The end goal of schema therapy is to:
Help a person to strengthen their healthy adult mode by:
- Weakening any maladaptive coping styles.
- Breaking the self-repeating schemas.
- Getting core emotional needs met.
The problem is because schemas often form in early childhood, many people have difficulty remembering or identifying the events that caused them. The actual perception of an event from a child’s point of view can form the schema.
Children often recall the emotion of the event but not what actually happened. As adults, they have the memory of the pain, anger, fear or trauma. But as a child, they do not have the mental capacity to deal with what actually happened.
Schema therapy takes the adult back to that childhood memory and dissects it as an adult would. Now, through an older and wiser person’s eyes, that fearful event is completely changed. As a result, the person can now acknowledge the schemas that have been holding them back and change their behaviour.
Now, I’d like to give you an example of my own negative schemas that have affected me throughout my life.
My schema therapy
When I was around 6 or 7, I was learning to swim in a public swimming pool with the rest of my classmates. I loved the water so much and was getting really confident with my armbands on. So much so that my swimming instructor picked me out of the whole class. He told me to take my armbands off and show everyone how far I could swim.
Maybe I was being a little cocky but I took them off, went to swim and then sank like a stone. I remember seeing the blue water above me and thought I was going to drown. Despite the fact I was swallowing water and struggling, no one came to my aid.
Eventually, I managed to surface, but instead of the instructor rushing to my side, he and everyone else were laughing. Consequently, I’ve never been in another swimming pool after that. At age 53, I still haven’t learned to swim.
After that experience, I always had a fear of being trapped and claustrophobic when in small spaces. Likewise, I don’t go in lifts as I feel I can’t breathe.
When I was 22, I was on holiday to Greece and it was extremely hot. I went out in the evening to a restaurant and when I arrived, I was led down into a basement area as upstairs was busy. There were no windows and it was stiflingly hot. No air, I couldn’t breathe and felt faint and panicky. For this reason, I had to get out immediately.
Later as we went to board the plane to leave, I had another panic attack on the plane. I felt trapped and that I could not breathe again. Since then, I had always had terrible anxiety with travelling.
How my schema formed
My schema therapist took me back to that day at the swimming pool. She explained that my fear and unresolved feelings after my near-drowning experience had started a maladaptive schema. This schema was connected to a fear of not being able to breathe.
When I entered the depths of the restaurant, it was as if I was under water again. Again, on the plane, the airless feeling of the cabin reminded me, subconsciously, of drowning.
My schema was perpetuated because my needs were not being satisfied during my childhood. This led to the formation of my travel phobia in later life. Using schema therapy, I learnt that my fear of travelling had nothing to do with the incident on the plane. It all began with that first experience in the swimming pool.
Now I am taking steps to rid myself of the blockage caused by that drowning trauma and learning new coping styles.
If you’ve had schema therapy, why not let us know how you got on? We’d love to hear from you.
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