The Schema Modes as They Relate to Attachment Styles

Disclaimer: These are my personal opinions. In this, I am drawing from Jeffrey Young’s work on schema therapy, and attachment theory more generally.

I believe that the attachment styles can be viewed as clusters of schemas and modes; schemas  being beliefs about self and world, and the necessary behaviors (modes) that result from those beliefs. The modes represent the coherent behavioral manifestations of the schemas.

Insecure attachment is associated with impaired emotional self-regulation. The coping modes are those emotional regulation strategies that avoid “an even greater suffering”, as Bruce Ecker says.

The activation of maladaptive schema modes also implies a temporary collapse of mentalization abilities. There is a feeling of narrowness of view when a mode is activated.

Schema modes are emotional states and coping strategies that we all use. Below is an exploration of how the attachment styles exhibit or inhibit different modes.

 

schema-modes-attachment-styles
Credit: Shutterstock

 

Secure

No maladaptive modes are associated with secure attachment as such. Schemas and schema modes can still be present, but typically in less clinically significant levels compared to the insecure attachment styles.

A core feature of secure attachment is that vulnerable child modes do not linger and then morph into a maladaptive mode. Rather, the securely attached person seeks connection to meet their needs (connection-seeking child mode).  

The healthy adults mode is also well formed.  

  • Healthy Adult  capacity to fulfill needs, make plans, execute, and explore.  Has well developed meta-cognitive capacities. Intact mentalization/meta-cognitive capacities are the hallmark of the healthy adult mode.
  • Healthy Child Modes
    • Happy/Contented Child (when needs are met, the happy child mode arises)
    • Connection-Seeking Child (seeking connection while expecting welcoming and reciprocation is naturally assumed. Other people are experienced as safe due to high levels of epistemic trust. But since the internal working model of attachment is secure, this feeling of connection can be partially satisfied even when alone.)
    • Exploratory Child (due to the implicit belief that there is a safe base to return to, and that the exploration itself will be supported and delighted in, exploration is based on personal meaning, purpose, and desire not status-seeking)
    • Creative/Authentic Child

Dismissing

In this attachment style, child modes, needs, and emotions are repressed. Detached modes sustain this repression.

Overcompensation modes help emotionally regulate the sense of inherent shame and defectiveness (internalized rejection) in dismissing individuals.

  • Healthy Adult (typically limited to exploration and work related responsibility)
  • Vulnerable Child Modes (disowned and repressed)
    • Lonely Child
    • Abandoned Child
    • Abused Child (potential, but not expected)
    • Humiliated/Shamed Child
    • Dependent Child (highly repressed – this repression is a core feature of the dismissing strategy)
  • Angry/Unsocialized Child Modes
    • Angry Child
    • Enraged Child (punitive anger)
    • Impulsive Child
    • Undisciplined Child (less prevalent compared to the other insecure styles)
  • Healthy Child Modes (very underdeveloped since the repression of needs is core to the dismissing strategy)
    • Happy/Contented Child
    • Connection-Seeking Child (dismissing attachment implies a repressed attachment system)
    • Exploratory Child (at times present.  However exploration is more of an avoidance and overcompensation mechanism than a truly gleeful exploration)
    • Creative/Authentic Child
  • Maladaptive Coping Modes
    • Surrender Modes
      • Compliant Surrenderer (less prevalent compared to the other insecure styles)
      • Self-Pity Victim
      • Surrender to Damaged Child Modes
    • Detached/Avoidant Modes (for repressing attachment, very prevalent)
      • Detached Protector
      • Spaced Out Protector
      • Avoidant Protector
      • Detached Self-Soother
      • Angry Protector
      • Workaholic (in service of avoidance)
    • Overcompensation Modes
      • Attention and Approval Seeker
      • Preoccupied Fawning Mode
      • Self-Aggrandizer
      • Overcontrollers
      • Pollyanna Overcompensator
      • Workaholic (in service of overcompensation and status seeking)
      • Hyperactivated Explorer (in service of status)
    • Antisocial Modes (frequent feature of those with dismissing attachment style)
      • Bully and Attack
      • Conning and Manipulative
      • Predator
    • Maladaptive Parent Modes / Introjects / Internalized Parent Voices
      • Punitive Parent (identifying with the negative aspect of one’s parents is an indicator of dismissing attachment on the Adult Attachment Interview)
      • Demanding Parent
      • Guilt-Inducing Parent (less prevalent compared to the other insecure styles)
      • Overprotective Parent

Preoccupied

People with this attachment style more readily switch into vulnerable and angry child modes. Surrender modes and the overcompensation modes with an external, other-directed focus are the core strategies for emotional self-regulation.

The baseline level of anxiety is high, in part due to the strongly activated internalized parent voices.

  • Healthy Adult (less developed)
  • Vulnerable Child Modes (more apparent in preoccupied than in secure or dismissives)
    • Lonely Child
    • Abandoned Child (core feature of the preoccupied strategy)
    • Abused Child (potentially)
    • Humiliated/Shamed Child
    • Dependent Child (core feature of the preoccupied strategy)
  • Angry/Unsocialized Child Modes
    • Angry Child (powerless anger)
    • Enraged Child 
    • Impulsive Child
    • Undisciplined Child
  • Healthy Child Modes (high baseline level of anxiety)
    • Happy/Contented Child
    • Connection-Seeking Child (hyperactivated but in an anxious way)
    • Exploratory Child (preoccupied attachment implies a repressed exploratory system)
    • Creative/Authentic Child
  • Maladaptive Coping Modes
    • Surrender Modes (features strongly)
      • Compliant Surrenderer
      • Self-Pity Victim
      • Surrender to Damaged Child Mode
    • Detached/Avoidant Modes (avoidance of exploration. Not generally used with attachment directly)
      • Detached Protector
      • Spaced Out Protector
      • Avoidant Protector
      • Detached Self-Soother
      • Angry Protector (as a last resort to preserve boundaries)
      • Workaholic
    • Overcompensation Modes
      • Attention and Approval Seeker
      • Preoccupied Fawning Mode (hyperactive reflective function: overinvolvement in mental states of others at the expense of self-reflection. This mode also has an element of surrender as well)
      • Self-Aggrandizer
      • Overcontrollers (boundary-crossing, hyperactivated reflective function – “mind-reading”, managing others to avoid feelings of abandonment)
      • Pollyanna Overcompensator
      • Workaholic
      • Hyperactivated Explorer
    • Antisocial Modes
      • Bully and Attack
      • Conning and Manipulative
      • Predator
    • Maladaptive Parent Modes / Introjects / Internalized Parent Voices
      • Punitive Parent
      • Demanding Parent
      • Guilt-inducing Parent (core feature of the preoccupied style)
      • Overprotective Parent (frequent feature of the preoccupied style)

 

Disorganized

The tendency to switch between different modes rapidly is a salient feature of disorganized attachment. The modes also tend to be more extreme and noticeable, approaching true dissociative states in those with disorganized attachment.  

Modes typical of dismissing and preoccupied attachment styles can arise in an apparently contradictory way which is very confusing for those around the disorganized person.

The more insecure the attachment style, the worse the person’s emotional regulation abilities. As disorganized attachment is at the most insecure end of the spectrum, the ability to regulate one’s emotions is most heavily impaired.

  • Healthy Adult
  • Vulnerable Child Modes
    • Lonely Child
    • Abandoned Child
    • Abused Child (core feature of the disorganized strategy)
    • Humiliated/Shamed Child (more prevalent compared to the other insecure styles)
    • Dependent Child
  • Angry/Unsocialized Child Modes (in proportion with lack of emotional regulation)
    • Angry Child
    • Enraged Child
    • Impulsive Child
    • Undisciplined Child
  • Healthy Child Modes (more underdeveloped compared to the other insecure styles)
    • Happy/Contented Child
    • Connection-Seeking Child (disorganized attachment implies a dysfunctional attachment system)
    • Exploratory Child (disorganized attachment also implies a dysfunctional exploratory system)
    • Creative/Authentic Child
  • Maladaptive Coping Modes (all of them can be present and pronounced, depending on the individual’s history)
    • Surrender Modes
      • Compliant Surrenderer
      • Self-Pity Victim
      • Surrender to damaged child modes
    • Detached/Avoidant Modes
      • Detached Protector
      • Spaced out Protector
      • Avoidant Protector
      • Detached Self-Soother
      • Angry Protector
      • Workaholic
    • Overcompensation Modes
      • Attention and Approval Seeker
      • Preoccupied Fawning Mode
      • Self-Aggrandizer
      • Overcontrollers
      • Workaholic
      • Hyperactivated Explorer (but explorations don’t go as well as for dismissives due to poor emotional regulation skills)
    • Antisocial Modes
      • Bully and Attack
      • Conning and Manipulative
      • Predator
    • Maladaptive Parent Modes / Introjects / Internalized Parent Voices (all of them can be present and pronounced, depending on the individual’s history)
      • Punitive Parent
      • Demanding Parent
      • Guilt-inducing Parent
      • Overprotective Parent
    •  

References:

Edwards, D.  Schematherapysouthafrica.co.za

https://schematherapysouthafrica.co.za/downloads/A%20list%20of%20schema%20modes.pdf

Lobbestael, J., van Vreeswijk, M., & Arntz, A. (2007). Shedding light on schema modes: a clarification of the mode concept and its current research status. Netherlands Journal of Psychology, 63, 76-85.

Main, M., Goldwyn, R., & Hesse, E. Adult Attachment Scoring and Classification System: Manual in Draft Version 7.2, (2003)

Simpson, S. (2019). Assessment and Schema Mode Conceptualisation in Eating Disorders. In S. Simpson & E. Smith(Eds),Schematherapyforeatingdisorders:Theory,practiceandgroup-treatmentmanual. London: Routledge.

Young, J.E., et al. Schema Therapy: A Practitioner’s Guide, (2006) The Guilford Press

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