Current Update as of June 05, 2004
Inspired by The Edgar Cayce Institute for Intuitive Studies
Edited by HENRY REED, Ph.D.
What tweaks your hot buttons? A crises pops up, your smiley face goes south, and anger or fear steals your peace of mind. Suddenly old habits reappear and a familiar scenario takes control of your life.
to psychologist and teacher Tara Bennett-Goleman, some things from our
past continually haunt us because a lost connection between our feelings
and the events that trigger them lead us blindly into seemingly irresolvable
explains in her new book, "Emotional
Alchemy: How the Mind Can Heal the Heart" (Harmony 2001),
that most of what troubles us can be pegged to a particular set of maladaptive
emotional habits called schemas.
Emotional Alchemy identifies ten major schemas with countless variations; pointing to the possibility that most of us have one or two principle schemas, while other schemas may visit us on a smaller scale. These schemas are identified in the following list:
frequently combine and operate in clusters. One of Bennet-Goleman’s clients,
for example, always relented to her husband’s demands, trying to be the
perfect wife and doing everything she could do to please him without his
deprivation schema led the client to care for her husband’s needs, never
letting him know that she felt uncared for in their marriage. Her abandonment
schema made her so terrified of his leaving her that it played into her
pattern of subjugation.
Schemas can also interact as they develop. For example, if a child through the deprivation schema compensates by over-achievement, the entitlement schema may come into play through feelings that the world owes special treatment for one suffering hard times.
Bennet-Goleman explains that an awareness of destructive emotional habits and their effects upon us is the first step to breaking their hold. We can achieve the ability to do so by mastering several techniques illustrated in Emotional Alchemy where she melds modern day techniques of schema therapy with the time-honored Buddhist tradition of mindfulness meditation.
therapy is a scientific method of investigation derived from cognitive
psychology. It requires several stages to heal disruptive emotional patterns.
The first stage evolves around the notion of simply becoming aware that
the pattern exists and that we must pay attention as to how it affects
another illustration, Bennet-Goleman writes that Miriam, a client, lived
a harsh relationship with her mother. Her mother’s neediness and self-absorption
resonated perfectly with Miriam’s subjugation and deprivation patterns.
learned to recognize the early signs of a schema about to emerge, Miriam
saw through the distorted perception of her guilt and the feelings of
Schema therapy focuses on four domains, each one interdependent upon the other. These domains include: 1) our thoughts, 2) our emotions, 3) our actions, and 4) our relationships.
Bennet-Goleman’s techniques in emotional alchemy attend to all four domains as they function together. For example, one cannot focus only on the distorted thoughts that typify a schema while ignoring the raw emotions that fuel the pattern, e.g., identifying the steps of an abandonment schema may only provide temporary relief until the fear of loneliness is resolved.
Building upon the notion that the mind can transcend its natural tendency to obscure itself with habitual emotional reactions to one of natural, open clarity, Bennet-Goleman shares her insights about the Buddhist standard of mindfulness and how it works when combined with schema therapy to distinguish distortion and reality.
She explains that Emotional Alchemy is mindfully enhanced schema therapy: "a transformation from a confusing, dense emotional state to clarity and lightness of being."
describes mindfulness from her Eastern Asian experiences with several
Buddhist mentors, including the Dalai Lama. Like all forms of meditation,
it is a systematic way to retrain attention. It cultivates the power of
mind to stay focused on the object of attention, without being pulled
away by distractions.
clarifies the application of mindfulness for resolving schemas: "When
we practice mindfulness, the effects can show up in many different ways
in life. Sometimes it may be in responding differently to an irritation,
without being provoked; sometimes it means getting in touch with a feeling
you would have ignored before, and listening more closely to the message
that the feeling offers.
in the above context means seeing things as they are without trying to
change them. It softens the impact of disturbing emotions without repressing
them. When an activated schema stirs strong emotional feelings and reactions,
sustained mindfulness dissipates the intensity of the emotion and neutralizes
strong feelings and reactions.
we become more familiar with tracking these traditional emotional patterns",
writes Bennett-Goleman, "we can trace a chain of associative thoughts,
using mindfulness to track and identify the moment the thought arose in
our awareness, then how it took us over so that we believed the thought."
its apparent success, Emotional Alchemy is not a quick fix for
embedded schemas. It requires work and oftentimes, professional support.
Bennett-Goleman warns that simply learning about destructive emotional
patterns and knowing their effects will not produce a magical cure.
Therefore, reversing learned emotional habits, such as the perfectionism and deprivation schemas that evolved through innumerable repeated episodes, would require repeated exposure with positive thoughts and actions to countermand the schema.
a schema is identified, Bennett-Goleman points out that we encounter various
stages of the schema with different coping strategies. For example, we
tend to avoid a schema the moment we start to notice it. We try to stay
away from the painful feelings that drive them. Paradoxically, avoidance
feeds the schema by letting emotional habits take control of the situation.
From both a spiritual and psychological perspective, avoidance tactics fail us as they close us off to our feelings and to the potential insights they might offer. The alternative and recommended method for handling a disturbing emotion is to transform it.
woman explained to Bennett-Goleman that the transformative approach resolved
a difficult relationship with her neighbor. "My neighbor drives me
nuts in exactly the way my mother does," she cried. "He’s always
negative. I spin out for days in self-criticism after a run-in with him."
to the source of the schema, says Bennett-Goleman, is like peeling an
onion. Fear may be the most obvious detectable emotion, such as one might
find in the abandonment schema. But beneath the fear may lie a layer of
sadness, and behind that may be anger.
abandonment schema breeds clinging or aloofness to avoid the deeper dread
and despair of being all alone. Subjugation, another schema, encourages
submissiveness to avoid facing the explosive anger that subjugation breeds.
Bennett-Goleman names two strategies for challenging habitual thoughts and changing knee-jerk reactions to schema triggers. The first strategy, wise reflection, lets us reflect on the emotional episode with mindfulness in order to let insights emerge. The other strategy is sustained awareness – exploiting the equanimity of mindfulness for a calm enabling of clearer thoughts and feelings.
one episode, two friends became alienated following an argument. One used
wise reflection to engage the feelings that were strongly stirring within.
The schema’s modus operandi would have been to re-establish a connection
with the friend in order to calm the fear of abandonment.
applied in the above situation broke through the schema’s defenses and
exposed the underlying feelings that empower them.
next time a schema is activated, mindfulness can attend to the presence
and potency of the schema’s emotional contents under a calmer, empathic
scenario. Bennett-Goleman advises that two important functions of mindfulness,
recognition and letting go, can help us to avoid a schema attack.
another client of Bennett-Goleman, found that when she studied her underlying
fears of unlovability from episodes with an unresponsive, aloof boyfriend,
she discovered a tendency to perpetuate a childhood founded schema in
bolsters schema work by reinvigorating old memories with intensity, clarity,
and rich detail. These memories, some of which may have been dormant for
decades, may help to give insightful support to present problems with
greater meaning and significance.
Once the origins of the schema building patterns from early childhood memories are discovered and connected with introspective wisdom, the next step in schema therapy is to seek a compassionate dialogue with the part of our mind that is bound up in the child’s view.
Bennett-Goleman’s client Alexa dwelled on the abandonment schema, a pivotal
memory of her estranged and deceased father came back to her. As a child
she had conflicted feelings between wanting his affections and rejecting
him for not caring enough about her.
Many of our schemas, Bennett-Goleman claims, surface in the midst of our closest relationships – anyone with whom we have a strong emotional connection: "Schemas can make any relationship an emotional battleground… but they also provide opportunities to let us do the inner work that will free us from the grasp of our schemas."
our most maladaptive schemas draw us to partners who will trigger them.
The attraction is especially strong for patterns like deprivation, abandonment,
mistrust and unlovability. People with the deprivation schema can be drawn
to lovers who are ungiving, narcisstic, aloof, or cold.
activation on close relationships can be good or bad depending upon what
we do with the schema trigger. We have the opportunity to face them head
on and dissolve its power; or instead, let its distorted beliefs continue
to dictate how we react.
For example, say both partners are prone to the emotional deprivation pattern. If one misinterprets something the other does as a thoughtless gesture, her angry retribution may trigger the same deprivation schema in her partner, who then feels hurt or angry. While one sulks, the other demands – both sharing a blind spot where they can not see any other way to react or to interpret what is happening.
Alchemy shows that mindfulness is especially important for willing
partners who can work together to identify and dismantle the schemas that
can cloud a relationship. Mindfulness provides a structured method for
calming down and empathizing with the feelings of the other person.
"Once you know the thoughts and feelings that typify another person’s schemas, you can use empathic understanding to guide how you act with them," says Bennett-Goleman. Following this notion, we can avoid acting in ways that trigger a schema.
helpful exercise for an empathic connection is to mirror the partner’s
point of view. Before we assume that we heard something correctly, we
might repeat what was said in our own words in order to show our partner
that we care about what was said.
As we become aware of the schema needs that drive our relationships, we begin to recognize the signs that a familiar schema has been activated once again, and we can use those signs to devise an antidote. For example, if your partner feels insecure and unlovable, you can be especially affectionate; if your partner feels that her needs are not being noticed, you can be particularly attentive.
the close of schema work, we may achieve a certain level of individuation.
This is a popular psychological term that defines when one has achieved
autonomy and maturity by breaking the grip of schemas created in youth.
the work of emotional alchemy focuses on things as they appear relative
to personal issues, spiritual alchemy moves towards a larger dimension
of seeing that goes beyond our everyday understanding of things.
Bennett-Goleman explains that all of the various dimensions require the same steps for schema work, but as we move to the spiritual level, our inner work becomes subtler.
"At the relative level, our lives are caught in the tides and eddies of a hundred competing thoughts and emotions, all seeming to define the truth of the moment for us. But behind it all lies our actual nature: a mind free of obscuring thoughts and troubling emotions – a possibility for each one of us."
we are caught up within the heated cauldron of a schema brought upon by
cumulative emotional habits we have an opportunity to transcend our worries
toward loftier purposes. Alchemy is about transformation, both spiritual
the fork of the road, where the path leads to further entanglement and
confusion or the other way towards a refinement of awareness and compassionate
wisdom, we have an opportunity to choose whether our minds continue to
run along the usual ruts of habit or explore alternatives to steer clear
the end, emotional alchemy boils down to wisdom and compassion. When we
melt old habits that plague us with tormenting schemas and engage in the
greater sense of interconnectedness through wise compassion, Emotional
Alchemy promises a new found, unfettered freedom for our souls. The
choice is ours in every moment.
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