What is Schema Therapy?

Schema Therapy was developed by Dr. Jeffery Young. In it, he hypothesizes that schemas are like blueprints for the way we see the world. He discovered that we create most of our schemas as children, and once in place, they hold the contextual information for the stories we then create about our lives. Many of these stories are based on an accumulation of information from our childhood experiences, information that can sometimes, but not always, be skewed by a child’s perception, rather than what actually happened. If most of our childhood experiences were positive, then we develop a positive set of stories about ourselves, the world, and the people around us. If our experiences were not positive, then we can develop a negative set of stories about the way things are, and these stories, the lens through which we experience the world around us, continue to shape how we respond to experiences throughout our adult lives.


What Does Schema Therapy Teach us?

Schema Therapy teaches us that because of the nature or temperament that we were born with, and the childhood experiences we had, we develop a vulnerable child in our personality system. This vulnerable part of our personality is at the core of our system, and because of its vulnerability, it was pushed into the shadows of our thoughts and feelings, hidden from the world for fear of what might happen if it’s exposed to others to see. Our personality system is set up to defend this vulnerable child whenever it gets activated, and, depending on the level of vulnerability this child experiences, that activation can occur once a week, once a month, or multiple times a day. Due to our lack of awareness of the parts of ourselves we are trying to protect and why, these protective behaviours get characterized as “who we are” when, instead, they are behaviour patterns designed to keep our most vulnerable parts safe.

Our childhood experiences and the stories we created as a result also play a significant role in the development of our attachment style. This self-generated way of connecting with other people, which revolves around the set of stories produced in early childhood, activates the parts of our personality that take over in an attempt to cope with the emotions that are triggered by our childhood re-enactments. These re-enactments either conform with the behaviours we had as children when we felt the way we currently do as adults, or they are a push-back against those old stories, in a struggle to desperately escape from the life we find ourselves trapped in.

The trouble with these re-enactments is that they usually play out at a subconscious level, where we are not aware of them. Consequently, we blend with our parts and the behaviours they use to cope with an emotion that’s triggered and tied to a particular story from our past. This is why I believe that as adults we are constantly living into this past, and rarely experience what’s happening in the present moment without the baggage of our past. These reactions are behaviour patterns that schema therapy terms as modes, and while we have a multitude of healthy modes, i.e., parts who do healthy things, we also have many unhealthy modes that, much to our dismay, take us into behavioural places that re-enact old patterns. These are the behaviours that we are trying to change.


List of Common Schema



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