When you believe you’re unworthy: the defectiveness/ shame schema

Do you worry that you are bad or unworthy? Or that others won’t enjoy spending time with you?

Do you often find yourself prickling with shame? Do you notice thoughts like “I am worthless” or “I’m stupid” or “ there’s something really wrong with me”?

The defectiveness/ shame schema is a very common pattern. This schema is formed through childhood experiences. It can occur in children raised in abusive situations but also in seemingly good childhood where all material needs were met but where a child’s emotional needs were not. Or where they were negatively labelled as too sensitive, slow, stupid of other such things. Experiences at school such as learning difficulties or being no good at sport can also lead to the development of this schema.

When you have the defectiveness/ shame schema, your vulnerable part holds this pain and it can be triggered in situations as an adult. Most people with this schema have a punitive inner critic, so the shame and self-criticism you experience will be disproportionate for the situation.

For example, you drop a carton of milk at the shops and feel intense shame for days and your critic will label yourself a clumsy idiot. In reality, it is a minor and understandable accident that occurs in supermarkets everyday that can happy to anyone and is easy to clean up.

When you have this schema you will tend to use one of three coping modes

  1. You surround yourself with critical people who confirm your beliefs about self by putting you down
  2. You avoid showing thoughts and feelings, making sure others cannot get close enough to you to judge you 
  3. You overcompensate by becoming highly critical of others. This allows you to hold onto positive feelings about yourself and not come into contact with feelings of defectiveness.

The good news is, the defectiveness shame schema can be healed. Schema therapy can be helpful to help you banish your inner critic and build your Healthy Adult mode and learn to validate your core emotional needs. There is also an excellent chapter in the self-help book “Reinventing your life” by Jeff Young and Janet Klosko