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  • Sarah Rossmiller LPC

Unraveling the 18 Maladaptive Schemas: Your Path to Healing and Growth

As a therapist, I frequently witness the profound influence of deeply ingrained beliefs and thought patterns on individuals' lives. These enduring convictions are referred to as "schemas" and they represent persistent and often dysfunctional patterns of thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. Typically stemming from childhood experiences and influenced by interactions with caregivers and significant life events, schemas often persist into adulthood, exerting a profound impact on emotional well-being, relationships, and life choices.

Schemas manifest in various types or themes, each associated with distinct emotional and behavioral patterns. Within the framework of Schema Therapy, developed by psychologist Jeffery Young, 18 specific schemas have been identified, and I've provided a brief overview of each below. Stay tuned for forthcoming posts, where individual schemas will be explored, offering valuable insights and empowering tools for self-improvement.


Category 1: Disconnection and Rejection

1. Abandonment/Instability:

This schema involves the fear that people will inevitably leave or betray you, leading to clinginess and fear of rejection. This schema often forms when individuals experience inconsistent caregiving or significant disruptions in their early relationships, such as parental divorce, neglect, or alcoholism.

2. Mistrust/Abuse:

Expecting others to take advantage or hurt you, making it challenging to trust and connect with people. Childhood experiences of betrayal, abuse, lying, or consistent untrustworthiness in caregivers can lead to the development of this schema.

3. Emotional Deprivation:

Believing your emotional needs will never be met, leading to a constant feeling of emptiness and yearning. Growing up in an emotionally neglectful environment, where one's feelings and emotional needs were routinely invalidated or unrecognized, contributes to this schema.

4. Defectiveness/Shame:

Feeling inherently flawed or unworthy, leading to a persistent sense of shame and self-criticism. Childhood experiences involving frequent and/or harsh criticism, excessive expectations, or a lack of unconditional love can give rise to this schema.

5. Social Isolation/Alienation:

Believing you are fundamentally different from others, leading to loneliness and isolation. This schema often emerges from feelings of being different, misunderstood, or socially rejected during childhood, either within one's family or their peer/community groups.

Category 2: Impaired Autonomy and Performance

6. Dependence/Incompetence:

Feeling incapable of handling life's challenges independently, leading to dependence on others. This schema can develop when individuals are overly protected or not given opportunities to develop self-sufficiency during childhood. However, there are times it forms out of compensation from being under protected and lacking any necessary guidance.

7. Vulnerability to Harm or Illness:

Constantly fearing that harm or disaster is around the corner, leading to anxiety and hypervigilance. Traumatic experiences or excessive fears of harm during childhood can contribute to this schema.

8. Enmeshment/Undeveloped Self:

Losing your own identity in relationships, leading to a lack of self-discovery and fulfillment. This schema often forms when boundaries are blurred or neglected in family dynamics during childhood.

9. Failure:

Expecting to fail at everything you undertake, which can hinder progress and personal growth. Childhood experiences of repeated failures or excessive criticism for mistakes can foster this schema.

Category 3: Impaired Limits

10. Entitlement/Grandiosity:

Believing you are superior to others, leading to arrogance and difficulty in maintaining healthy relationships. This schema can develop in response to excessive pampering, overvaluation, or lack of limits in childhood, where the individual was consistently made to feel special and superior. However, the entitlement can occur out of overcompensation for the opposite experience - a very lonely childhood in which one was undervalued.

11. Insufficient Self-Control/Self-Discipline:

Struggling to control impulses and adhere to responsibilities, resulting in chaos and regret. A lack of structure, discipline, or consistent consequences for one's actions during childhood can contribute to the development of this schema. Genetic factors, such as ADHD, can account for this schema in some cases as well.

Category 4: Other-Directedness

12. Subjugation:

Sacrificing your own needs and desires to please others, often leading to resentment. This schema often emerges from a childhood environment where the individual was consistently expected to prioritize others' needs and desires over their own, potentially leading to feelings of resentment.

13. Self-Sacrifice:

Feeling compelled to put others' needs before your own, often at your own expense. Growing up in a family or community that emphasized selflessness and altruism to an extreme degree can contribute to this schema. It can also form as a compensation for other schemas, such as for Emotional Deprivation or Abandonment/Instability.

14. Approval-Seeking/Recognition-Seeking:

Craving external validation and approval, which can lead to people-pleasing behaviors. This schema can develop in response to an upbringing where external validation and approval were consistently emphasized as essential for self-worth, but it is also commonly a compensating schema rooted in other primary schemas.

Category 5: Over-vigilance and Inhibition

15. Emotional Inhibition:

Difficulty expressing emotions or identifying them in others, hindering intimacy and connection. Childhood experiences that discouraged the expression of emotions or invalidated emotional experiences can contribute to this schema.

16. Unrelenting Standards/Hypercriticalness:

Setting impossibly high standards for yourself (and others), resulting in perfectionism and chronic dissatisfaction. Growing up in an environment where extremely high standards were set, and mistakes were heavily criticized, can foster this schema.

17. Negativity/Pessimism:

Expecting the worst in all situations. Frequent worry. Filtering out the positive. "Castrophizing" about the potential future and "magnifying" unpleasant or disappointing events. Childhood experiences that consistently reinforced a negative outlook on life or emphasized worst-case scenarios can contribute to this schema.

18. Punitiveness:

Harboring a harsh, punishing attitude toward yourself or others, which can lead to strained relationships and emotional distress. This schema can develop in response to harsh or punitive discipline during childhood, where mistakes or misbehavior were met with severe consequences.


If you identify with any of these schemas, seeking the help of a qualified therapist can be a significant step in your path to healing and personal growth. Change is possible, and with awareness and effort, you can break free from these limiting beliefs and lead a more fulfilling life.


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