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Each of the 18 Early Maladaptive Schemas (schemas are sometimes referred to as EMS) acts specifically against a category of emotional needs, persistently preventing the needs being met in healthy ways.
Read through the descriptions of the 18 schemas and see if you can identify with any of them.
Category of secure attachment
Schemas in this category will result in disconnection from others and difficulty forming secure attachment relationships. Many people who identify with schemas within this domain come from families perceived as cold, detached, explosive, lonely, abusive and / or rejecting. Schemas in this domain have a profound effect on intimate, family and social relationships. It is very difficult to achieve intimacy if you have any of these schemas and you will either avoid relationships altogether, repeatedly stay in relationships that are unhealthy, and experience a high degree of relationship conflict
This schema develops from families where at least one parent was unpredictable, emotionally or physically absent, volatile or abusive. It generates thoughts that people will eventually leave or reject you and creates an above average amount of insecurity and anxiety in close relationships. If you have this schema you will try to avoid feeling insecurity and anxiety by either becoming clingy and needy, over-controlling and possessive or avoid intimate relationships altogether.
This is a basic belief that others will inevitably hurt, take advantage, manipulate, or lie to you in some way. There is often a belief that these harmful behaviors are intentional or the result of negligence. This schema develops primarily from verbal, physical or sexual abuse or from a parent who was unpredictable in their affections. As an adult, there may be a belief of always feeling that you get the “short end of the stick” in comparison to others. People with this schema often suffer from paranoia, mistrust and anger.
(3) Emotional Deprivation:
This schema includes a general expectation for basic emotional needs to go unmet or unnoticed. This is probably one of the most common schemas that people with psychological issues struggle with. It doesn’t have obvious direct external signs but is the driving force behind a number of other schemas. Self-sacrifice is usually driven by this schema as it is a way of feeling emotionally valuable to others as listening to other’s problems is a way of getting emotional fulfillment -Three major forms of emotional deprivation include deprivation of nurturance, protection, and empathy. People with this schema often have a sense of something missing in life, an emptiness or a void. As a result, the emptiness can cause a constant feeling of something missing, which people use food and substances to fill.
This involves a core feeling of a sense of defectiveness or inherent “badness.” There is often a belief that if you were actually exposed to others as your true self, you would discover that you were actually unlovable. This schema may manifest itself through heightened sensitivity to criticism and blame, intense self-consciousness, insecurity, and comparisons around others. It is often the schema that directly underpins depression and drives the schemas of approval seeking, self-sacrifice and unrelenting standards.
(5) Social Alienation/Rejection:
This schema involves a deep sense of feeling isolated from the world, disconnected from other people, and not feeling a sense of social belonging to any group or community. It can result in profound feelings of loneliness and shame and cause the person to feel uncomfortable in social situations and as a result isolate. It is the schema that usually causes social anxiety. This schema can develop when a person has developed high sensitivity to others feelings or has excessive worry about what others think about them. When in groups, this schema can make the person overwhelmed by thoughts and feelings as their emotional boundaries are quite weak.
Category of autonomy, identity, performance needs
Schemas in this category result in low-self esteem and lack of a strong sense of self and identity. This schema category is typified by expectations about yourself and your personal environment interfering with your belief in your ability to survive, function on your own, or demonstrate success. Typical early family dynamics associated with these schemas are enmeshment, overprotection, or a failure to reinforce your ability (as a child) to show independent competence (perhaps by doing things for you rather than teaching you how to do things for yourself).
This schema is associated with a belief that you are not capable of dealing with everyday responsibilities without significant help from others. These beliefs may become evident through failure to take care of yourself, make healthy decisions, or solve daily problems without seeking excessive outside assistance – a general sense of helplessness. You often rely on others to do things for you and get upset if you have to do things by yourself. This schema can generate depression and anxiety and cause feelings of hopelessness, failure, incompetence and neediness.
(7) Vulnerability to Harm/Illness:
This schema may be experienced as a pronounced fear of looming or imminent disaster, coupled with the belief that it cannot be avoided/prevented. These fears are generally associated with medical, emotional, or external catastrophes. The persistent feeling created by this schema is chronic anxiety and worry. Often you excessively worry about your health or the health of your family and become over protective and controlling. On the flip side you may develop conditions such as panic attacks, phobias, OCD, or generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)
(8) Enmeshment/Undeveloped Self:
This may be experienced as intense emotional closeness and involvement with significant others (other parents); the cost of which is often forgoing healthy social development or building a sense of a personal identity. This schema often includes feelings of being smothered by or overly attached (fused) to others, while also experiencing a lack of personal direction or emptiness. This schema is often the source of co-dependency – in which a person gets their sense of self, and self-worth through other people.
This schema is generally rooted in the sense that you have failed, will fail, or are fundamentally inadequate in comparison to others in areas of achievement. There are associated core beliefs of being stupid, ignorant, untalented, or inferior. This schema might manifest itself through excessive procrastination or relentless driving of oneself. It creates a lot of anxiety and fear. Often people with this schema have the sense that they are frauds in the workplace, or children in adult bodies
Category of realistic limits and control – Schemas in this domain result in a general lack of responsibility to others, internal limits, and/or future goals.
They also tend to result in difficulty cooperating with others, respecting their rights, and making commitments. People who identify with the following schemas may come from families characterized by a permissive parenting style, overindulgence, lack of guidance/direction, or a sense of superiority, accompanied by parental failure to set limits related to taking responsibility or healthy confrontation. As a child, you may not have been pushed to learn to tolerate normal levels of discomfort or given appropriate guidance or direction (and thus did not learn how to do these things).
This schema is related to a belief in your superiority to others or a general belief in being entitled to special privileges, rights, or exceptions. These is often a belief that “normal” rules of social interactions don’t apply to you and that you should be able to do as you please without concern for the impact on others or an exaggerated focus on/need to be the “best” in some way to achieve power/control (not primarily related to attention/approval). There may be a tendency toward exerting power over others, forcing viewpoints upon others, or generally trying to control others’ behaviors in self-serving ways.
(11) Insufficient Self-Control/Self-Discipline:
This schema involves significant difficulty or refusal to demonstrate adequate self-control and to tolerate frustration/discomfort in the service of achieving goals. There may be a focus on avoiding discomfort (pain, conflict, overexertion, responsibility, or confrontation) with the potential cost of personal fulfillment of goals or relationships.
Freedom to express valid needs and emotions
Schemas in this category tend to present as an excessive focus on the wants, needs, desires, and reactions of others (at the cost of your own needs). Sacrifices tend to be made in hopes of gaining love and approval or maintaining relational ties to others. Many children who develop the following EMS’s come from families who show conditional acceptance, which can result in denying or over-representing parts of yourself in hopes of gaining love/acceptance. Many parents within these families tend to place their own emotional needs/desires or social status/acceptance above the needs of their children (consciously or otherwise).
This involves a tendency to surrender control to others in attempts to avoid abandonment, anger, or conflict. You may identify with this schema through a pattern of subjugating your needs/emotions coupled with a perception that your own needs, feelings, wants, or beliefs are unimportant or invalid to others. The pervading feeling of this schema is fear of retaliation, conflict and other people’s anger. As a result of this EMS, your current experience may include excessive compliance to the needs/wishes of others while simultaneously feeling trapped. Often there is a build-up of unexpressed anger and resentment.
There may be excessive focus on going “above and beyond” to meet the (real or imagined) needs of others, while sacrificing your own gratification/needs in the process. There may be internal motivations related to desires to avoid causing pain to others or guilt from feeling selfish in some way. This schema may develop into an underlying sense that your own needs are going unmet (and are possibly not expressed to others), followed by increased resentment toward the recipients of your self-sacrifices. The main emotions generated by this schema are guilt for not doing enough / hurting others and resentment towards those you feel make you feel guilty. Self-sacrificers often feel that they can’t say no to others and end up over-extending / rescuing
This schema is related to placing an excessive amount of importance on recognition, attention, or approval from others (at the expense of development a mature and authentic self). Self-esteem may be rigidly tied to the (actual or perceived) reactions from other people, as opposed to trusting your own intuition or inclinations. For some, this EMS manifests itself through attempting to meet these deep needs by overly emphasizing money, appearance, status, power, or prestige. The focus here is basically about the earnest need for approval and recognition, as opposed to seeking power or control.
Spontaneity and Play
This domain includes schemas that share common themes of suppressing spontaneous emotions / decisions / impulses or focusing on a deep desire to adhere to rigid rules and expectations regarding ethical behavior and performance. The basic cost is authentic happiness, inner peace, overall relaxation, and meaningful relationships. These schemas may develop within families who are demanding (perhaps punitive), hide/avoid emotions, require perfection/high achievement, and place emphasis on avoiding mistakes over happiness and relaxation. There may be a basic fear that without strict adherence to these rigid rules/standards, things may “fall apart.”
This EMS relates to a consistent underlying focus on the perceived negative parts of life (death, pain, suffering, betrayal, etc.) with a simultaneous effort to minimize or avoid the positive or optimistic sides of life. There may be an exaggerated expectation that things will ultimately go horribly wrong and that any parts of your life that “seem” to be going well will end up falling apart. Because negative possibilities are exaggerated, there is often a tendency to worry excessively or complain.
(16) Emotional Inhibition:
This involves overly suppressing forms of spontaneous emotional expression, action, or communication out of fear that these expressions of emotion will result in shame, disapproval, rejection, or loss of impulse control. Commonly, attempts may be made to inhibit: anger/aggression, positive impulses (spontaneous expressions of joy/happiness), and vulnerability/open communication about feelings or needs. There may also be a bias toward an overemphasis on rationality with a disregard for emotions.People might view you as uptight / infexible or rigid. You may actually have difficulty identifying and expressing emotions – a treatable condition called alexithemia
(17) Unrelenting Standards/Hyper-criticalness:
This is an EMS characterized by a deep belief that you must meet incredibly high standards (performance/behavior) in order to avoid criticism. You may experience feelings of pressure, notice difficulty slowing down, and hyper-criticalness /unrealistically high standards of yourself and others. This schema may present itself outwardly as perfectionism, excessive attention to detail, rigidity toward behavioral, moral, or ethical rules/standards, or a preoccupation with time and efficiency (in hopes of getting more accomplished). It is the schema that generates the most stress. Cortisol, the stress hormone, will be continuously running through the person’s system causing difficulty with relaxation and feelings of restlessness, agitation and frustration. It’s often difficult being around people with this schema as they can be quite critical, judgmental, and easily irritated.
This schema may be experienced as a belief that people should be punished or judged harshly for their mistakes. People who identify with this schema may feel intolerant, angry, impatient, and punitive toward themselves and others who don’t meet certain high expectations or standards. There may be an accompanying difficulty in forgiveness toward oneself and others due to a general reluctance to consider the impact of external factors. Individuals with this schema may share an inner sense of reluctance to accept natural human imperfection and empathize with others.