What are Schemas?

Schemas are the basic structures we use to make sense of our experiences. They provide a guide to understanding ourselves and the situation we are in. Mostly this is helpful since this we need to make certain basic assumptions in order to be able to function! However, when negative schemas develop during our childhood or adolescence, they can lead to recurring negative experiences as adults. Our schemas govern our reactions – whether we know it or not!


Perhaps the simplest way to describe schemas is as our ’emotional buttons’. When a situation presses one of our emotional buttons we can have a big reaction that might be out of proportion to the situation. The stronger our schema, the more likely it is that it will get pressed.

Many recurring emotional, psychological and even some physical health problems may relate to negative schemas. They can be pretty difficult to shift, because they seem to ring true to us and feel so familiar to us. Also, we often lack awareness of our schemas since they can be ‘buried’ under lots of different strategies we have developed to try to cope with them.These coping strategies are often part of the problem rather than the solution.