Find Calm in Tough Times: 3 Ways to Use Schema Therapy Now
Take the self-sabotage out of your coping skills.
Posted May 21, 2020
The thing about coping skills is that we develop them in order to cope with hardship. But how good are we at letting down our guard and allowing ourselves moments free of stress? How do we remember to let in serenity, to make room for it in our heart?
Schema therapy focuses on how our coping skills can actually get in the way of our ability to connect with our core emotional needs. And our core emotions are how we connect with ourselves and others in a loving way. As children, we try hard to adapt to the environment of care we receive at home (how we are shown love) and assume that the way we are treated by our parents is just how the world works. We develop ingrained mindsets to cope, called “schemas.” “I have to work hard to prove my worth,” or “I have to please others and sacrifice my needs in order to fit in” are very common schemas. Schemas lead to self-sabotaging behavior that can be hard to break, because it so deeply feels like the safest and surest way to get by in the world.
And in times of mass trauma, anxiety and stress like the coronavirus crisis, we are all drawn to familiar coping skills that may actually make it harder to find some serenity and peace. Now we all need some comfort: the relief and humor of an online happy hour, binge-watching, or even baking. But our self-sabotaging schemas can pull us further from ourselves and loving connection with others, and just make things worse. We get in our own way.
So how do we recognize our schemas during periods of anxiety and sustained, high stress? A schema therapist uses detailed questionnaires to get a clear and detailed picture. But on our own, we can look for telltale signs that a familiar self-sabotaging mindset is taking over:
- Do you find that you are emotionally detaching more and more?
- Are you overdoing it with numbing self-soothing activities like drinking, eating, binge-watching, or even exercise?
- Are you being more of a perfectionist or focusing too much on shortcomings in yourself and others?
- Are you moody and isolating, or becoming over-dependent?
- Are you losing your temper, feeling abandoned by others, that they are letting you down?
If you’re noticing thought patterns like this in yourself, don’t worry. That means you’re already well on your way to overcoming them. Here are three tips you can use on your own:
- Try keeping a journal to document when these schemas get triggered. What triggered your reaction? Did your reaction help you get what you want, or just make things worse? How could you have done it differently?
- Try writing an alternative thought script: If you’re feeling judgmental of others or self-critical, experiment with talking to yourself like someone who really loves you and is supportive. Sound different?
- Try identifying what your emotional need is during the triggering experience. Are you angry but really looking for acceptance? Try putting into words your need for acceptance rather than your anger. Does that work better with your partner? Instead of feeling rejected, focus on accepting yourself and feeling the love that comes with it.
These techniques focus on three areas of experience: the cognitive, behavioral, and emotional. This comprehensive approach is incredibly effective in therapy and in how we can overcome our own self-sabotage and make room for love of self and others. And during a crisis we need to touch on a core feeling of love of self and others in order to stay resilient. So, enjoy your next online happy hour, but see if you can squeeze some journaling time into your day, too.