Using Schema Therapy as a Journaling Tool

I don't know if you've ever head of schema therapy before, but I find it somewhat interesting when used as a journaling tool.  The same can be said for Inner Family Systems (IFS), as well (you can read about about this below).  Both techniques are similar in the idea that most of our issues and core beliefs about ourselves (in ST they're known as "schemas").  In IFS, our inner children (who are acting out) have unhealed wounds that flare up when we are triggered.  ST is similar in that belief, but they tackle it a little bit differently.  Both I think are valid ways of getting to know yourself, as well as evaluating the unhealed wounds we still are carrying around inside of us.  But with ST, those unhealed wounds have created these core beliefs, which are pretty negative, about who we are, who others are, and how the world works.  

Read about these unhealed wounds here, and you'll see which ones are still affecting you, and what ideas you've drawn from those ideas about yourself and the world around you.  Those are your "schemas".  Take feeling unlovable, for instance.  From that feeling, we could assume that we will always be abandoned because we aren't lovable enough for someone to stay.  That's a schema.  This type of therapy helps you to uncover what your schemas are, how to recognize them when they pop up, and how to deal with them when they do.  And it helps you reparent all those inner children inside of you to give them what they need in order to integrate back into your true self.  Here is how it works. 

Schema therapy is a therapy designed around eighteen "schemas", which are negative core beliefs about oneself which develop in childhood due to trauma and abuse from our parents (including neglect).  These are divided into five domains, which are: 

  1. Disconnection & Rejection
  2. Impaired Autonomy & Performance
  3. Impaired Limits
  4. Other-Directedness
  5. Overvigilance & Inhibition

The eighteen schemas in these five domains are: 
  1. Abandonment/instability (thinking all people we love will eventually leave us), mistrust/abuse (all people are not to be trusted or will abuse us), emotional deprivation (feeling our primary emotional needs won't be met), defectiveness/shame (we are, at our core, unlovable due to an internal defect), social isolation/alienation (we are different from everyone, and that makes us weird)
  2. Dependence/incompetence (feeling dependent on others), vulnerability to harm/illness (when we develop phobias and fears around others hurting us or getting sick), enmeshment/underdeveloped self (putting other's feelings wants and needs before our own, adopting their ways of doing things and thinking instead of having our own), failure (always believing we are failures, even when we accomplish something, imposter syndrome)
  3. Entitlement/grandiosity (being spoiled in the way we think, not thinking of other's views or feelings before speaking or acting, thinking we deserve special treatment because of one reason or another), insufficient self-control or self-discipline (not being able to control oneself when speaking or acting or possibly with vices)
  4. Subjugation (we must submit otherwise people will get angry with us), self-sacrifice (excessively sacrificing ourselves for the sake of others or else we feel massive amounts of guilt if we put ourselves first), approval seeking (seeking the approval and recognition of others even if it goes against who we are)
  5. Negativity (when we find the negative in everything, rather than the positive), emotional inhibition (suppressing feelings, including anger, in order to feel safe around others), unrelenting standards/hypercriticalness (feeling as though you need to work as hard as you can, because nothing you do is good enough), punitiveness (feeling as though we need to be punished for our mistakes)

Remember, all of these schemas that we feel inwardly, can also be projected outwardly to others, too.  So, if we feel a certain way inside, we can very likely treat others the same way we are feeling.  

How much of what is listed above applies to you?  And how much of it applies to how you were treated as a child by your parents?  Make a list of every schema that is affecting you right now.  When you get triggered or angry, which ones play out in your actions towards yourself?  Which ones play out in your actions toward others?  

Now, there different ways in which these schemas can play out in our lives.  These ways are called "modes", but if you look at IFS, you could group these "modes" into different "parts" of who we are, and label them according to IFS.  This is why I feel that IFS and ST work together very well, as they are talking about the same things, but just in different ways.  

Here is an explanation of the different "modes" we go into when we are triggered: 

  1. Innate child modes
  2. Maladaptive coping modes
  3. Maladaptive parent modes
  4. Healthy adult mode
And within these four types of modes, there are ten different specific modes, which are: 

  1. Vulnerable/lonely child, angry child, impulsive/undisciplined child, and contented child
  2. Complient surrenderer, detached protector, overcompensator
  3. Punitive parent, demanding/critical parent
  4. Healthy adult

While I do not believe these "modes" represent all our parts, it's a good place to start.  

In IFS, we have our different "parts", which are our inner children, our firefighters, and our managers (as well as healthy parts, too).  If an inner child gets triggered, then either a manager part or a firefighter part will come out to protect the child.  Also, naming our parts is helpful (rather than just calling them a generic name--using a name that describes who and what they are to us is better), because we can get to know each one fully as we go along and work with it, and eventually, be able to integrate it back into our true selves, which eliminates its negative behavior.  But in ST, they take this idea a step further to eliminate an entire negative core belief that we've developed about ourselves or the world around us, by helping to heal the open wound of the inner child that's being triggered with reparenting (by giving our inner children now what they never received back then).  And we can start this reparenting process with some journaling.  

But first, here are some worksheets to help get you more acquainted with how ST works: 

The Journaling Prompts

  1. I was triggered recently by...
  2. The part of me that was triggered was...
  3. Because of...
  4. This is how I reacted...
  5. I think I reacted that way because...
  6. Better ways I could have reacted were...
  7. I will keep those ways in mind for next time, but if I don't, I will be gentle with myself and try again next time.  I will tell myself...

  1. Make a list of all the negative core beliefs you have about yourself.  If you need help, look at the "schemas" above to get ideas.  
  2. Then take each belief, and journal about each one, one at a time, contemplating where it stems from, and why it's still showing up in your life.  What part of you is not healed yet? 
  3. Now, imagine yourself healed from that core belief.  Imagine who you are without it.  What does that look like? 
  4. What will it take to heal that wound within you?  What do you need from yourself, and those around you in your life in order to do so? 
  5. What is your biggest fear in life?  Where does it stem from?
  6. Who would you be without that fear?  What would you be doing?  
  7. How can you give your wounded inner children (your exiles, in IFS) what they need to heal?  What does he or she need to feel safe again? 
  8. What does your ideal self look like?  Describe it in detail. 
  9. How can you take small steps toward this ideal self?  Even if just a little bit here and there? 
  10. Make a list of all your good qualities and your strengths.  Here is a great list to get you started.  And here is a worksheet on this, too.
  11. How do those strengths prove some of your core beliefs about yourself wrong? 
  12. Find some pictures of yourself as a child and make copies and paste those copies into your journal.  Then write a letter to those children you once were as though you are their actual parent who loves them and cares for them the way they should have been loved and cared for back then.  
  13. Make a list of everything that makes you feel: sad, happy, angry, humiliated/ashamed, loved, respected, smart, accomplished, safe, anxious, disappointed, and what keeps you up at night, and what makes you sleep soundly.  Explore each one as fully as you can to get to know yourself better.  You may be surprised what you find out.  
  14. Make a list of all your "parts".  Check out my post on IFS for how to do this.  
  15. Do you have people around you that you can trust and those who have your best interests at heart?  If not, how can you find some?  Brainstorm some ideas on this.
  16. Do you still live with a parent/partner/etc. that abused/still abuses you?  If so, make plans how you will be able to move out in order to start healing.  If you can't move out right now, then make plans for the future when you can (though I suggest writing about this in a password protected private place--do not store that password on your computer or where the person can find it).  If you aren't safe with this person (or persons), then make plans to contact someone to help you find a safe space to get to.

There is so much you can do with this type of therapy, but I think this is a good start.  So, get out your journal and get going and then do some more research into Schema Therapy and IFS and see what you find.  I love learning about all the different ways I can use to help heal myself from past trauma, as well as help myself become a better person for the future.  And I hope this helps you, too!

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