Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Core Beliefs and Schemas

We all develop beliefs about ourselves, other people, and the world we live in, beginning in early childhood. Some of these beliefs are so fundamental to how we view...everything...that we see them as absolute truths. We call these "core beliefs." Core beliefs are your basic assumptions about your value in the world. Core beliefs determine to what degree you see yourself as worthy, safe, competent, powerful, independent, and loved. They also establish your sense of belonging and basic picture of how you are treated by others.

We may not be consciously aware of our core beliefs - they are kind of like the water fish swim in. However, they have a significant impact (like water does for fish): situations can activate core beliefs, which then shape our perception and interpretation of the situation. In fact, we tend to filter incoming information to accept information that fits the core belief, while discounting anything that contradicts our belief.

The way that core beliefs influence our perception, interpretation, and response to a situation is through what is called "intermediate beliefs." This category includes our attitudes, assumptions, and rules. Attitudes are evaluative statements ("It would be terrible if..."), assumptions tend to be "if...then..." statements, and rules are "shoulds" (or musts, or oughts). These intermediate beliefs arise from core beliefs, either as logical extensions thereof, or as attempts to cope with a painful core belief (often that one is inadequate and/or unlovable): I am inadequate so I need to work harder than everyone else. I am unlovable, so I should expect rejection. Etc.
Both kinds of beliefs shape the content of your thoughts from moment to moment – your internal monologue, or “automatic thoughts.” Automatic thoughts, in turn, strengthen and reinforce your beliefs. For example, when you tell yourself constantly that you’re stupid, you convince yourself that this is true. By the same token, if your self-statements reflect a basic faith in your intelligence, this core belief will be confirmed and solidified.

As you can see, core beliefs are the very foundation of your self-image: they largely dictate what you may and may not do (your rules), how you present yourself (your attitude) and how you interpret events in your world (your assumptions and automatic thoughts). Therefore, holding negative beliefs takes a significant toll on your mood, relationships, and overall functioning. Changing your core beliefs requires time and effort; and yet changing them will fundamentally alter your view of yourself and your environment.

Core beliefs are also combined in patterns that are referred to as schemas. Schemas include beliefs about yourself, the future, other people and the world, along with associated intermediate beliefs (now called schema processes), which produce emotions, body sensations, and behaviors. Schemas form templates for processing and interpreting life experiences.

Dr. Young and his colleagues have identified 18 “early maladaptive schemas:” schemas that develop very early in life and can produce distress and difficulties throughout one’s life. Read through their list of schemas and rate how strongly you think each one applies to you, from 0-100%.
Emotional Deprivation
This schema refers to the belief that one’s primary emotional needs will never be met by others. These needs can be described in three categories: Nurturance – needs for affection, closeness and love; Empathy – needs to be listened to and understood; and Protection – needs for advice, guidance and direction. Generally parents were cold or removed and didn’t consistently care for the child in ways that would adequately meet the above needs.

This schema refers to the expectation that one will soon lose anyone with whom an emotional attachment is formed. The person believes that, one way or another, close relationships will end imminently. As children, they may have experienced the divorce or death of parents. This schema can also arise when parents have been inconsistent in attending to the child’s needs; for instance, there may have been frequent occasions on which the child was left alone or unattended to for extended periods.

This schema refers to the expectation that others will intentionally take advantage in some way. People with this schema expect others to hurt, cheat, or put them down. They often think in terms of attacking first or getting revenge afterwards. In childhood, these people were often abused or treated unfairly by parents, siblings, or peers.

This schema refers to the belief that one is internally flawed, and that, if others get close, they will realize this and withdraw from the relationship. This feeling of being flawed and inadequate often leads to a strong sense of shame. Generally parents were very critical and made them feel as if they were not worthy of being loved.

Social Isolation/Alienation
This schema refers to the belief that one is isolated from the world, different from other people, and/or not part of any community. This belief is usually caused by early experiences in which children see that either they, or their families, are different from other people.

This schema refers to the belief that one is not capable of handling day-to-day responsibilities competently and independently. People with this schema often rely on others excessively for help in areas such as decision-making and initiating new tasks. Generally, parents did not encourage children to act independently and develop confidence in their ability to take care of themselves.

Vulnerability to Harm and Illness
This schema refers to the belief that one is always on the verge of experiencing a major catastrophe (financial, natural, medical, criminal, etc.). It may lead to taking excessive precautions to protect oneself. Usually there was an extremely fearful parent who passed on the idea that the world is a dangerous place.

Enmeshment/Undeveloped Self
This schema refers to a pattern in which a person experiences too much emotional involvement with others – usually parents or romantic partners. It may also include the sense that one has too little individual identity or inner direction, causing a feeling of emptiness or of floundering. This schema is often brought on by parents who are so controlling, abusive, or overprotective that the child is discouraged from developing a separate sense of self.

This schema refers to the belief that one is incapable of performing as well as one’s peers in areas such as career, school or sports. These clients may feel stupid, inept or untalented. People with this schema often do not try to achieve because they believe that they will fail. This schema may develop if children are put down and treated as if they are a failure in school and other spheres of accomplishment. Usually the parents did not give enough support, discipline, and encouragement for the child to persist and succeed in areas of achievement, such as schoolwork or sport.

This schema refers to the belief that one must submit to the control of others in order to avoid negative consequences. Often these people fear that, unless they submit, others will get angry or reject them. They therefore ignore their own desires and feelings. In childhood there was generally a very controlling parent.

This schema refers to the excessive sacrifice of one’s own needs in order to help others. When these people pay attention to their own needs, they often feel guilty. To avoid this guilt, they put others’ needs ahead of their own. Often people who self-sacrifice gain a feeling of increased self-esteem or a sense of meaning from helping others. In childhood the person may have been made to feel overly responsible for the wellbeing of one or both parents.

Emotional Inhibition
This schema refers to the belief that one must suppress spontaneous emotions and impulses, especially anger, because any expression of feelings would harm others or lead to loss of self-esteem, embarrassment, retaliation or abandonment. These people may lack spontaneity, or be viewed as uptight. This schema is often brought on by parents who discourage the expression of feelings.


This schema refers to the placing of too much emphasis on gaining the approval and recognition of others at the expense of one’s genuine needs and sense of self. It can also include excessive emphasis on status and appearance as a means of gaining recognition and approval. People with this schema are generally extremely sensitive to rejections by others and try hard to fit in. Usually they did not have their needs for unconditional love and acceptance met by their parents in their early years.

Unrelenting Standards/Hyper-criticalness

This schema refers to the belief that whatever you do is not good enough, that you must always strive harder. The motivation for this belief is the desire to meet extremely high internal demands for competence, usually to avoid internal criticism. People with this schema show impairments in important life areas, such as health, pleasure or self-esteem. Usually these clients’ parents were never satisfied and gave their children love that was conditional on outstanding achievement.

This schema refers to the belief that one should be able to do, say, or have whatever one wants immediately, regardless of whether that hurts others or seems reasonable to them. These people are not interested in what other people need, nor are they aware of the long-term costs of alienating others. Parents who overindulge their children and who do not set limits about what is socially appropriate may foster the development of this schema. Alternatively, some children develop this schema to compensate for feelings of emotional deprivation or defectiveness.

Insufficient Self-Control/Self-Discipline

This schema refers to the inability to tolerate any frustration in reaching one’s goals, as well as an inability to restrain expression of one’s impulses or feelings. When lack of self-control is extreme, it may lead to criminal or addictive behaviors. Parents who did not model self-control, or who did not adequately discipline their children, may predispose them to this schema as adults.


This schema refers to a pervasive pattern of focusing on the negative aspects of life while minimizing the positive aspects. Clients with this schema are unable to enjoy things that are going well in their lives because they are so concerned with negative details or potential future problems. They worry about possible failures no matter how well things are going for them. Usually these people had a parent who worried excessively.


This schema refers to the belief that people deserve to be harshly punished for making mistakes. People with this schema are critical and unforgiving of both themselves and others. They tend to be angry about imperfect behaviors much of the time. In childhood these clients usually had at least one parent who put too much emphasis on performance and had a punitive style of controlling behavior.

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