The first type of schema behavior is schema maintenance. This refers to the actions people take to preserve the power of their negative schemas, even when those actions make them feel worse about themselves and their relationships. For example, a woman with a self-sacrifice schema is constantly giving up her own needs for the needs of other people. As a result, she never gets any satisfaction in her relationships and probably spends all of her free time helping other people.
The second way in which schemas are often disruptive is through schema compensation behaviors. In this process, people behave in the exact opposite way of what the schema demands of them. To continue with the previous example, a woman who has a self-sacrificing schema might suddenly get angry at other people and refuse to help anyone ever again. Naturally, this extreme opposite reaction will shock the people in her life, who are accustomed to her doing everything they want her to do, and so it will certainly disrupt many of her relationships.
Finally, the third way in which schemas affect relationships is through pain avoidance behaviors. Simply put, all negative schemas have unspoken rules, and when a rule is broken it causes frustration and pain. To avoid this, people will do anything to not break the rules; and again, most of this happens on an unconscious level. For example, the rule of a self-sacrificing schema says, “If you do anything for yourself, you’re selfish and hurting somebody else.” As a result, the person never does anything for himself or herself and tries not to break the rule. But as a result of not wanting to hurt someone else, the person never gets any of his or her own needs met. In the worst-case scenario, the person might even stay in a dysfunctional or dangerous relationship because he or she doesn’t want to upset the other person by leaving. Unfortunately, surrendering one’s decision-making power to avoid immediate pain and discomfort actually increases the strength of the negative schema and makes it harder to change that schema in the future.
Where do you see yourself within these areas of schemas?