From the perspective of Jeffrey Young, Ph.D., the developer of Schema Therapy:

“A schema is an extremely stable and enduring pattern that develops during childhood and is elaborated throughout an individual’s life. We view the world through our schemas.

Schemas are important beliefs and feelings about oneself and the environment which the individual accepts without question. They are self-perpetuating and are very resistant to change. For instance, children who develop a schema that they are incompetent rarely challenge this belief, even as adults. The schema usually does not go away without therapy. Overwhelming success in people’s lives is often still not enough to change the schema. The schema fights for its own survival, and, usually, quite successfully.

Even though schemas persist once they are formed, they are not always in our awareness. Usually they operate in subtle ways, out of our awareness. However, when a schema erupts or is triggered by events, our thoughts and feelings are dominated by these schemas. It is at these moments that people tend to experience extreme negative emotions and have dysfunctional thoughts.”

Schemas are comprised of memories, emotions, cognitions and bodily sensations regarding ourselves and our relationship to others. Schemas are habitual responses. When they are triggered, they act as lenses through which we view ourselves and our world.

In psychotherapy which focuses on maladaptive schema, the goal is to weaken the impact of maladaptive schema and to strengthen the healthy aspects of the client. The therapy begins with a thorough assessment to determine which schemas are relevant. Then, a form of cognitive-behavioral therapy is used to address the emotional, cognitive and interpersonal aspects of maladaptive schema. Mindfulness practice can be effective in helping an individual become increasingly aware of the schema when they are triggered and in diminishing the impact of maladaptive schema on that person’s life.

Examples of Schema:

Emotional Deprivation:
the belief that one’s primary emotional needs will never be met by others.
Abandonment /Instability:
the expectation that one will soon lose anyone with whom an emotional attachment is formed.
the expectation that others will intentionally take advantage of us.
Social Isolation/Alienation:
the belief that one is isolated from the world, different from other people and will never “fit in”.
the belief that one is internally flawed and that, if others get close, they will realize this and withdraw from the relationship.
the belief that one is incapable of performing as well as one’s peers, leading to feelings of being stupid, inept, untalented or ignorant.
Functional Dependence/Incompetence:
the belief that one is unable to handle one’s everyday responsibilities.
Vulnerability to Harm and Illness:
the belief that one is always on the verge of experiencing a major catastrophe.
Enmeshment/Undeveloped Self:
excessive emotional involvement and closeness with one or more significant others at the expense of full individual development or normal social development.
the belief that one must submit to the control of others in order to avoid negative consequences.
excessive sacrificing of one’s own needs in order to help others, often feeling guilty when paying attention to one’s own needs.
Emotional Inhibition:
the belief that one must inhibit emotions and impulses, especially anger, because any expression of feelings would harm others or lead to loss of self-esteem, embarrassment, retaliation, or abandonment.
Unrelenting Standards/Hypercriticalness:
the belief that whatever one does is not good enough; and/or excessive emphasis on values such as status, wealth and power at the expense of other values such as social interaction, health or happiness.
the belief that one should be able to do, say or have whatever one wants immediately regardless of whether it hurts others or seems reasonable to others.
Insufficient Self-Control/Self-Discipline:
the inability to tolerate frustration and exercise self-control in reaching goals, as well as an inability to restrain excessive expression of impulses or feelings.
Approval Seeking/Recognition Seeking
excessive emphasis on gaining approval, recognition or attention from other people or on fitting in.
a pervasive focus primarily on the negative aspects of life.
the belief that people (including oneself) should be harshly punished for making mistakes. end