A schema is a cognitive framework or concept that organizes and interprets information. In response to early childhood adversity, schemas can become pervasive patterns of thinking, feeling and behavior that shape our lives long after we leave childhood behind. Someone growing up with an abusive or alcoholic parent, for example, develops a set of core beliefs and behaviors that shape their future relationships. These schemas interfere with new learning and are self maintaining, often so deeply rooted that it may feel as though our very survival depends on them. And likely it was true that at one time our survival did depend on being able to safely navigate dysfunctional waters often with equally dysfunctional responses. Problems occur when we still react as if were still living in that situation today, and continue to recreate familiar but painful circumstances.
Early childhood situations have strong impact on psychosocial development. Neglect, abandonment, physical or mental cruelty, drug or alcohol abuse, or serious illness can trigger emotional and behavioral responses that develop into full blown operating systems when activated. Healing begins when we recognize those patterns and take steps to disengage from the control they exert over us. Acknowledging out loud that once they were helpful and necessary but now no longer serve us is a good starting point. Since judgement is one of the most powerful conversations for no change, not judging yourself or feeling like a bad person for having these patterns is really important. Instead think about how resourceful you were even as a child to find a way to survive your challenging circumstances. And realize that if you want your life to be better you need to be able to look at and talk about those patterns without becoming defensive or shutting down in response to the feelings they evoke.
During times of crisis or transition, these patterns may become more noticeable. Having someone to talk to about the specifics of what you observe and strategies for change will facilitate progress. Keep an open mind and take a break when you find yourself falling into a judgement or blame loop. Letting go of old limiting beliefs and behaviors is a lot like cleaning out your closet and letting go of things that are no longer useful or no longer fit you to make room for new.