The Failure Schema and its Effects

The failure schema is a mental structure that negatively affects your performance in everyday life. In addition, if you've had it for a long time, it can become so deeply ingrained in your life that you might not even notice it.
The Failure Schema and its Effects

Last update: 19 May, 2021

Schemas are mental structures that influence your emotions, thoughts, and behaviors. They’re patterns of behavior, conditioned by your experiences, morals, and learning that you develop, modify, and use. Schemas start to be configured in childhood and last a lifetime. Furthermore, even though they often contain common traits, everyone has their own individual schema. One such example is the failure schema.

The failure schema is one of the most typical types of schema. It often has its origins in feelings of failure in childhood, depending on how they were managed.

Although failure schemas vary greatly, their origins are usually found in a repeating type of pattern. They’re generally formed due to extremely critical parents. The kind of parents who tend to compare their child to other siblings. Furthermore, they share very little quality time with their child. In fact, it seems that they’re really only there to criticize or punish. This schema is also found in perfectionists who’ve had that attitude reinforced throughout their life.

The failure schema is a mental concept that makes you carry on through your life telling yourself that you’re a failure. In fact, you’re so convinced of this on an unconscious level that you behave in such a way that makes it come true. In effect, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Obviously, this means you’re not happy. However, you also don’t know how to get out of the vicious cycle you’re in. For this reason, therapy aims to teach you how to modify your failure schema.

A depressed girl.

Signs of a failure schema

Certain signs are evident in a failure schema. Firstly, as we mentioned above, it’s quite common in people who had parents who were very critical. Or perhaps parents who took little notice of them.

Here are some more signs that you may have a failure schema:

  • You don’t take the necessary steps to develop steady and reliable skills in your profession.
  • You’ve chosen a lesser profession than your qualifications or potential merit.
  • You avoid promotion or progress in your work and academic life.
  • When you get a job, you end up being fired for procrastination, unpunctuality, or sloppiness.
  • You don’t commit yourself to one profession and constantly change from one job to another.
  • You select a very hard or difficult profession but don’t know when you’ll get a chance to practice it. For example, acting or playing football.
  • You’re afraid to make decisions or take the initiative at work.
  • You choose successful partners.
  • You try to compensate for your lack of performance or work skills by focusing on other issues. For example, your physique or parenthood.

Living with the failure schema

If you feel like you identify with the above, chances are you’re bogged down by a failure schema.

This schema will have been continually imposing itself on you throughout your life. To this day, it’ll continue to obstruct you. Furthermore, you probably feel sad or disappointed with yourself because you don’t feel capable of using the skills you have.

You need to realize where this schema has come from and understand why it’s still affecting you. Then, stop beating yourself up. Because you’re not to blame for what’s happened to you or what you learned when you were little.

It’s normal for a failure schema to impose measures on you that, in effect, justify its existence. Because this is what your brain learned in the past. For this reason, you go along with it because it’s like taking a nostalgic trip back to your childhood home.

A man gazing out of the window.

What can you do to overcome it?

Overcoming a schema isn’t easy. This is partly because it involves changing your habits on two different levels – mental and behavioral.

However, if you go to schema therapy, you’ll be able to make these changes in a structured way. Some of the therapeutic goals proposed in this kind of therapy are:

  • Recognize what activates your schema. This is essential. Usually, these situations concern academic, work, or performance issues. You can keep a record so you know when it activates and tell the therapist. Once you’re aware of the events that activate your failure schema, try not to let it take over and influence you. For example, you could say to yourself “I can feel my failure schema kicking in but I’m not going to pay any attention to it”.
  • Make decisions that involve change. The failure schema makes your head spin. It forces you to make negative decisions that end in defeat. You need to recognize this and not allow it to trap you. Force yourself to make a decision every day. Whether it’s what to buy in the grocery store or how to decorate your house. The key is to get used to making decisions. Then, once you gain skills in this area in everyday environments, you can generalize it to other areas.
  • Write a reminder note. This is to prompt you not to return to the failure schema.
  • Choose activities that motivate you. In fact, try to include goals that satisfy you along the way to reaching them, not just when you actually achieve them.
  • Make a list of your skills, abilities, and successes. When you feel a bit down, you can remind yourself that your life hasn’t only been full of bad luck, frustration, and failure.

Moving on

Your brain needs to kick the habit of its usual behavior, as it’s negative. It’ll be difficult at the beginning because the schema is perfectly integrated into your life.

Nevertheless, with practice and perseverance, you’ll manage to blur your failure schema. In fact, you’ll eventually replace it with another schema. Only this one will speed along your personal growth instead of putting the brakes on it.

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  • Young, J. (2013). Terapia de esquemas. Guía práctica. Descree de Brouwer.