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Examining Typical Affects of the Ten Relationship Schemas & Their Most Common Triggers

Examining Typical Affects of the Ten Relationship Schemas & Their Most Common Triggers

Last week, we provided a list of the ten key schemas that are most related to interpersonal problems. Now, let’s take a closer look at that list and identify the typical affects that accompany each of these schemas is triggered. Once you’ve confirmed the schema or schemas that is influencing your clients’ interpersonal interactions, you can begin to explore the affects that drive the problematic behaviors that are wreaking havoc on their interpersonal relationships.

Below are the ten schemas and their typical affects:

  1. Abandonment and instability: fear, anger, and grief
  2. Mistrust and abuse: fear, anger, and yearning
  3. Emotional deprivation: loneliness, yearning, sadness, and anger
  4. Defectiveness and shame: shame, sadness, and anger
  5. Social isolation and alienation: loneliness, shame, fear, anxiety, anger, and yearning
  6. Dependence and incompetence: fear, anxiety, and anger
  7. Failure: fear, sadness, anger, and shame
  8. Entitlement: anger
  9. Subjugation: sadness and anger
  10. Unrelenting standards and hypercriticalness: anger

The emotions listed about are so painful that people are often motivated to do anything to cope with or try to avoid them. Once you’ve confirmed the schema or schemas that influence clients’ interpersonal interactions, you can begin to explore schema-related affect. To help clients link their schemas to emotions, you can ask direct questions—for example, “When that defectiveness schema shows up, what emotion seems to go with it?” or “When you begin to have that sense of emotional deprivation and you think you won’t get what you need, what feelings come up with that?”

Clients usually have a very clear sense of the affects that arise when their schemas are triggered. They’re well aware of the emotional pain that suddenly wells up in those situations. As you talk about schemas, always acknowledge the schema-related emotions that begin to hammer clients when schemas are activated. It’s important to recognize and validate clients’ emotional state so that you can work together to tackle the schema-drive affect and maladaptive coping behavior.
 

Schema Triggers

Virtually any interpersonal situation has the potential to trigger schemas and schema affect. Once clients are aware of their schemas and the emotional impact they have, you can begin to work on identifying the interpersonal situations that most typically trigger their schemas.

Schemas distort our view of others and interpersonal situations. When our schemas get triggered, we react in ways designed to protect ourselves from the emotional pain that results. Triggers are unavoidable, but if you can help your clients identify the triggers for each of their particular schemas, and consciously notice when those situations arise, they’ll be one step closer to changing the reactions that typically follow, and in turn one step closer to minimizing the pain associated with the problematic coping behavior.

Here are some of the typical triggers for each schema outlined in ACT for Interpersonal Problems:

  1. The abandonment and instability schema is likely to be triggered when the client is with someone who is unpredictable, unstable, or unavailable. When this schema is triggered, she will experience anger, fear, and grief.
  2. The mistrust and abuse schema is likely to be triggered when the client believes that people she’s interacting with will hurt or betray her. When this schema is triggered, she’ll experience anger, fear, and yearning.
  3. The emotional deprivation schema is likely to be triggered if the client feels lonely, if she’s with a detached partner, or if she doesn’t feel understood, protected, or loved. When this schema is triggered, she’ll experience sadness, loneliness, and anger.
  4. The defectiveness and shame schema is likely to be triggered when the client starts to get close to someone and feels that her defects will be exposed; when others criticize her; or when she is in a situation that makes her feel that others will find her inadequate, flawed, or unworthy. When this schema is triggered, she’ll experience shame, anger, and sadness.
  5. The social isolation and alienation schema is likely to be triggered when the client is in situations or with groups of people that make her feel different or left out. When this schema is triggered, she’ll experience fear, anxiety, anger, loneliness, and shame.
  6. The dependence and incompetence schema is likely to be triggered by any life changes or new situations, or the end of a relationship with someone the client relies on heavily. When this schema is triggered, she’ll experience anxiety, fear, and anger.
  7. The failure schema is likely to be triggered when the client is with people who are more successful than she is; or when she’s in situations that make her feel that she’s lacking in terms of accomplishments, talents, competence, or intelligence. When this schema is triggered, she’ll experience sadness, shame, anger, and fear.
  8.  The entitlement schema is likely to be triggered when things don’t go the client’s way or when her needs and desires aren’t put first. When this schema is triggered, she’ll experience anger.
  9. The subjugation schema is likely to be triggered when the client is in situations and relationships where the needs of others come first or where she feels controlled by others. When this schema is triggered, she’ll experience sadness and anger.
  10. The unrelenting standards and hypercriticalness schema is likely to be triggered when the client feels that she or others haven’t met her high standards. When this schema is triggered, she’ll experience anger.

Next week we’ll continue looking at how schemas impact interpersonal relationships, and we’ll explore some of the ACT approaches to overcoming maladaptive coping behaviors that are driven by schema pain.

For more information on using schema therapy and ACT to treat interpersonal problems, check out Acceptance and Commitment Therapy for Interpersonal Problems: Using Mindfulness, Acceptance, and Schema Awareness to Change Interpersonal Behaviors, and the newly released Interpersonal Problems Workbook: ACT to End Painful relationship Patterns.