Before we can really dive into this topic, it’s best to clarify what a schema is. Schemas are automatically created cognitive frameworks that help guide the way we think about and understand the world around us (Duff, Peace, Think Social Psychology) In simpler terms, schemas are the preconceived ideas we have about how a certain situation or action should go. Picture going to a water park, first you’re going to pay to get in, next you make your way to the change room where you put on your swim suit, then you proceed out to the pool for a couple hours of swimming and enjoying the water attractions. Regardless if you’ve been to this specific water park or not, you’re able to go through the process of getting to the pool with ease, because you already have a schema in your mind. So in this sense, schemas are good, and there’s no denying that schemas can be good in many ways, but can they also effect us negatively? Unfortunately yes.
While cognitive organization can come in handy for a lot of situations, it can also affect one is quite the pessimistic way. Say for instance that you have a negative experience at the dentist the last time you went. Regardless of how many times you’ve been without an incident, this unfavourable memory will stick inside your brain, and alter the pre-existing schema you had before. Now, every time you have to go to the dentist, you will recall on the negative experience and be hesitant, or in some cases, fearful to go. In this sense, schemas can lead to the development of certain fears. “Negative events may edge out positive ones in our memories, according to research by Kensinger and others” (Andrea Thompson, 2007) Furthermore, individuals can also develop a depressive self schema, meaning that one experiences “a well-organized and interconnected negative internal representation of self” (David J.A. Dozois, Lena C. Quilty) This schema can develop from failures throughout life, poor relationships, bullying and overall low self esteem. Unfortunately, the depressive self schema plays a large part in many individuals struggle with depression.
It is also very possible to develop certain schemas like the subjugation schema, which can quickly demonstrate control over one’s life. With the subjugation schema, individuals will allow others to dominate or take advantage of them, stemming from the fear that the people in their lives will desert them, or in some cases, punish them. This schema is causes from previous toxic relationships and experiences with people. An individual remembers the negative consequences they suffered at the hands of someone else during a confrontation, and fears repeating them. This can also develop from emotional abuse, as a large part of this schema revolves around “the perception that one’s own needs and feelings are not valid and important to other people” (Young, 2002)
Those these are only a few examples, it becomes clear that schemas are not always helpful, and can indeed have negative impacts. Though it is true that these schemas have developed from terrible past experiences, relationships or situations, it is the schemas or memories themselves that can keep people trapped in their harmful ways and thoughts. Situations become memories, and those memories form your schemas, leading to how you perceive others and the world around you. With that in mind, we should all be careful what kind of schemas we are leaving people with when it comes to ourselves and the situations that we share.
David J. A. Dozois, PhD, Lena C. Quilty http://www.apa.org/science/about/psa/2013/06/depressive-self-schema.aspx
Andrea Thompson, 2007 http://www.livescience.com/1827-bad-memories-stick-good.html
Kimberly Duff, Kristine 2013 Peace, Think social Psychology: Canadian Edition