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What does a mentally healthy adult look like (and what are the alternatives?)

From a schema perspective, being a healthy adult mentally involves having a well-integrated self-schema that promotes balanced and adaptive responses to different life situations. A schema, in psychology, refers to a pattern of thought or behavior that organises categories of information and the relationships among them. Our schemas help us understand the world and our place in it.

A healthy adult schema would ideally be characterised by:

  1. Flexibility: An ability to adapt and adjust schema in response to new experiences or information.
  2. Complexity: An understanding that life situations and individuals (including oneself) cannot be reduced to simple categories, but exist with all their contradictions and ambiguity.
  3. Autonomy: A sense of independent functioning, and an ability to navigate the world without excessive reliance on others.
  4. Reality orientation: A capacity to base one’s thoughts, feelings and behaviors on reality, rather than on desires or fears.
  5. Self-acceptance: Accepting oneself with all the flaws and imperfections, and not being too harsh on oneself.
  6. Empathy: An ability to understand and share the feelings of others.
  7. Resilience: An ability to bounce back from adversities and use them as opportunities for growth.

Being Maladaptive as an Alternative

The alternative states to being a mentally healthy adult typically involve maladaptive schemas that have been developed in response to early life experiences. These can lead to patterns of thinking, feeling, and behaving that are dysfunctional and may cause distress. For instance, an individual might develop a schema of being unlovable based on early rejections. This schema can lead to patterns of pushing others away, fearing closeness, and perceiving rejection even when it’s not present. Another example might be a schema of vulnerability, where an individual constantly fears disaster, leading to excessive worrying and anxiety.

Common maladaptive schemas

These can be grouped into domains such as disconnection/rejection (e.g., abandonment, mistrust/abuse), impaired autonomy (e.g., dependence/incompetence, vulnerability to harm or illness), impaired limits (e.g., entitlement/grandiosity, insufficient self-control/self-discipline), other-directedness (e.g., subjugation, self-sacrifice), and overvigilance/inhibition (e.g., negativity/pessimism, emotional inhibition).

Therapeutic intervention

Schema Therapy aim to help individuals identify their maladaptive schemas and develop healthier ways of thinking, feeling, and behaving.

Schema Therapy, developed by Dr. Jeffrey Young, integrates elements from cognitive, behavioral, and psychodynamic therapies along with techniques from attachment and Gestalt therapy to treat individuals with long term mental health problems and personality disorders. It is particularly effective in treating people who haven’t responded to traditional cognitive-behavioral interventions.

How Schema Therapy Works

The process of Schema Therapy involves identifying and understanding one’s schemas, exploring the life events that might have led to their formation, and then working to “heal” or “re-parent” the schemas. This might involve a range of techniques including cognitive restructuring, emotion-focused techniques, and behavioral pattern-breaking exercises.

Schema Modes

One unique aspect of Schema Therapy is the concept of “schema modes.” These are the moment-to-moment emotional states and coping responses that we all experience. Often, our modes are triggered by life situations that we are oversensitive to (our “emotional buttons”). Each of us has one or several modes that we tend to get stuck in, particularly when we’re upset. Understanding and addressing these modes can be an important part of the therapeutic process.

Healthy adult mode

This is the state we aspire to be in most of the time. It’s characterised by being able to comfort the Vulnerable Child mode and set limits for the Maladaptive Coping modes. It means the person can think clearly and logically, express needs assertively, and maintain a balanced view of self, others, and experiences.

The goal of Schema Therapy is not to eliminate all schemas; this would be impossible and also undesirable, as schemas are essential cognitive structures. Instead, the aim is to weaken the maladaptive schemas and schema modes, and strengthen the Healthy Adult mode.

Self Drive Psychology Summary

In essence, becoming a mentally healthy adult involves recognising the impact of our early life experiences, understanding the ways in which these experiences have shaped our mental schemas, and consciously working towards developing more balanced and healthier schemas. It’s a journey that requires introspection, self-compassion, and, often, professional guidance, but it’s undoubtedly a journey worth embarking on for our mental well-being.

Reading this article and interacting with the free Coach provided, can help shift old thinking patterns and help you embrace new, positive outcomes.

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