Maladaptive Schema – Finally a name for those diseased roots

I’ve never actually chosen life. This reality came crashing down on me a few weeks ago. I’ve been balanced precariously on the edge of not choosing death for so many years, that until now, I didn’t know that was a problem.

I’ve been going through the motions of life, not actually living it. Because I don’t know how.

2 weeks in the psych ward has enlightened me with this information. I checked myself in when my world was getting out of control. I had flashbacks and uncontrollable FEELINGS. Migraines were preventing me from working and I decided to quit, that job wasn’t worth holding onto and causing me so much stress. I had already reduced my hours significantly, but the migraines and FEELINGS kept coming. And then the urges to stop the FEELINGS came. I’ve spoken in here before how I would numb myself with large doses of alcohol, and sometimes toss in a sleeping pill on occasion. A few weeks ago my doses of alcohol number of pills started increasing. It didn’t work, it didn’t stop the FEELINGS. I decided I didn’t want to live any more and added tylenol to my mix, not to kill myself, but to self harm and cause liver damage and eventual death that would look accidental. Once I took all the tylenol, the FEELINGS got stronger. I already had so much whiskey and sleeping pills and was still awake. I added half a bottle of cough syrup. That did it. I blacked out. I woke up, not sure how much time passed, and was unable to see and made it to the bathroom to vomit. I sat on the floor and clung to the toilet seat, and blacked out there again, head dangling right in. I’m not sure I wanted to die when I swallowed everything, but I sure did when I woke up. The pain was unbearable, from my splitting head, aching guts, and those god damned FEELINGS were stronger than ever. Fear, shame, guilt, hopeless, disgust, sadness, to name a few.

I have much to share about my experience in the hospital, but today wanted to start with the conclusion instead. The conclusion from the clinical counselors is that I am seriously fucked up. I’ve spoken of the diseased roots inside me before, well, they saw it. I let them see it. They said I have ZERO emotional intelligence and that they have only seen this before in patients with traumatic brain injuries like from a car crash. Then they shared stories of children in the Russian orphanages that are better off than I am now. They said everything I have based my life on is WRONG and from the early age of abuse and so many years of it, that my brain is likely missing bits or has malformed bits in the emotional areas. They said I would have to be willing to work my ass off every day of life and could perhaps – perhaps – grow some new connections but that it was unlikely I would ever be ‘normal’. But that I wouldn’t know until I tried, and I couldn’t try if I was dead.

Not the best pep talk I have ever received, but strangely enough I appreciated the raw reality of it and starting to trust them, that finally they could see in me what I have known all along.

I don’t know how I’ve never heard of this, but they recommended a specialized form of cognitive behavioral therapy to help me reform maladaptive schema. These are also called lifetraps if you google. Here’s a link if you don’t want to google. And here’s a summary if you don’t want to link.

I have nearly every one of these, and even exhibit multiples at any given time throughout every day. I highlighted the ones that are strongest for me. Most healthy people have a few of these, these are the emotional ‘buttons’ that get pressed and people react strongly without knowing why. The reaction is equal in severity to the severity or repetitiveness of life events that formed the schema. Schema must be reinforced as a pattern throughout childhood, adolescence and adulthood to become schema. Exhibiting these behaviors once or on occasion does not count for this.

I have been prescribed an intensive outpatient therapy program specifically for trauma survivors. It has a long waiting list and is the only one of its kind in my state. I have my 3 hour onboarding assessment with counselors, psychologists and psychiatrists in about 2 weeks from now. They will then assign me to appropriate group therapy based on my needs. The waiting list for individual therapy is even longer, so we’re starting with group first. I am skeptical, but deciding to reserve judgment until I’ve actually tried it. Maybe it will help. Maybe.

Early Maladaptive Schemas

1.  ABANDONMENT /  INSTABILITY –  The perceived instability or unreliability of those available for support and connection.

2.  MISTRUST / ABUSE – The expectation that others will hurt, abuse, humiliate, cheat, lie, manipulate, or take advantage.  This one is huge for me and I don’t see how this can be overcome.
3.  EMOTIONAL DEPRIVATION –    Expectation that one’s desire for a normal degree of emotional support will not be adequately met by others. 
 4.  DEFECTIVENESS / SHAME –     The feeling that one is defective, bad, unwanted, inferior, or invalid in important respects; or that one would be unlovable to significant others if exposed. I used to have this one, but not so much any more.

5.  SOCIAL ISOLATION / ALIENATION –     The feeling that one is isolated from the rest of the world, different from other people, and/or not part of any group or community.  I have lived my life next to people, not with people. I don’t see how this can be overcome.

6.  DEPENDENCE / INCOMPETENCE –      Belief that one is unable to handle one’s everyday responsibilities in a competent manner, without considerable help from others. I don’t believe I could ever live alone, I keep losing jobs, can’t work full time, due to medical or mental illness.

7.  VULNERABILITY TO HARM OR ILLNESS –     Exaggerated fear that imminent catastrophe will strike at any time and that one will be unable to prevent it. I always think the worst. In fact I see the worst played out in my mind like a horror movie. I’ve been aware of this and do what I can to counteract it, but nothing has stopped it from happening in the first place.

8.  ENMESHMENT  /  UNDEVELOPED SELF –      Excessive emotional involvement and closeness with one or more significant others (often parents), at the expense of full individuation or normal social development.  Often experienced as a feeling of emptiness and floundering, having no direction, or in extreme cases questioning one’s existence.  AF raised me as part of him, it was incredibly painful to separate from him. And when I finally did, I found out I was empty inside.

9.  FAILURE TO ACHIEVE –      The belief that one has failed,  will inevitably fail, or is fundamentally inadequate relative to one’s peers, in areas of achievement (school, career, sports, etc.). 

10.  ENTITLEMENT / GRANDIOSITY  –      The belief that one is superior to other people; entitled to special rights and privileges; or not bound by the rules of reciprocity that guide normal social interaction. 

11. INSUFFICIENT SELF-CONTROL / SELF-DISCIPLINE –     Pervasive difficulty or refusal to exercise sufficient self-control and frustration tolerance to achieve one’s personal goals, or to restrain the excessive expression of one’s emotions and impulses.  In its milder form,  patient presents with an exaggerated emphasis on discomfort-avoidance:  avoiding pain, conflict, confrontation, responsibility, or overexertion—at the expense of personal fulfillment, commitment,  or integrity. I would avoid everything if possible

12.  SUBJUGATION  –    Excessive surrendering of control to others because one feels coerced – – usually to avoid anger, retaliation, or abandonment. I learned to give up, that I didn’t matter, that nothing really mattered

  13. SELF-SACRIFICE  –      Excessive focus on voluntarily meeting the needs of others in daily situations, at the expense of one’s own gratification.  The most common reasons are:  to prevent causing pain to others;  to avoid guilt from feeling selfish;  or to maintain the connection with others perceived as needy .  Often results from an acute sensitivity to the pain of others.

14.  APPROVAL-SEEKING  /  RECOGNITION-SEEKING  –      Excessive emphasis on gaining approval, recognition, or attention from other people, or fitting in, at the expense of developing a secure and true sense of self.  

15. NEGATIVITY  /  PESSIMISM  –      A pervasive, lifelong focus on the negative aspects of life (pain, death, loss, disappointment, conflict, guilt, resentment, unsolved problems, potential mistakes, betrayal, things that could go wrong, etc.) while minimizing or neglecting the positive or optimistic aspects. Usually includes an exaggerated expectation– in a wide range of work, financial, or interpersonal situations — that things will eventually go seriously wrong, or that aspects of one’s life that seem to be going well will ultimately fall apart. I also apply this to the world at large, that humanity itself is a terrible mistake of nature and that nothing can be done. I can’t save the world, I don’t even want to try any more.

16.  EMOTIONAL INHIBITION  –      The excessive inhibition of spontaneous action, feeling, or communication — usually to avoid disapproval by others, feelings of shame, or losing control of one’s impulses. I’m not sure I’ve ever had much of a spontaneous feeling. My feelings were never my own and had to be controlled. I think before I feel. And usually I don’t ever feel.

17.  UNRELENTING STANDARDS /  HYPERCRITICALNESS   –     The underlying belief that one must strive to meet very high internalized standards of behavior and performance, usually to avoid criticism. Typically results in feelings of pressure or difficulty slowing down; and in hypercriticalness toward oneself and others.  Unrelenting standards typically present as:  (a) perfectionism, inordinate attention to detail, or an underestimate of how good one’s own performance is relative to the norm;  (b) rigid rulesand “shoulds” in many areas of life, including unrealistically high moral, ethical, cultural, or religious precepts; or (c) preoccupation with time and efficiency, so that more can be accomplished. This one is huge for me. Goes along with unrealistic expectations and leads to pessimism, reinforces that the world is crap when no one, including myself, measures up to my impossible standards.

18.  PUNITIVENESS   –    The belief that people should be harshly punished for making mistakes.  Involves the tendency to be angry, intolerant,  punitive, and impatient with those people (including oneself) who do not meet one’s expectations or standards.  Usually includes difficulty forgiving mistakes in oneself or others, because of a reluctance to consider extenuating circumstances, allow for human imperfection, or empathize with feelings. Goes right along with 17. I judge everyone harshly, not humanly.


15 thoughts on “Maladaptive Schema – Finally a name for those diseased roots

  1. Well, darn. I recognize all those. I’ve worked through a few of them. So much work still to do. I want to tackle these on my blog for me. Thanks for doing the homework and sharing.

    I’m grateful you are receiving what sounds like competent help and pray for strength and courage in your efforts. ((Roots2Blossom))

  2. Well my counselor called me an emotional moron and he was being kind. (yea a bit of dark humor in the chuckle from my computer.) Tough but you have already been through tougher and survived. You are still here writing. You are still breathing….you got a chance. Seven years one-on-one counseling I tore out my foundation of lies. Rebuilt a new one and lived, sort of, while doing it. I am still a work in progress. I’m telling you this challenge looks like Mount Everest from the bottom but not impossible. I had all of those except one. Instead of feeling entitled I felt I deserved to die. If you look at the whole thing all at once you’ll want to give up. You can do anything for 5 minutes. What do you need to do to get through tonight? Will sleeping with the light on help? Maladaptive schema is an cool word for cancer that you tear out with your bare hands out of your soul. Nobody can do it for you. Cheering for you. I’ve done it. By the way it is awesome when you realize you trust somebody. Not a lot….just a little. Yea, I’m holding out a carrot for you but I won’t yank it away because its not mine. It’s yours…..

    • Really great to hear from someone who has done this. You’re right I’m still breathing, but I am not yet celebrating that fact, so I do appreciate the carrot, though lately this emotional moron is more motivated by carrot cake (and dark humor, we have to laugh when things are this difficult, and even in my darkest times I’ve never lost the ability to laugh inappropriately)

      • We can laugh or cry…..laughing is more fun. Carrot cake is good….so are brownies, magic cookie bars….yea its all good. We start with breathing. Many a day, I wake up, move, I’m in pain, da** I’m still alive. Hugs.

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  7. Schema therapy is very much hard work. It really rips you raw and puts you back together again. Although I wasn’t cured from schema therapy, I gained a tremendous amount of knowledge about myself, strength to care and understand emotions. I also gained self worth and value in order to put this into place. I hope you gain a lot from this treatment too. I have faith that you will and wish you the best of luck during your journey. x

    • That’s an accurate description. Good to hear from someone who has been through it, and survived. I have learned so much through this process. I’m still in limbo, but I think moving forward maybe. Thank you for reaching out. Your support means a lot to me.

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