Hmmm, I often do things for other people but not because I empathize with them. I do things because I’m afraid I’ll lose their approval and therefore my connection to them. If I’m honest it’s kind of selfishly motivated.
As previously noted in Subjugation, it is important to distinguish self-sacrifice form subjugation. When people have the Subjugation schema, they surrender their own needs out of fear of external consequences. They are afraid that other people are going to retaliate or reject them. With the Self-Sacrifice schema, people surrender their own needs out of an inner sense or standard. Subjugated people experience themselves as being under the control of other people; self-sacrificing patients experience themselves as making voluntary choices.
The origins of these two schemas are different as well. Although the two overlap, they are almost opposite in their origins. The origin of Subjugation is usually a domineering and controlling parent; with the Self-Sacrifice, the parent is typically weak, needy, a childlike, helpless, ill, or depressed. Thus, the former develops from interaction with a parent who is too strong, and the latter with a parent who is too weak or ill.
My father = too strong. My mother = too weak. I have always had a need to impress, please, and rebel against my father. My mother just makes me angry.
People with the Self-Sacrifice schema typically exhibit behaviors such as listening to others rather than talking about themselves; taking care of other people, yet having difficulty doing things for themselves; focusing attention on other people, yet feeling uncomfortable when attention is focus on them, and being indirect when they want something, rather than asking directly.
There can also be secondary gain with this schema. The schema has positive aspects and is only pathological when brought to an unhealthy extreme. Patients might feel a sense of pride in seeing themselves as caretakers. They might feel that they are good for behaving altruistically, that they are behaving in a morally virtuous way. (In contrast, sometimes the schema has a “never enough” quality, so that no matter how much self-sacrifices do, they still feel guilty that it is not enough.) Another potential source of secondary gain is that the schema might draw other people to them. Many people enjoy the empathy and help of the self-sacrifice. People with this schema usually have many friendships, although their own needs often are not being met in these relationships.
In terms of over compensatory behaviors, after self-sacrificing for a long time, some patients suddenly flip into excessive anger. They become enraged and cut off giving to the other person completely. When self-sacrificers feel unappreciated, they sometimes retaliate by conveying to the other person: “I’m not going to give you anything ever again.”
There we go. Yeah, I do this. It doesn’t usually last long. More often than not I get paranoid that if I withhold myself for too long I’ll be abandoned and no longer needed so slip right back into the mode of doing things for other people. Only this time there’s an added layer of resentment underneath.
Goals of Treatment
Which makes it important to help these people recognize that they have needs that are not being met, even though they are not aware of them; and that they have as much right to get their needs met as anyone else.
It’s also important to decrease the sense of over responsibility. Often these people exaggerate the fragility and helplessness of other people. If the person were to give less, the other person would usually still be fine. In most cases the other person is not going to fall apart or experience unbearable pain if the patient gives less.
Remedying the associated emotional deprivation is also important. To do this the person must learn to attend to their own needs, let other people meet their needs, ask for what they want more directly, and be more vulnerable instead of appearing strong most of the time.
Strategies Emphasized in Treatment
Awareness of other schemas that underlie Self-Sacrifice is important; Emotional deprivation for instance. Defectiveness is also a common linked schema: These people “Give more” because they feel “worth less” (Ugh, a world of yes). Abandonment can be a linked schema: People self-sacrifice in order to prevent the other person from abandoning them. Dependence can be a linked schema: Patients self-sacrifice so that the parent figure will stay connected to them and keep taking care of them. Approval-Seeking can be a linked schema; People take care of others to get approval or recognition.
Emotional Deprivation: Check
It’s important for people with this schema to become aware of their emotional deprivation. Expressing sadness and anger about their unmet emotional needs is key. Behaviorally it’s necessary to learn to ask to have their needs met more directly, and to come across as vulnerable instead of strong. (I don’t like this idea at all). They need to learn to select partners who are strong and giving rather than weak and needy. In addition, learning to set limits on how much they give to others is important.
In a sense, this schema is the opposite of the Entitlement schema. The entitlement schema involves self-centeredness: the Self-Sacrifice schema involves other-centeredness. These two schemas “fit” together well in relationships: Patients who have one of these schemas often end up with a partner who has the other. Another common combination is one partner with a Self-Sacrifice schema, and the other with Dependent Entitlement. The self-sacrificer does everything or the entitled partner.
HOLY CRAP! This is Friend and his wife. I have never met a woman that was so lazy, selfish and self-entitled and utterly incapable of doing anything for herself. He does everything for her so she doesn’t have to budge from the couch. That explains so much.
Special Problems with This Schema
One problem is that there is often a high cultural and religious value placed on self-sacrifice. Furthermore, self-sacrifice is not a dysfunctional schema within normal limits (Parents should take care of their children, loving partners and friends do things for one another). Rather, it is healthy to be self-sacrificing to a certain degree. It becomes dysfunctional when it is excessive. For a person’s self-sacrifice to be a maladaptive schema, the self-sacrifice has to be causing problems for the person. It has to be creating symptoms or creating unhappiness in relationships. There has to be some way it is manifesting itself as a difficult: Anger building up, the patient is experiencing psychosomatic complaints, feeling emotionally deprived, or otherwise suffering emotionally.
Wow, this was really really long today. Sorry! Hope you managed to get through it all. I guess I had a little bit of pent up feelings towards this schema.