I did a year of DBT (Dialectical Behaviour Therapy) and it did help…a bit. Truthfully I didn’t get enough out of it to justify giving a year of my life to it, but, I had to do it and show that I was willing, committed and would engage positively so that I could access the next therapy that I needed.
I knew I needed some sort of psychotherapy to deal with my past. Everyone knew that but I had to wait and wait and wait. Eventually, two years after my GP said he thought I might need proper psychotherapy for PTSD, I started my schema therapy.
What’s it all about then? Duh! Schemas obviously! What? You don’t know what they are? Come on! Only kidding. Wtaf are schemas and schema therapy?!?! Well, funnily enough the big bod behind this schema shizazz, Jeffrey Young, also calls them Lifetraps. Confusing but whatever. A rose by any other name means you’re still dealing with a broken brain as they saying totally does not go.
Right so, my therapist, a Psychologist, A, gave me a cracking analogy to describe schemas. So a schema is like a computer programme. When we are born there’s infinite possibilities of how to program our fresh little hard drives. These programs become our schemas.We all have them. Unfortunately our hungry little hard drives gobble up all kinds of information and boom! Program installed. Now that the computer (our mind) has some programs (schemas) that’s what it uses to run. These programs install because, once upon a time, they were useful to us; often they protect us. Now, over the years, every time a bit of data (a life experience) happens it is fed into the program. If the data doesn’t fit with the program then it is thrown out. Computer says no. If the data does fit with the program then it is accepted, processed and stored in a big databank. A huge mass of data builds in this databank but this huge mass of data all confirms one basic idea, it all conforms to the original program. Anything opposing that original idea has become discarded. The longer this goes on for then the stronger and more powerful the program becomes. That is, the schema becomes deeply entrenched and will be regularly activated, influencing the decisions, actions and feelings of the person with the schema.
I hope that makes sense? Here’s an example that may help. I have the Defectiveness Schema. Not to brag but I have a few others too – just saying. Anyway, this Defectiveness Schema means that I believe I am deeply flawed and worthless. I believe that I do not deserve good things to happen to me. If someone is complimentary to me then my schema throws that information out: it does not compute. It does not fit the program and will be discarded. I can easily explain that I don’t accept the positive thing the person says.There are all kinds of reasons people may compliment someone undeserving of it. Take your pick: are they lying to make me feel better?; perhaps they are trying to butter me up to do something for them?; or maybe it’s that they just don’t know me properly – if they did then they wouldn’t say nice things. See? Easy. Now, I’ve also learned over the years that the quickest way to end someone complimenting you, whilst remaining socially acceptable, is to graciously accept (outwards) their compliment. Protesting just makes them say more nice things and that’s a nightmare! My poor internal computer program has to keep busy rejecting all this incorrect data that someone is trying to put in. Sheesh! Some people are soooooo inconsiderate! Just stop being nice to me and knob off please. So, yes, a gracious thank you seems to do the trick. Of course the lovely complimenter has no idea that their kind words have ricocheted right off of me but they can toddle off happy and I can get on with my day.
On the flip side, if someone criticises me? Lovely. My schema gobbles up that data. That fits the program perfectly! Yum!
Obviously I am completely unaware of this happening. It’s as natural as breathing. I don’t need to think about it. It’s part of my basic programming. It runs in the background as I go about my day. What I don’t realise is that I’m behaving in certain ways because of this schema in the background. I don’t even know it exists but it causes me problems. Schemas are hidden, even from the person with them. You won’t believe this but it’s true – sometimes if there are people blocking an aisle in the supermarket that I need to get down then I just don’t buy that thing that I need. I find saying ‘excuse me’ to them so cringeworthy and awful. Why? Because I know I’m worthless. Who the hell do I think I am disturbing their conversation? I am no one. I don’t realise this at the time. I just know that I can’t speak to them. Rationally my brain says oh just leave it, it doesn’t matter, move on. And I do. And I’ve reinforced my schema. And I don’t have something that I need. I have been known to stop at a different shop to pick up the thing that I need! There could be other consequences too and on and on it rumbles. It seems so silly but it is very real and very powerful.
Well, now comes the therapy and the hard work.Firstly we identify which schemas I have and to which degree. Then we begin to work through each schema individually. I think about how that schema was formed (I’m not good at this. Too closed off to the past). Then I start to recognise it in my general day to day and how my behaviour has been influenced by it. That then leads me to challenge it. Over and over and over again I do this. Honestly I’m reluctant to lose/reduce the power of some of my schemas. It makes me feel very vulnerable. It feels like a kind of psychological stripping bare and I’m terrified.So many what ifs. What if these things that I intrinsically believe and feel are incorrect? What does that mean for me? How will I feel when I see missed opportunities or broken relationships from my past as casualties of my schemas? I don’t know. It’s all unknown. There is nothing more frightening than the unknown…actually not true. Not challenging this, not taking that leap and staying as I was? That’s more frightening and it’s not an option.