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What are schema modes?

In addition to our schemas, schema therapy will also look at what are called our ‘schema modes’. These are moment to moment emotional states and coping responses that we find ourselves in, often in response to something that has triggered us or ‘pushed our buttons’. Whilst these modes have developed as a way to protect us, they often push us to engage in problematic behaviours and responses that either hurt us or keep our distress going.

We can move from one mode to another very rapidly and without conscious awareness. They are responses that our subconscious has fine-tuned us to engage in as a way of managing and protecting us from distress. We do not actively choose to engage in these modes.

Jeffrey Young identified these 10 main Coping Modes (that you can read more about here):

Innate Child Modes
1. Vulnerable Child
2. Angry Child
3. Impulsive/Undisciplined Child
4. Contented Child

Maladaptive Coping Modes
5. Compliant Surrenderer
6. Detached Protector
7. Overcompensator

Maladaptive Parent Modes
8. Punitive Parent
9. Demanding or Critical Parent

Healthy Adult Mode
10. Healthy Adult

Add with schemas, there are undoubtedly some of these modes that will be familiar to you. The key is whether there are a number of these modes operating in your life and the distress and detrimental impact they cause. Maybe they prevent you from seeking the help and closeness from others that you need and desire. Or your own modes might mean you seek closeness but from those who use this to meet their own needs.

Learning about our own individual map of modes is an important first step in understanding what they are, how they manifest for us, what their function is and why they developed. This is a deeply compassionate process – there will be clear and understandable reasons as to why your own modes have come to exist. But once we know what they are and can identify them when they present in our lives, we can work towards learning to minimise their impact and to work on developing our ‘healthy adult’ mode.

This isn’t something that you need to do alone and can take a lot of persistence. However, within the safety of a therapeutic relationship that offers ‘limited re-parenting’ (see post on ‘What is Schema Therapy?’) it is possible.