The importance of our early childhood experiences is uncanny. The significance of each and every memory, situation, or knowledge we form from a young age is very important as it can meaningly affect our present experiences. We form certain schemas about the world which help us make sense of everything around us. A schema is a cognitive framework that people create based on the experiences they indulge in throughout their lives. They form memories and develop certain concepts about the world through their schemas; this helps in creating knowledge about the people, places, objects, and events they endure.
How are negative schemas formed?
Core needs of a child The discussion around a child’s needs is a core concept of schema therapy. One of the biggest factors that contribute in the development of schemas is not having the core emotional needs required and met as a child. These needs can include:
- The sense of belonging
- Being heard
- Validating emotions
- Having the right to express emotions
- Freedom and Autonomy
- Sense of safety and security
When these core needs aren’t fulfilled to the optimal level, negative schemas form. Specifically, there are four forms of negative experiences that occur that can lead to developing schemas:
1. Unfulfilled needs
This happens when your core emotional needs are not met. You fail to receive care and affection from your caregivers
2. Traumatization or victimization
This happens when you have been a victim of abuse, trauma, or similar distress
3. Overindulgence or lack of limits
This happens when you have overprotective or overinvolved parents. In turn, this may lead to the lack of setting proper boundaries.
4. Selective identification and internalization
This happens when you identify with some of your parents’ behavior and internalize others, leading to the development of schemas.
Experiences, Memories, and Unfulfilled Needs
To understand schema therapy and how your past can affect your present, think of it as a chain where we first off encounter several of different life experiences (1), then realize that the needs that were required during these experiences are lacking or haven’t been met (2), then form several memories of those past, unfulfilled experiences (3), and finally form beliefs (schemas) that are negatively constructed and based upon the past (4).
What happens next: how does your past affect your present
We grow up with our already made schemas and watch it affect our present state. We live with our bottled, ingrained schemas consisting of all our memories that contain every emotion, thought, and physical feeling we encountered. When we grow up, these schemas remain present deep down and affect our processes. For example, if you get remarkable grades in college, you might not be able to fully understand and accept the achievement because you have a schema of “I’m a failure and incapable”. Or you might not be able to feel the love you are receiving from you friends and family even if they excel in showing it and are genuine, merely because of your schema of “I am unloved” that has been formed from a young age through experiences and memories.
A Word from O7therapy
If you can relate to any of the content mentioned above, we encourage you to seek help through schema therapy as it helps in unravelling each negative schema you formed during your experiences. Schema therapy integrates other forms of therapy like CBT, attachment theory, and object-relations to help understand and unravel your schemas.