In Psychology, a schema is a way that we organize our thoughts and make meaningful relationships between things.
In a basic sense, its one way that we organize the world around us to make it simpler.
Schemas are thought to initially develop around childhood and adolescence and we continue to build, modify, and refine schemas as we get older.
To give you a very basic example of a schema, think about how you behave in Church.
In every Church that I have been too, people try their best to be quiet while the Speaker whether that be a Pastor, Priest, or whoever delivers the message.
How did you know to do that? Early on you developed a schema about how to behave when someone speaks in front of a group of people. You remembered these things so you didn’t have to “re-think” about how to behave the next time you, you just did.
Schemas are one way that our bodies preserve resources (energy, time, etc.). Schemas can be beneficial to us but they can also be harmful.
For example, schemas can make us overlook important information, we can develop false schemas which can lead us to do things that hurt us, and if a false schema develops they can be difficult to change the longer that we have them.
You can see where this is going right?
What is a self-schema and how can they affect us?
At some point in our lives, we start to develop schemas about our self, these are typically referred to as a Self schema. A self schema is the collection of our beliefs about ourselves based on the long lasting memories and experiences we have. These self schemas though can also be false schemas and we may perpetuate those schemas based on these faulty beliefs.
For example, when I was born I was put up for adoption. For most of my life, I developed several schemas based on that single experience.
I developed a schema about myself,
You are unloveable because your mom gave you up for adoption.
I developed a schema about love,
To become loved I needed to be great at things such as my grades, career, etc.
I developed a schema about people,
You can’t trust those who are close to you.
These are just a few examples I can think of right now. In all three cases, these schemas are false though.
My mom giving me up for adoption was an act of love because she couldn’t afford to raise me, knew I would probably live in poverty for most of my life, and instead of having an abortion which would have been much easier, she decided to still go through with the pregnancy. I overlooked this important detail in my life because for me, the schema was the only way I could explain what had happened.
The second schema about love is false because as we know from the Bible, our worth and value is tied in who we are in Christ, not based on extrinsic things. We are a new creation and God’s beloved child. Its easy for us to associate our value based on extrinsic things though when we have false schemas and a culture that promotes it.
In the last schema I developed a huge mistrust for people in general and because of this I tended to avoid getting close with anyone. I would push people away out of fear they would see just how “Unloveable” I was. Relationships were superficial because I never let anyone get close to me, social gatherings I began avoiding because I was afraid they might ask me about my past, and so I isolated myself.
This is what false schemas can lead to, unhealthy and even destructive behaviors all because of the way we reshape and organize the experiences we have been through.
I’m sure you can probably think of a few false schemas that have developed in your own life. Maybe you were sexually abused as a child, maybe your parents didn’t have time for you, maybe a friend or teacher said something to you that made you think you were unintelligent.
Whatever it, start exploring some of your schemas and identify which ones are false. More than likely, you will find a lot of false schemas especially when it comes to how you view yourself.
This also highlights the importance of meditating on God’s word because it allows us to meditate on God’s “eternal schemas.”
My hope for you in this article was to help you understand what a schema is, get you thinking about your own schemas, and start the process of revisiting your past if you have unhealthy behaviors that are a result of false schemas.
Let the Holy Spirit guide you in your healing, He ultimately knows exactly what you need. The key will be having the faith and the courage to trust God to take you to the broken places in your heart that you may not want to go because they are so painful.
Stay tuned for the next article where I’ll go more into detail about the maladaptive schemas that were identified.
Can you think of any false schemas you might have? How have they negatively affected you in the present?