Hooray! Welcome to Character Therapy! I'm so excited to help you deepen your characters' development to write amazing arcs for them! Let's get started!
Schema Therapy is one of my favorite modalities of therapy to use! It was originally developed for use in patients with disorders categorized as characterological, which means the disorder was either deeply affecting the patient's character, or it was standing in for their character. Personality disorders are considered characterological.
I'm not here to teach you how to perform Schema Therapy on actual people! I've distilled it down into a form that is simplified for use with fictional characters. But understanding Schema Therapy's origins is important, I think. 😊
Anyway! Schema Therapy is based on many different psychological and sociological theories. One of these is a child developmental theory that I think is right on.
When children are pretty little--under the age of six or so--they're in a pretty special place of brain development. Essentially, their brain is sketching out the blueprints of what kind of things they're going to default to as normal. A child's guardian(s) (normally parents but may also be grandparents, foster parents, older siblings, etc) are dictating to the child's brain what those blueprints should look like, and they're using behavior to communicate this.
Five Core Emotional Needs
There are Five Core Emotional Needs that a child requires in order to grow into a stable adult:
▶︎ Secure attachments to others (safety, stability, nurturance, acceptance)
▶︎ Autonomy, competence, and a sense of identity
▶︎ Freedom to express valid needs and emotions
▶︎ Spontaneity and play
▶︎ Realistic limits and self-control
If a guardian dictates all of these needs to a child's growing brain, the brain will draw blueprints that describe some important things as "normal." It's normal to be able to rely on others. It's normal to be able to do things on your own. It's normal for other people to care about your emotions, and vice versa. And so on.
But if a parent dictates one of these needs improperly to the brain, it will get drawn into the blueprint... weird. For example, parents who are extremely emotionally restricted are failing to meet that third need, the freedom to express emotions. They're modeling to their child that it is not normal to express your own emotions, or to engage with the emotions of the people around you. The child's blueprints will have an improperly drawn emotional center, and that child will grow up with difficulty processing emotions. They'll view this emotional stunting as totally normal.
"It's normal and expected for your loved ones to not care about your emotions."
Five Schema Domains
Depending on which of those core emotional needs are not met, a person may be separated into one of Five Domains:
▶︎ Domain I: Disconnection and Rejection
▶︎ Domain II: Impaired Autonomy and Performance
▶︎ Domain III: Impaired Limits
▶︎ Domain IV: Other-Directedness
▶︎ Domain V: Overvigilance and Inhibition
These are discussed in more detail in the modules, so go get started with those!
P.S. This is a link to the book I really love to use for my Schema Therapy information and techniques. It's an academic text so it can get kind of wordy and uses psychological jargon, but if you find yourself really digging Schema Therapy, I totally recommend this book! (I'm not an affiliate or anything, it's just a really informative text!)