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Bloom Vol 29: Schemas 

May is mental health awareness month, a time to reflect on our own well-being. This month musician and mental health advocate Alex Wagner explores the ways in which our past impacts our present mental state.

It has been some time since we’ve visited the world of flowers here at SPIN IMPACT. For those who did not join us last year, Bloom is a column that helps us make space for our feelings and well-being, connecting the dots between lived experience, education, and music to define a world where we can explore ourselves. 

May is mental health awareness month, a time to reflect on our own well-being. What we sometimes overlook, is how much our past impacts our present mental state. 

Schemas are deeply ingrained emotional patterns that shape our beliefs, attitudes, and behavior. These schemas often form in childhood and can be triggered by events or situations later in life, leading to emotional distress or dysfunctional behavior. 

Triggers and events in the present can bring us back to core struggles that exist like stone etchings deeply ingrained in our psyche. 

In her book “Emotional Alchemy,” Tara Bennett-Goleman dives deep into what schemas are, how they influence us, and how we can heal from them. 

Here are the five “maladaptive” schemas that she covers: 

Abandonment: Stemming from loss, be it the true loss of a parent, or maybe a parent who was constantly working and wasn’t available, to moving multiple times and losing a sense of home, this schema leads to the fear that people will leave us all alone. We are intrinsically social beings – the fear of isolation is valid and downright disheartening and devastating. How do we heal from this? Making space for us to realize our value as individuals, that when solitary we can be content, that we can bring light to ourselves. We don’t have to cling to unhealthy relationships or have a misguided need to always be surrounded by others. 

Deprivation: Being ignored as a child conjures up this schema, and leads to the fear that our needs will never be met. This could stir up continual feelings of discontent, and a feeling like we’ll never be understood or properly cared for. How do we heal from this? Awareness, which we will discuss later, is truly our best friend here. Seeing how we are interacting in relationships with people who genuinely do care for us, and giving them the chance to understand us in knowing that there is the potential to be understood and cared for. Being aware of how we read others’ actions. 

Subjugation: This often stems from parents who were overly domineering. This can lead someone, especially growing up, to feel as though their needs, desires, and feelings are invisible. What can help heal from this schema? Addressing the relationship of control in our lives. Understanding that everyday commitments are not attempts to repress us, say in dating – things are opportunities to bring us closer to connections that will support us, value us, and not dominate us. 

Mistrust: The simple feeling that people cannot be trusted. This schema tends to develop from childhoods where parents often kept secrets and lied. In being aware of this schema as an adult, we can do our best to objectively look at those in our lives who are authentic, vulnerable, and real with us, and who are honest. Progress here can look like leaving toxic workplaces, and relationships, and gaining the courage to exist in honest situations and environments. 

Unlovability: “I’m not loveable”. Humans long to be loved. This can come from upbringings where one was constantly left to feel inadequate, never good enough. If this schema is present, we can make space for us to challenge these thoughts and objectively look at the reality of what we are capable of today, and the potential to be loved and valued. 

Awareness is a riveting force: to recognize when something from the past is being triggered, and simply holding space for it – merely allowing yourself to feel without judgment or attempts to find an immediate solution. 

Calling for the breath, for the pause button, can allow us to respond to this emotional information we are receiving from the past and present simultaneously to step forward into a state of calm. 

What is one vehicle for creating this awareness and gap? 

Music. Dedicating time to listen to a song can first create a safe space for us to feel the grief of traumatic events, and then begin to call awareness objectively to how past events are impacting us.

To navigate the emotions and feelings of the abandonment schemas in my life, I’ve turned to the song “Happy Home” from Garbage.

It lets me feel anguish, it permits me to feel that I could hardly breathe when I was at home because no one was showing me how to calm down amidst chaos during some critical times of self-development growing up. 

Shirley Manson’s voice in the first verse alone carries a sort of fragility as she sings “In my happy home, I barely breathe”, but also resolve and determination, that I could relate to on both ends. I could feel her pain, her past trauma, her bravery, and her courage. To me, that first line carried so much weight. The idea was that so many people came from “healthy” upbringings, but that the reality was far different. It helped me acknowledge my childhood. 

Taking off my headphones, I could then objectively look at how events were impacting me without judgment, and then move on to create a feeling of security for myself instead of acting from a distorted reality colored by the abandonment schema.

Melodies and mindfulness – a wonderful pair. 

What songs relate to the schemas that exist within your life? 

I encourage you to make a playlist of songs that can help you process your own life’s journey and facilitate time for you to safely explore schemas without them overtaking you. 

These schemas don’t have to be mysterious leaders of our lives. We can identify them, become aware of them, and make steps forward to heal and gain control. 

We have the capacity to find peace of mind, today. 


Bennett-Goleman, T. (2001). Emotional Alchemy: Transforming Confusion into Clarity. Harmony Books
Garbage, (2005), Album: Bleed Like Me, Song: Happy Home


About the author

Photo Credit: Sumit Dhungel

A dance music producer, singer, and songwriter, Alex Wagner (known by his music project ASW), was called an emerging artist to watch by DJ Mag in September of 2021 for his combination of music and advocacy. Currently releasing under Seattle’s Uniting Souls Music, he has also had multiple releases on Brooklyn Fire Records, Popgang Records, and Atlantic Records remixing artists such as Galantis and Icona Pop under the artist name Ari.

With experience as a crisis counselor for Crisis Text Line and certified peer counselor with the state of Washington, he has organized multiple mental health and emotional intelligence awareness events leveraging the power of music and the arts to amplify empathy and wellbeing. He co-founded a nonprofit called Grooving for Good in February of 2023, and currently resides in Seattle, Washington. You can follow him on Instagram at @asinglewave.