Find the "DNA" of Your Personality

18 schemas to help you know yourself and change your life.

Posted Jul 12, 2020

Photo by Martin Adams on Unsplash
Schemas are the DNA of Your Personality
Source: Photo by Martin Adams on Unsplash

How do you describe being in a certain mindset or frame of mind that comes with its own set of feelings? Certain experiences may trigger a mindset: you might feel super on-the-ball and confident, or so dialed-in on the work you’re doing that lunchtime comes and goes, or on the other hand you are stuck in the mud, feeling like everything you do is a failure, or your loved one never pays attention to what you need. These are all examples of what schema therapists call schemas. We can all relate in one way or another to these mindsets and their attendant moods, and we believe that these schemas are rooted in early childhood experience.

Schemas are the "genome" of our personality in the sense that we may have a handful that follow us throughout life. They are also challenges we work to overcome. People in our lives may lead us to realize we have them; or we get the message ourselves from facing the same repetitive challenges over and over in differing contexts.  

There are 18 schemas in all; you can find a complete list here. With a schema therapist, you fill out a schema inventory which was designed and peer-reviewed to capture which schemas are the most influential in your life. When you know your schemas, you’ll know what conflicts you are most likely to have with work and relationships, and how you see yourself.

With your schema chart, you have the same kind of diagnostic power of a DNA test. You'll better understand:

  • What’s likely to trigger you
  • How you are likely to react
  • How to change

The founder of Schema Therapy, Jeffrey Young, and colleagues describe schemas as: a broad pervasive theme or pattern comprised of memories, emotions, cognitions, and bodily sensations regarding oneself and one’s relationships with others. There are often developed during childhood or adolescence and elaborated throughout one’s lifetime and dysfunctional to a significant degree.

Young originally referred to them as “Early Maladaptive Schemas." Now, as a schema therapist myself, I don’t use the term “maladaptive”, as I see schemas as having pros and cons, making up who we are. So someone who has the unrelenting standards schema may be too hard on themselves and let perfectionism get in the way of success.

On the other hand, their high standards may have led to a lot of success before they ran out of road and perfectionism started getting in the way. Two sides of a coin. We develop schemas as a way of surviving in a world where not all of our core emotional needs are met. Schema therapists see this as sign of resilience, even if, as adults, the schemas no longer help us get by, as much as become obstacles to success and fulfillment.

One of the things I love about my work is reaching the point in therapy when I can tell my client “Yes, you  can have it all.” What I mean by this is that we can tame the dysfunctional aspects of your schemas (which often lead to anxiety or depression, and frustration of goals) while holding on to the advantages of them, such as being other-oriented, a hard worker, or holding a unique artistic vision. In this sense, we are unlocking the power of your “schema DNA."