One of the main reasons I’ve been able to make so much progress over the past year has been due to schema therapy. It’s incredibly hard to explain, but I will be exploring a lot of the concepts through this blog as part of my research.
I’m not sure that I believe in a lot of the stuff around schemas. We haven’t tried triggering my schemas in sessions or anything, nor do we really done much work challenging them.
I prefer to use them to describe certain rigid mindsets I get when I am triggered. Learning about how we maintain, avoid and compensate for triggers was incredibly helpful for me. I was able to change my behaviour. Here, I’ll be focusing on how cope with certain mindsets. You don’t need to know anything about the therapy itself for this to make sense.
Anything in indented quotes is a direct reference from How Schemas Work
Schema maintenance refers to the routine processes by which schemas function and perpetuate themselves. This is accomplished by cognitive distortions and self-defeating behavior patterns. Cognitive distortions are a central part of cognitive therapy. These distortions consist of negative interpretations and predictions of life events. Many cognitive distortions are part of the schema maintenance process. The schema will highlight or exaggerate information that confirms the schema and will minimize or deny information that contradicts it. Schema maintenance works behaviorally as well as cognitively. The schema will generate behaviors which tend to keep the schema intact.
This is part of the reason I struggled with anxiety so much. Negative interpretations clouded everything and my exhaustion made it hard to fight with them. I wouldn’t try to challenge these thoughts when I was exhausted. I would do that on my good days (by researching or talking with my pysch) so I had the information to ‘cognitively restructure’ later. I don’t really know what that is – my psych explained it to me when I was telling him how I challenge my anxiety a lot because the thoughts are stupid and I know they are illogical. He said I had an intuitive understanding. Sidenote: does intuitively knowing your mind/body work for OR against you when it comes to recovering from a mental illness?
I see schema maintenance as being one part of a framework. Just being aware that certain thoughts are maintaining a negative mindset is enough. It’s data that you can use as part of getting treatment.
Schema avoidance refers to the ways in which people avoid activating schemas. As mentioned earlier, when schemas are activated, this causes extreme negative emotion. People develop ways to avoid triggering schemas in order not to feel this pain. There are three behaviors of all schema avoidance: cognitive, emotional and behavioral. Cognitive avoidance refers to efforts that people make not to think about upsetting events. These efforts may be either voluntary or automatic. People may voluntarily choose not to focus on an aspect of their personality or an event which they find disturbing. There are also unconscious processes which help people to shut out information which would be too upsetting to confront. Emotional or affective avoidance refers to automatic or voluntary attempts to block painful emotion. Often when people have painful emotional experiences, they numb themselves to the feelings in order to minimize the pain. The third type of avoidance is behavioral avoidance. People often act in such a way as to avoid situations that trigger schemas, and thus avoid psychological pain.
I don’t avoid situations because I’m scared of leaving the house or I’m scared of being uncomfortable. A lot of my avoidance is because my thought processes will take me to a deep dark place very quickly once triggered.
One of my main issues has been work. I’ve been incredibly sick for the past year or so. Effexor stopped being as effective so I could only work about 10 hours a week. I struggled during those hours.
My mind would instantly go from “I’m having a bad week” to “I’m going to be sick forever and be a drain on society.” I’d then progress to “I’ll never contribute anything great” to “if my life is going to be this mediocre then I may as well just die.” I still get like this. It’s no biggie and isn’t worth worrying about; I have an illness and I’m getting treated for it.
However, it really helped me to recognize that I wasn’t being lazy. My mind was just avoiding triggers that would take it to an incredibly dark place. If I got into that place, I would start experiencing physical symptoms and my anxiety would be worse. My mind was just trying to protect itself.
I’m very hard on myself but seriously, I’m bloody impressed with how awesome my brain is in regards to keeping me alive.
Schema Compensation is when the individual behaves in a manner which appears to be the opposite of what the schema suggests in order to avoid triggering the schema.
I used to overcompensate by cleaning. “I can’t control everything so I am going to have a very tidy house!” The only problem is that I was triggered when I was cleaning and actually tidying things up made me feel worse. Glenn would actually tell me to slow down or even stop because I looked kinda manic.
It has been hard to not compensate for the schema because it means challenging those icky thoughts. Honestly, who actually enjoys confronting everyone of their insecurities head on? It has been useful, though, as I can stop certain behaviours before I make myself even more anxious.