At some point in our lives, we’ve all experienced a negative core belief or fear-based mindset that has limited us in some way or another.
We’re all liable to form fixed beliefs and expectations that derive from some of our earliest life experiences and relationships with our parents or caregivers. The early formation of negative convictions we use to interpret the world around us are often referred to as “maladaptive schemas” by psychologists, and roughly translate to the unsavory conclusions we make about ourselves.
While not all schemas are destructive, many can manifest as self-critical, fear-ridden, scarcity-based, or irrational without regard for our real or present circumstances. But luckily, there is hope.
Through insight and acceptance, we can begin to broaden our perspective of negative schemas and fear-based mindsets. With patience and perseverance, we can see them for what they really are: fear of abandonment, emotional deprivation, feelings of defectiveness and shame, denial, social isolation, alienation, entitlement, or narcissism.
Behind every dysfunctional schema or negative-thinking pattern is a core need that was not met or validated in the past. Yet, once we begin to take responsibility for our negative self-concepts, we begin to take the initiative to accurately identify these negative patterns of thoughts and feelings. And, from here we can begin to work to transcend these old mindsets with more adaptive and functional schemas that validate our respective core needs.
Cultivate Insight: Break Through Your Conditioning
While negative beliefs, feelings, and thought patterns interfere with our present relationships, awareness and understanding can transform triggers into opportunities to address our needs directly instead of reacting to what we perceive as threatening. It will feel uncomfortable at first, but it helps to write down exactly how you’re thinking and feeling during these related moments of stress.
Later, when you’re in a calmer state, you can thoroughly contemplate and comprehend why you’re interpreting your experience in limiting ways that make them seem true and how we sometimes behave and overreact in ways that reinforce and maintain these maladaptive schemas. For example, if you’re dealing with a mistrust and abuse schema, your conviction is that you expect others will hurt, abuse, manipulate, cheat, lie, and take advantage of you.
You may be fixated on your friend, partner, or coworker’s hesitation when they are speaking, get triggered by a word or phrase they said that you may have taken out of context, or jump to conclusions about someone because he or she is not currently available to meet your specific needs.
However, when you revisit this experience with a clear and open mind, you may realize that you overreacted because of the physical, emotional, sexual, or psychological abuse you experienced at an earlier stage of life that resulted in these limiting behaviors and mindsets.
Consider this: deeply ingrained primary emotions like scarcity, fear, anger, and sadness are time-tested survival instincts. Many of our ancestors and relatives today have endured hardships like war, famine, poverty, racism, sexism, domestic abuse, unstable family life, and economic distrust that resulted in these limiting mindsets.
In dire circumstances, these primary emotions served and continue to serve evolutionary necessities that help to prepare your body and mind to defend itself from immediate threats. Of course, over time these same fight or flight biological responses and negative mindsets keep firing over and over again in the brain, despite the original circumstances that provoked them.
But, the question remains: how can we step back and think more clearly when triggered by these negative feelings? And furthermore, how are we neglecting our insight, illumination, and inspiration when we allow them to rule us?
Of course, you don’t just wake up one day and say, “I’m done being afraid of being poor” or “I’m over feeling unlovable.” But, we can learn to cultivate trust in ourselves by meeting our needs directly, rather than expecting the universe at large or others to determine our self-worth.
Humor Yourself: Adopt Functional Behavioral Habits to Cope
When you’re triggered, remind yourself that there’s always a silver lining. Bring your awareness out of your story and into the collective one: we are human. We share these maladaptive schemas. Meaning that, even when you think you are alone in the world, with your own negative thoughts and feelings about yourself, there are others that share in your pain. We all face some sort of maladaptive schema in our lifetime that negatively affects our self-image.
But, when you begin to get to know yours and take responsibility for the consequences of it, research its evolutionary origins and identify how you are experiencing these reoccurring negative schemas when they impinge your consciousness, you begin to make room for your intellectual and spiritual illumination to take place.
You can start to cognitively and somatically identify your self-consciousness, your fear of abandonment, your isolation, your emotional deprivation, or your mistrust and abuse schemas as separate from your identity of yourself. You have the ability to humor yourself and give it a name.
You can express it functionally through art, music, or another form of healthy self-expression. You can connect with others that share your experience in a safe environment or you can seek out professional therapy.
The important thing to remember is that you have hope.
You can change if you are willing to accept and identify your dysfunctional self concepts and take responsibility for your behavior as it relates to them. And, when you do so, it’s only a matter of time before you’re feeling and thinking more resiliently.
Author: Brandon Gilbert
Editor: Lieselle Davidson
Copy Editor: Sara Kärpänen
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