The 18 Schemas of Jeffrey Young’s Schema Therapy contextualized with Attachment Theory

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  • Post published:January 26, 2022
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Schemas are emotional beliefs/memories/predictions about self and world.

In this article, we offer our definitions to the 18 early maladaptive schemas and our hypotheses on how they relate to the attachment styles.

Most schemas will be categorized in terms of the dismissing/preoccupied dichotomy.

Note that disorganized attachment implies both dismissing and preoccupied components. For that reason, all of the schemas can be found in disorganized attachment. However, the Mistrust/Abuse schema stands out as a defining schema of the disorganized attachment style.

Insecure Attachment

  • Emotional Deprivation: Deprivation of nurturance, attunement and protection.
    • Common to all three insecure attachment styles. More pronounced in dismissing relative to preoccupied.
  • Abandonment/Instability: The expectation that others will not be there when you need them most.
    • Core schema of preoccupied attachment.
  • Mistrust/Abuse: The expectation that you will be exploited, manipulated, and abused.
    • Core schema of disorganized attachment.
  • Social Isolation/Alienation: The sense of not fitting in, not having a peer group.
    • Can be found in all three insecure attachment styles. More pronounced in dismissing relative to preoccupied.
  • Defectiveness/Shame: The belief that there is something fundamentally wrong about you (internalized and expected rejection).
    • Core schema of dismissing attachment.

Underdeveloped Exploration and Sense of Self

  • Failure: The expectation to fail at one’s endeavors and goals, especially in the domains of work and school achievement. May also apply to relationships.
    • Preoccupied schema.
  • Dependence/Incompetence: The belief that you are helpless and incapable of dealing with the demands of daily life by yourself.
    • Preoccupied schema.
  • Vulnerability to Harm and Illness: The expectation of incapacitating harm or illness.
    • Preoccupied schema.
  • Enmeshment/Undeveloped Self: Inability to individuate from attachment figures and set appropriate boundaries. A sense of depersonalization and an undefined sense of self may occur in more extreme cases.
    • Preoccupied schema. This can be especially prominent in disorganized attachment.


  • Subjugation: Self-suppression and deference to others’ wishes due to a fear of reprisal, anger, or abandonment. Can be subjugation of needs or subjugation of emotions.
    • Preoccupied schema. In disorganized attachment, this is an adaptive response to abuse.
  • Self-Sacrifice: Excessive attention on meeting the needs of others at the cost of one’s own.
    • Preoccupied schema.
  • Approval-Seeking/Recognition-Seeking: The sense that one’s self-esteem depends on the approval of others and cannot be developed independently.
    • Has slightly different manifestations in the dismissing and preoccupied styles.
    • In preoccupied attachment, it is a bid to have abandonment fears allayed.
    • In dismissing attachment, it is an overcompensatory solution to the schema of defectiveness.

Impaired limits and boundaries

  • Entitlement/Grandiosity: A belief in one’s own superiority and entitlement to more resources or deferential treatment.
    • Dismissing schema.
  • Insufficient Self-Control/Self-Discipline: Pervasive difficulties with emotional regulation, delayed gratification, and executive function.
    • Common to all three attachment styles.
    • Due to emotional repression and hyperfocus on status, career, and exploration, this schema is less visible in the dismissive. 

Hypervigilance and Inhibition

  • Emotional Inhibition: Repression and inhibition of emotion in order to avoid rejection.
    • Dismissing schema.
  • Unrelenting Standards/Hypercriticalness: High internal demands for competence, achievement, rule-following, ethics, and efficiency.
    • Dismissing schema, but not exclusively.
  • Punitiveness: The belief that others or oneself should be punished for their mistakes. Harshness, lack of clemency, lack of forgiveness.
    • Dismissing schema. Becomes more common as attachment becomes more insecure.
  • Negativity/Pessimism: A pervasive expectation of negative outcomes in life.
    • Preoccupied schema. Becomes more common as attachment becomes more insecure.



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