Phase 2 - Assessing for Maladjusted Schema and Trauma

Different Types of Schema

Mindfulness and the practice of Radical Acceptance of our emotional experience supplant our maladjusted coping modes and set the stage for schema healing. Instead of trying to escape or “correct” our inner experience we observe and accept it. We learn through mindfulness meditation and zazen to stay tuned-in to our authentic state of being. This state of being is formed by the suspension of self-appraising and the relinquishment of being judgmental. We radically accept our experience without question. The spirit of acceptance is a courageous act which opens the door to understanding.

Surrender (resignation) to the Defectiveness Schema – Surrendering fulfills the schema

The following is a case study which shows how mindfulness interrupts schema-driven behavior. Though surrender is not necessarily the most common coping mechanism, understanding how it works provides us a clear view of schema activity and their negative potentials. A schema reaction (a.k.a. schema attack) occurs when the troubling thought or distressing impression is responded to in a way that validates and reinforces it. You have understood from Phase I that this can happen in several ways—avoidance, over-compensation and surrender.

Chuck was a successful writer of thirty-eight year of age with a chronic sense of being inadequate. This was the core of his anxiety. The sense of insufficiency interfered with his efforts to establish a lasting loving relationship. He complained that he would become bored with his steady girlfriends after four to six months. The resulting breakups disappointed both him and his intimate partners.

His core emotional wound developed from a strained relationship with his father who for many years firmly believed that his son was incompetent. Chuck’s father was a builder with aptitudes in mechanics, spatial relations and geometry. Chuck had little of these aptitudes and endured unflattering and invalidating criticisms from his father who tended to present himself as larger than life. As much as Chuck wanted to be interested in mechanics, he was not inclined. His aptitudes lay in the conceptual world. Though he blossomed professionally into a well-paid writer, the presence of a Defectiveness Schema continued to daunt him. Why his symptoms turned to boredom however had more to do with a kind of obsession that developed directly from his fear of being inadequate.

Chuck became addicted to proving his adequacy by being impressive—by being bigger than life. He ironically started behaving like his father. He would become apathetic with his relationships because his girlfriends would eventually get to know the real Chuck rather than the impressive Chuck. He could not be dazzling anymore. Chuck was in a life trap, a pattern of suffering, forming from his maladjusted coping modes that drove his behavior: “I must be impressive; I must prove myself, I’ll show you; I’m special” were his internal mantras. Ironically Chuck’s father probably had the same “I’ll Show You” coping mode in his own complex. Plus, his misguided perception of his son as incompetent suggested that Chuck senior also had Defectiveness Schema. In other words Chuck Senior had an apprehensive fear that he could not produce a son who was whole and well. Thus there was likely a direct transmission of a schema complex from parent to child. Chuck like his father unconsciously sought to be exceptional rather than be at peace. He was an emotionally wounded man fixated on a past emotional conflict. Getting interested and looking at thoughts and feelings revealed what was going on. Chuck, like his father before him, habitually over-compensated for a sense of being inadequate.

The healing process is complicated by the “addiction” to the coping mode. As we see with Chuck, the sweet fantasy of redemption from humiliation can be alluring and arousing. The ideal of being impressive can function like a stimulant and may well have neurochemical equivalents within the body. In other words the activated maladjusted coping may release particular neurotransmitters, steroids or peptides that condition the body and mind. The process of change is not always simple. But it is nature’s job and not our own. We do our part and nature does the rest.

Schema healing and anxiety reduction depends upon becoming present to our mental events. Emotional wounds resonate in the present moment because they are attached to our memory. They do this because we are mentally sound not because we are mentally defective. Schema and our traumatic impressions are very real. We are wise to accept their presence. We must learn to prevent them from disorienting us.


Begin to learn about mindful-exposure to disturbances. Go to the treatment section of the site.


Phase 3