Insufficient Self-Control/ Self-Discipline Schema

"I find it difficult to handle my emotions or manage frustration. So, when I get an impulse, I rather act on it. I also avoid discomfort as much as possible. If I must do something hard before I get a reward, I tend to avoid it altogether." 

Does this message resonate with you?


What is the Insufficient Self-Control & Self-Discipline Schema?

We all may occasionally feel that we lack self-discipline in achieving our goals or doing what is good for us. However, someone with the insufficient self-control and self-discipline schema is likely to experience such feelings fairly often.

An individual with this schema may also experience a pervasive difficulty to control their frustrations, behaviours or impulses. This can be linked to guilt and shame, but also a sense of laziness and incompetence. 

Individuals who have this schema typically struggle with two qualities: 

  • Self-Control – the ability to appropriately restrain one's emotions and impulses; and
  • Self-Discipline – the ability to tolerate boredom and frustration long enough to accomplish tasks.

The actual need behind this schema is establishing adequate distress tolerance, emotion regulation, and confidence in one's own capabilities.


Reactions from the Insufficient Self-Control & Self-Discipline Schema

There are three ways in which people often react when their Insufficient Self-Control and Self-Discipline Schema is activated:


This involves giving in to how one's schema would lead them to behave.

For instance, your life is filling up fast, as is your desk and agenda. You are the first one to quit routine chores. It is like you move from activity to activity but cannot do the things that need to be done. In the end, you do not even try to get things done.

✽ Avoidance

As the name suggests, avoidance involves avoiding or attempting to escape situations that might require the schema.

For example, you avoid making plans and introducing structure into your life. In this way, you avoid the potential failure and guilt that comes with not achieving your goals. However, you also prevent yourself from learning to prioritise tasks and experiencing a good feeling when you manage to do what you have planned.

✽  Overcompensation

Overcompensation involves doing the opposite of what your schema would cause you to feel or do.

For example, putting a lot of structure into your daily life to avoid chaotic feelings.


Causes of the Insufficient Self-Control & Self-Discipline Schema

Unlike other schemas, this schema does not have any core beliefs or thoughts that drive it. Instead, it is usually due to underdevelopment of the brain's "executive control" centre, the Pre-Frontal Cortex. This part of the brain is responsible for managing our emotions, self-discipline, following through on plans and self-control. It is the braking system of the brain. There are a few reasons why this part of the brain does not develop well.

Suppose we experienced emotional neglect or abuse as children within the first few years of life. In that case, the Pre-Frontal Cortex does not receive the emotional input it needs to develop to its optimal capacity. Additionally, if we experienced prolonged stress as a child, the Pre-Frontal Cortex functioning will be compromised. A third reason is that we were not taught self-discipline as a child. If we had no rules or boundaries, we do not develop the critical traits of patience, delaying gratification or tolerating discomfort.


Effects of the Insufficient Self-Control & Self-Discipline Schema

One of the major impacts is that we find it difficult to finish anything. We might start hundreds of projects with minimal accomplishment. The need to feel accomplished is an essential emotional need, and when we do not meet it, we end up with feelings of frustration, shame, and inadequacy.

We also live at the mercy of our emotions. As a result, we can find ourselves changing our minds a lot and not seeing or sticking to a path throughout life. As we do not have an internal braking system that tells us when enough is enough, we are also prone to addiction with this schema.

Over time, with this schema, you can start to feel like you are being buffeted around by life, not really going in any kind of meaningful direction. You can begin to feel like you are a failure and with these thoughts come feelings of inadequacy, shame and depression.


Treatment for the Insufficient Self-Control & Self-Discipline Schema

Schema Therapy

Compared to other forms of therapy, Schema Therapy tends to probe more deeply into early life experiences. In addition, it utilises experimental, cognitive, behavioural and interpersonal (object relations) techniques, which promotes higher levels of emotions in sessions and is somewhat longer-term. 

In Schema Therapy, individuals learn to understand why putting structure in their lives can be so difficult. Therapists can help these individuals be open about their difficulties with adding structure, and help them relearn methods of organization and impulse control that may differ from what they were taught as a child.