you please hold still a minute, Charlie Brown? I want Linus to study your face. Now, this is what you call a Failure Face, Linus. Notice how it has failure written all over it. Study it carefully, Linus. You rarely see such a good example. Notice the deep lines, the dull, vacant look in the eyes. Yes, I would say this is one of the finest examples of a Failure Face that you’re liable to see for a long while.”

— Lucy Van Pelt in You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown

There are a good number of articles on The Willpower Engine about failure: what to do when it happens, why certain kinds of tactics generally fail, and how to deal with the worry that failure will happen. Some people feel as though they’re basically incompetent, with no good skills or resources (for more on this, read “Mental Schemas #6: Incompetence“). Others, when they’re successful, assume that it was by mistake or only achieved because they’ve fooled everyone into thinking they’re good enough (for more on this, read “Impostor Syndrome“).

What failure schemas look like
People with the failure schema may or may not feel incompetent, and may or may not feel like impostors, but regardless they believe that they are failures, that successes don’t happen to them. Often such people were brought up in environments where the people important to them would tell them over and over that they were failures, or where this idea was always pushed on them in some other way. Sue of Healthy Within Journey describes just such a childhood in this post:

“Then I remembered that every time I brought home a sewing project (from home ec class), my mom would criticize my work, rip out my stitches and resew the project. She also critized how I practiced the piano and would often ‘show me’ how to play a piece correctly. She discounted my academic success by telling me that I may be good at school but I didn’t have any common sense so I would never succeed in life. No matter how much I succeeded she reminded me that my cousin and/or brother were successful in other, more important areas. Even years later whenever I had difficulty with any project, I could hear her criticizing me and telling me I would never succeed at anything important. I feared even a tiny ‘failure’ would mean she was right, that I would never succeed.”

Some people with failure schemas make themselves fail through their beliefs: they assume they can never succeed and therefore never try hard when it’s most needed. Others work away desperately out of fear of failure, but none of their successes convince them: they continue to feel in their hearts that they are essentially failures, even when the evidence says otherwise.

Overcoming a failure schema
As with many negative ideas, overcoming a failure schema requires both facing the fear of failure and refuting the idea that failure is inevitable. This takes work over time to change deeply-ingrained thoughts. Facing the fear means some form of recognition that sometimes we fail, and that this is just a normal part of life and is not catastrophic. Refuting the idea that failure is inevitable means really understanding on a gut level that it is possible to succeed in some things at some times, regardless of what other people may say.

On a day to day basis, feelings of being doomed to failure can be handled as broken ideas: in other words, it’s necessary first to recognize when a thought has come by that is contributing to this unrealistic idea of failure, and then to take the falsehood out of the thought and rephrase it in a fully truthful way, as described in the article How to Repair a Broken Idea, Step by Step.

Some examples of broken ideas about failure:

  • “I’m a failure.” (labeling)
  • “This is going to be a catastrophe.” (fortune telling)
  • “Nobody believes I can do it.” (mind reading)
  • “The only reason they picked my submission is because everybody felt sorry for me.” (disqualifying the positive)
  • “See how badly that went? I fail at everything.” (overgeneralization)

Photo by Behrooz Nobakht

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Mental Schemas #8: Enmeshment and Undeveloped Self

Handling negative emotions

This is the eighth 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.


Where do you end and I begin?
A person with the enmeshment schema is completely wrapped up in someone else’s life. It’s often a parent, but it can be anyone with a strong personality: a husband, a wife, a boss, a brother or sister … even a best friend. Enmeshed people ignore their own preferences and ideas and order everything in their lives according to the needs of the parent or other person they’re enmeshed with.

Some common feelings enmeshed people have are:

  • They/I/we couldn’t survive without this bond
  • I feel guilty if I keep anything separate
  • I feel completely smothered

Enmeshed people almost always have an “undeveloped self”: they don’t know what they want or need, what they prefer, where they’re going in life, or what would make them happy. It’s possible also to have the undeveloped self problem without the enmeshment problem, to feel empty and directionless and uncertain of wants and needs without necessarily being wrapped up in another person.

There’s a related schema called “subjugation,” where a person feels like they must act according to other people’s wishes, but instead of feeling closeness, subjugated people usually feel resentment, anger, and despair. An enmeshed person feels smothered; a subjugated person feels crushed. I’ll talk about subjugation in a separate post in future.

Enmeshed people and other people with undeveloped selves usually end up that way because of parents or other figures in their lives who are overprotective, abusive, or controlling.

Disentangling
In order to make progress in their own lives, enmeshed people first have to come to feel it’s OK to separate from the other, to be their own person. If they’re able to get to that point, they can begin to reflect on what they themselves really like, want, need, aspire to, and believe. Really knowing who we are and what’s important to us personally in life is what allows us to develop.

There are some dangers for an enmeshed person trying to get out of enmeshment. For instance, sometimes it can happen that an enmeshed person separates from the other by deciding that they hate everything that person loves, and vice-versa. Unfortunately, this still isn’t finding an individual self, because just doing the opposite of someone else still means that one’s decisions are based on another person.

Another danger is of getting out of an enmeshed situation is falling right into another–for instance, leaving a too-close relationship with a parent by getting into a romantic relationship with someone who has a very strong personality and becoming enmeshed with that person instead, or working through enmeshment in therapy and separating from the other person only to become enmeshed with the therapist. (Good therapists take pains to prevent this from getting very far!)

So the other goal, in addition to finding one’s own preferences and identity, is to learn how to have healthy relationships with other people, relationships that are connected but not enmeshed. The best tool I know of for this is mindfulness, being aware of our own thoughts, feelings, and preferences from moment to moment in our lives. It’s only when we lose track of our own thinking that we can get overwhelmed with someone else’s.

Ending enmeshment and developing the self take a lot of hard work and understanding, and can often be especially well helped by a good cognitive therapist.

Photo by Djuliet

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Mental Schemas #7: Vulnerability to Harm

Handling negative emotions

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

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