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10 Mindsets that Undermine Your Relationship

So far in this blog, I have mostly talked about my own theories of love.

Today, I want to introduce you to the theory of a college friend of mine, Dr. Jeffrey E. Young of New York City, who is a psychotherapist in New York City.  (I get no compensation of any kind for mentioning his name and theory.)

Jeff's theory is called “schema theory.”  It is, I believe, a brilliant theory.

Jeff has proposed that people’s lives, in general, and their interpersonal relationships, in particular, can be compromised by maladaptive schemas that they carry forward from their childhood.

Schemas are beliefs that form during childhood through a person's experiences with other people, and particularly interactions with family, friends, and peers. These beliefs exert a strong influence on people's identity, thinking, and behavior.

Schemas are similar in some ways to what I have called a story in my theory of love as a story except that (a) stories can be adaptive or maladaptive, whereas schemas, in Jeff’s theory, are always maladaptive, and (b) the particular schemas differ from the particular stories.

There are the ten schemas that most affect love relationships.

Which of them do you have?  How are they affecting your love life? What can you do about them?

I will be speaking of them only as they apply to love relationships, not in general.  I am not a psychotherapist, so you are getting my best interpretation of them. Jeff's book, Reinventing Your Life: The Breakthrough Program to End Negative Behavior and Feel Great Again, would give you a better idea of the schemas and how they affect your life.

Here are the ten maladaptive schemas Jeff is talking about:

1. Abandonment/instability

This is the belief that you cannot count on people you love to continue to love you.  They may abandon you at any time, even without prior warning.  You constantly have to be vigilant to the possibility that you will be left high and dry.  You may see signs of abandonment even when they are not there.

2. Mistrust/abuse

You expect that you will be harmed, or your wellbeing otherwise compromised, by either abuse or neglect from a loved one.  You are vigilant with respect to any words or deeds that might suggest that your partner is looking to hurt you, or just not to pay attention.

3. Emotional deprivation

You expect that your emotional needs will not be met by the love relationship.  This can take the form of a lack of attention to you, a lack of understanding of you, or a lack of protection when you need it. Thus, you are afraid your partner will not meet your emotional needs.  The very expectation that the partner may not meet such needs may lead you to act in ways that seem overly attention-seeking, as you constantly are afraid that attention will be withdrawn.

4. Defectiveness/shame

You believe that you are somehow defective—that you are inferior to other possible love interests your partner might have.  You believe you have some kind of inferiority that is easily noticeable and that, as a result, you ultimately are unlovable.  Anyone who loves you must either be somewhat foolish, deceptive, or blind to your unlovability.

5. Social isolation/alienation

You believe that you are isolated from others or are so different from others that you cannot be accepted by them, and possibly cannot fully accept them either.  You perceive yourself as not belonging to a peer social group, or at least as having trouble fitting in.  Your isolation makes it hard for you to seek and find relationships.

6. Dependence/incompetence

You believe that you cannot make it on your own.  You just are too incompetent to survive by yourself.  You feel extremely dependent on your partner because, without your partner, you would be utterly lost.  You may stay with a partner simply because of your perceived need for that partner to ensure your survival.

7. Failure

You believe that you are a failure in life.  Whatever you try will fail.  So, if you get into a relationship, you expect it to fail because that is just what happens to you when you try anything of consequence.

8. Entitlement

You believe that you are deserve privileges and advantages that others do not deserve. You have a sense of entitlement that you believe is appropriate for what is coming to you in life.

9. Subjugation

You want to be subjugated—to meet the needs of your loved ones, even at the expense of your own needs.  You submit to your love ones or surrender control of your person. You may feel coerced by the loved one, or you may just enjoy feeling subjugated.

10. Hypercritical standards

You believe that you must meet extremely high internal standards you have set for yourself in order to avoid criticism from others, including a loved one.  You set standards for yourself that are extremely difficult or impossible to meet.

Consider, as an example, the relationship of Carl and Terri.

Carl and Terri have been together for only a few months.  They live apart and because of COVID-19 and other factors, get to see each other relatively little. Yet, their distance relationship has become very intense. 

But Carl’s maladaptive schemas, which he has carried with him since childhood, are undermining their relationship.  Carl had a very suboptimal childhood.  Both his parents abandoned him when he was young, first his father, then his mother. 

So he is constantly worried about abandonment (the abandonment schema)--that Terri is giving him signals that she is on the way out. Moreover, he cannot help feeling that she is in love with someone else. 

Carl also has a defectiveness schema.  He is angry at his parents for abandoning him, but a part of him subconsciously worries that they abandoned him because he was unworthy—was simply not worthy of their love.

Carl is a very high achiever—he also has a schema of hypercritical standards—because he is afraid that if he does not achieve at the highest levels, people will just let him go. But he never can quite meet his own standards, worsening his feeling that any lover will abandon him once she recognizes that he is not worthy of her. 

Carl and Terri love each other deeply, despite the short duration of their relationship.  They are determined to make it through but realize that Carl’s issues will always be a challenge for them. 

Carl sometimes hates himself for his maladaptive schemas, and tries to move beyond them, but they keep coming back to haunt him. 

He probably needs psychotherapy, but he lacks confidence that he can change who he is.  Because of that lack of confidence, he may be creating a self-fulfilling prophecy that leaves him stuck with the issues he has brought with him from childhood.

What maladaptive schemas do you have, if any?  In future blogposts, I’ll talk more about some of the schemas and what you might do to reduce their stranglehold on your life.


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