Do you dedicate most of your time to others? Do you find yourself spending more of your energy meeting their needs than your own? If you’ve answered yes to these questions, it’s likely that you might be a victim of the self-sacrifice schema.
For the prestigious psychologist Jeffrey Young, the founder of schema therapy, the origin of this problem lies in childhood. More specifically, it originates from learning the wrong ways of reacting to childhood events. In his model, he proposes a total of 18 types of schemas. In this article, we’re going to focus on his self-sacrifice schema.
An approach to the concept of early dysfunctional schema (EDS)
For Young, schemas are defined as the ways of feeling and thinking that cause pain. They begin to form in childhood and are repeated and reiterated throughout life. For instance, how many times have you found yourself thinking “I’ve done it again”? This is a schema: a learned and internalized sequence that you apply on certain occasions without even thinking. Here are some of the characteristics of early dysfunctional schemas (EDS):
- They’re guides, patterns, and internalized models that are extremely broad. In fact, they’re generalized to a multitude of situations.
- They’re made up of feelings, memories, thoughts, and bodily impressions.
- They refer both to us and our relationships with other people.
- They’re born when we’re children or even in our teens.
- They can transform throughout life.
- They can become extraordinary sources of discomfort.
Despite the fact that early dysfunctional schemas can develop in the absence of traumatic or abusive situations, in reality, many of them are caused by situations that could be described as pernicious. With this in mind, we can state that they’re all devastating ways of processing and reacting to environmental stimuli.
“Schemas in adulthood lead the person to inadvertently recreate in their current life the childhood conditions that were so painful for them.”
The consequences of excessive self-sacrifice
“Whatever you need I’ll give you”. This will be a frequent response from you if you give to others at the expense of denying yourself care.
Self-sacrifice is a schema that’s oriented to the needs of others instead of your own. In effect, you care for others but don’t exercise any self-care. However, depriving yourself of self-care can have a huge impact on your mental health:
“The self-sacrifice schema, along with the subjugation schema, are characterized by a tendency to prioritize others.”
-Sara Castellanos Sánchez-
Included among these kinds of issues are abusive relationships. For instance, when you excessively self-sacrifice, give a great deal of yourself to others, and ignore what you need, you cross into dangerous territory where you don’t consider yourself.
An excess of self-sacrifice threatens the healthy ego that protects us.
One of the pillars that sustains excessive self-sacrifice is the fact of ‘avoiding harm’. That said, it’s important to bear in mind that, as an imperfect human being, you’ll always harm others at some time or another.
For example, maybe you meet all the needs of every member of your family because that’s what you learned from your mother. It doesn’t matter how young or old they are, you’re always available to them.
Difficulty in saying no
Often, this difficulty makes you feel guilty. You experience guilt when you say ‘no’ because you were taught in the past that you should always be available to meet the needs of others. In fact, if you weren’t, your attachment figures were disappointed with you.
“One of the reasons behind excessive self-sacrifice is to avoid guilt from feeling selfish.”
If you’re self-sacrificing, you may have developed an extraordinary empathic capacity. This has happened because you’re aware of any sign that indicates help is required. In effect, you’re a hyper detective.
However, the cost of possessing such sensitivity is that you end up physically and psychologically exhausted. In fact, you seem to be permanently besieged by problems.
“The schema often results from an acute sensitivity to the suffering of others. It involves the sense that one’s own needs aren’t being adequately met and may lead to feelings of resentment.”
As you’ve seen, excessive self-sacrifice means you give intense attention to others, which can harm you. When you put what others want, feel, or need before your own desires and feelings, you can find yourself with relationship problems and situations in which you feel tremendously confused.
Also, feeling bad about saying no to something that you clearly don’t want is like a car going the wrong way on a highway: it’s dangerous. Especially when it becomes the norm instead of the exception.
The first step toward change lies in becoming aware of how you behave toward your relationships. However, sometimes you may require more specialized help. If this is your case, consider the help of a trusted professional.
“Typical family origin is based on conditional acceptance: Children must restrain important aspects of themselves in order to gain love, attention, and approval.”