How Schema Therapy Can Change Lifelong Problems

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When our needs are not met in childhood, schemas develop that lead to unhealthy life patterns

In an earlier post on the Secure Nest Journal, we explored ‘What is Schema Therapy?‘, a therapy approach from Jeffrey Young and it’s core concepts. In this post we will take it a little further with personalised examples of schemas and modes.

Schemas are self-defeating, core themes or patterns that we repeat throughout our lives.

Many of our schemas develop in early life in response to unmet needs. These needs include safety, love, emotional connection and attention.

When our needs are not met in childhood, schemas develop that lead to unhealthy life patterns.

Do you sacrifice relaxation and fun because you’re always trying to do your best?

Do you feel inadequate compared to people around you?

Does it feel like something vital is wrong or missing from your life, in relationships or in your work?

These themes could be linked to your schemas.

When one or more schemas are triggered, we tend to end up in a particular mood state. In schema therapy we call this a mode. Modes are characterized by intense emotions and behaviours.

Example 1: In social situations, Jess worries that people might dislike her and feels gripped by her fear of being judged by others in the group. She tries to make herself invisible and focuses on the needs of others at the expense of her own.

In this situation her defectiveness shame schema was triggered, which led her to respond in compliant surrenderer mode. In this mode she tends to neglect her feelings and core emotional needs, hoping for acceptance from others through obedience.

This schema may have developed due to people in her early life who were critical, pointing out her flaws, instead of accepting Jess and encouraging her to share her doubts.

Example 2: When he is at work, Sam finds himself repeatedly hitting a wall, with feelings of frustration that he cannot meet his standards. Instead of striving for perfection, he rushes through his tasks and frequently leaves documents at home. He says that he isn’t worried about his carelessness.

In this situation his unrelenting standards schema was triggered, which led him to resist the schema through demonstrating the opposite behaviour.

This schema may have developed due to people in his early life having very high standards for Sam and encouraging him to prioritise work over health and relaxation.

Schemas interfere with us getting our emotional needs met as adults. They can lead to difficulties interacting and forming connections with other people, as well as a general sense of dissatisfaction with life. If our emotional needs remain unmet within our relationships, it is virtually impossible to develop a sense of well-being or happiness.

Schema therapy can empower people to change their schemas and associated modes. Schema therapy is helpful in identifying specific core emotional needs that are connected to your schemas, allowing you and the people in your life to better understand and fulfil those needs.

At Secure Nest we provide an ehealth platform which assists you to change life patterns and get your core emotional needs met in everyday life.

The Secure Nest Team


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Secure Nest provides personalised online therapy tools designed specifically for schema therapy. Read more here or register for your free trial.