In the world of psychology and psychotherapy, Schema Therapy is a well-established approach that aims to help individuals understand and overcome deeply ingrained patterns of thinking, feeling, and behaving known as “schemas.” Schemas are enduring, self-perpetuating themes or patterns that develop in response to early life experiences. When a schema is triggered we respond by either surrendering to the schema (acting as if it’s true), avoiding the schema or overcompensating.
What Is Overcompensating to Schemas?
Overcompensating to schemas occurs when we respond to our schemas in an extreme or exaggerated manner. When we overcompensate, we engage in behaviours and thought patterns that go to the opposite extreme of our schemas, often as a coping mechanism. This response is typically driven by a desire to protect ourselves from the emotional pain and distress that the schema can evoke. Fighting back against our schemas is actually very healthy, for example if I have a schema that tells me I am defective and worthless I don’t want to just give in to this schema and believe it. However if I overcompensate then I might swing too far the other way and act grandiose and entitled believing I am very special and deserve to be recognised as such. Overcompensation responses often move us further away from our core emotional needs being met and don’t tend to serve us that well. Below are a few of the risks associated with overcompensating;
Inauthenticity: Overcompensating to schemas can lead to a significant disconnect between our true self and the persona we project. This dissonance can hinder genuine personal growth and self-acceptance, as we do not authentically address our core issues.
Reinforcement of Schemas: Paradoxically, overcompensating can reinforce schemas rather than alleviate them. By constantly attempting to prove the opposite of our schema, we may unwittingly keep the schema alive in their minds. This can further entrench our negative beliefs about ourselves and the world.
Relationship Difficulties: Overcompensating behaviors can strain relationships. For example, if we have an abandonment schema and overcompensate we might become clingy and possessive, pushing away those we care about. Such behaviors may lead to the very abandonment we fear, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Emotional Exhaustion: Constantly trying to counteract a schema can be emotionally exhausting. It requires significant mental and emotional energy to maintain this facade. Over time, this exhaustion can lead to burnout and emotional breakdowns.
In Schema Therapy, the goal is not to eliminate schemas entirely, as they are a part of the human experience. Instead, the aim is to develop healthier coping strategies and responses to them. Here are some ways to avoid overcompensation:
Self-awareness: Recognise our schemas and how we tend to overcompensate. Self-awareness is the first step in making meaningful changes.
Emotional Regulation: We work on developing emotional regulation skills to manage the distress associated with our schemas effectively. The more we can stay on our Window of Tolerance ( https://thepsychologycompany.co.uk/exploring-emotional-resilience-understanding-the-window-of-tolerance/) the less likely we are to resort to overcompensating.
Balance: Seek a balanced approach to schemas. Instead of overcompensating, strive for a middle ground where we can acknowledge and work with our schemas without letting them control our life.
Therapy: Schema Therapy, when guided by a trained therapist, can provide a safe and structured environment to address and heal schemas without overcompensating.
Overcompensating to schemas is a common challenge in Schema Therapy. While it may provide temporary relief from emotional distress, it often results in inauthenticity, reinforcing negative beliefs, and damaging relationships. However with the guidance of a skilled therapist we can develop awareness of our schemas and learn to respond to them in more helpful ways that give us a better chance at getting our needs met. This paves the way for lasting emotional well-being and meaningful relationships both with ourselves and others.