Maladaptive Beliefs & The Self Schema


Children are our treasures. The innocence that radiates from their smiles, the awe we feel as they encounter new things.

That innocence is stolen sometimes though, as sad as this is. When this innocence is stolen it leaves behind a residue. A torment for the child to deal with. This torment can often last long into adulthood. This torment that they suffer with is not their doing, not wanted by them. It was inflicted upon them, left for them to deal with. It is not their doing, it is not their fault. IT IS NOT! 

I will expound on this shortly.

To hopefully avoid triggering as much as possible for my readers, I am going to omit specific details in some areas. I really do not want to upset anyone more.


Trauma in a child. One that can have a lasting impression, not in a good way. It shapes their growing minds this trauma.

There are a few types of trauma. It can vary from child to child also, the perceived strength of trauma, the intensity of effect. Loss of a parent, or sibling can do this. 

Abandonment. A complex issue that I am not going to dwell on right now.

It can also be abuse, there are many forms of abuse. Psychical or Mental and sexual.  

It can be all of these things as well.

Trauma in children often translates to a distorted thinking for the child, the events are often replayed and relived. On going trauma, repeated abuse amplifies the effects, the child’s outlook, their beliefs about themselves. Their core beliefs. Their self schema.

The effects of trauma can be in the form of flashbacks, or night terrors that cause the child and later adult, to want to avoid sleep, the sleep can be  very torturous. These thoughts become intrusive day and night. The mind will do many things to help the child cope. To conceal the horrible events. The help it provides though, often translates into difficulties for the adult. Depression, anxiety, PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder), other disorders such as Bipolar, Borderline, Dissociative identity, Obsessive Compulsive, to name a few are often formed from abuse. 

This is not the end of it however, the lingering psychological  difficulties. We will also find higher rates of suicide, interpersonal difficulties, sexual difficulties. Lingering and powerful guilt, feelings of self disgust, self blame,  low self esteem, mistrust. These are attributes of PTSD, these maladaptive beliefs. These are negative beliefs related to the childs and adults self schema. I have spoken of Self Schema before. 

Lets pause for a moment however. To see why the term maladaptive enters into this. 

When a child experiences abuse, I won’t specify the type as any abuse is traumatic, behaviors change, beliefs change, the child’s self schema changes as they try to cope and understand what is happening to them. This new belief is maladaptive, anti social, self loathing. Guilt laden.

Remember a child is less able to make sense when a traumatic event occurs for them, abuse is often repetitive. It becomes much harder to sort out in a logical fashion. Not that there is one. Their core beliefs change, the way they think and react changes.

The child is conditioned to to hide this “secret”. Relationship concepts become distorted.  They learn to zone out, to hide, social blooming is stunted. A child’s mind is in the formative  years, the learning years, the growing years, if the child looses the ambition to explore and develop, looses their sense of curiosity they withdraw into themselves.  Abuse will do this. Cause the child to withdraw.

 Children begin to believe they are responsible for what is happening to them. That they deserve this, they are unworthy. This becomes very complex. A child is not an adult and can not be expected to make adult decisions. Sexual stimulation.. sometimes is stimulation. It was not asked for, it was not welcome, but they have growing bodies, they may feel intense guilt if their bodies betray them and respond to stimulation. This too is a normal response of the body, it is not something that can be shut off. Not for a child that is still growing. When their body betrays them, they feel guilt, intense guilt. More confusion. 

Their schema begins to change, self esteem diminishes as they feel more guilt, hopelessness. Intense distrust forms. Trust becomes difficult. A child will avoid thinking of abuse, or talking of it. As we all try to push aside an unpleasant memory.  This need to remove themselves from the event can cause them to dissociate to cope.  To zone out or hide in their minds.

 There are common threads to children that were treated with abuse. Anger control becomes difficult, aggression, learned responses often from their treatment as children.

 So what is all this rambling and information? 

Lets get back to the title. Maladaptive beliefs. What is this?

When someones self esteem is low, they feel they are not worthy. Good things do not happen to them. They do not deserve friends or love. It is not logical thinking, not based on fact but emotional training from their experience. It is false thinking, it is not rational, hence the term irrational thinking. This is a common thread in PTSD related to abuse. It is a common thread related to Depression and often anxiety as well. In cases of child abuse, the child blames themselves often for what happened. This is why I stated earlier, a child can not make adult decisions. No is a small word, but one a child can not utter. They are NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR ANY ACTIONS, ANY ABUSE THAT WAS INFLICTED UPON THEM! THEY ARE NOT.

Therapy then addresses this. To change the way the, child, or now adult perceives things. How they react to things, their core beliefs, their self schema. I may do a follow up post on this. The therapies used to restore the self schema, to negate the maladaptive beliefs, their negative outlook, defensive behaviour and attitudes. Each maladaptive belief, thought, action is identified, thoughts like why me, it always happens to me, I deserve this, I am not worthy, it was my fault, I don’t deserve happiness. These thoughts are changed in therapy, slowly, each one, as they are incorrect. maladaptive.

Maladaptive beliefs are deep in the core, in the self schema, we are not aware of them. These beliefs formed as children, actions we had no control over, helped shape them. Knowing about this is a step to change them.  A direction or a goal in therapy. It is one of the first steps in treating anxiety and depression. Identifying our maladaptive beliefs. Working to change them. It doesn’t happen overnight, they are strongly ingrained. It is good to have a goal though, to know why our therapy is moving in a particular direction. 

Often there are other issues to work though, from the result of child abuse.

The mind is capable of very strong protection in situations where trauma of various sorts is too difficult to deal with, we often can dissociate from it. This is to say we can block it out. Often though we can not stop the mind from doing this. The mind may form new personalities to help contend with some of the traumatic events, to protect us.

Dissociation is a defense against trauma, more so with childhood trauma. This defense where the child will dissociate themselves from being cognisant  of a traumatic event or experience is common, this defense can linger into adulthood and possibly transition into a dissociative disorder. Not a schizophrenic disorder, this is different. Possibly a future post.

Dissociation is the minds way of protecting someone from memories that are difficult to bear. It may blur details or conceal the event entirely. This is common with violent accidents or crimes.

In the case of a child that is dealing with abuse, abuse that is more ongoing, they can escape in their minds by dissociating. The memories and associated feelings are compartmentalized, concealed. When this is repeated often, identities can form. Alters. This can grow with repeated abuse, to the point where the individual becomes a group, possibly of hundreds.  

Because of something they had no control over, no wish to be a part of. Regardless of what they think or believe. This trauma or abuse was not their design, not their fault, not their choice… not fair.

Now they have to deal with it. To contend with how their mind protected them and continues to do so. 



About sensuousamberville

I am a Practitioner, teacher and student. I think we should always be students, we should keep our minds open, to continue to learn. :-) Now a mother of two little ones.

5 responses »

  1. Thanks for this post. I’ll have us all read it when i can.

  2. Bipolar and BPD Support

    Reblogged this on Bipolar and BPD Support.


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