“The trouble with immediate gratification is that it’s not quick enough” ~Carrie Fisher
Let’s skip the pleasantries and jump right in, shall we?
Patients who have this schema typically lack two qualities: (1) self-control – the ability to appropriately restrain one’s emotions and impulses; and (2) self-discipline – the ability to tolerate boredom and frustration long enough o accomplish tasks. These people are unable to restrain their emotions and impulses appropriately . In both their personal and work lives, they display a pervasive difficult in delaying short-term gratification for the sake of meeting long-term goals. They seem not to learn sufficiently from experience – from the negative consequences of their behavior. They either cannot or will not exercise sufficient self-control or self-discipline.
At the extreme end of the spectrum of this schema are people who seem like badly brought up young children. In milder forms of the schema patients display an exaggerated emphasis on avoiding discomfort. They prefer to avoid most pain, conflict, confrontation, responsibility, and overexertion – even at the cost of their personal fulfillment or integrity.
Typical behaviors include impulsivity, distractibility, disorganization, unwillingness to persist at boring or routine tasks, intense expression of emotion, such as temper tantrums or hysteria, and habitual lateness or unreliability. All of these behaviors have in common the pursuit of short-term gratification at the expense of long-term goals.
Every child is probably born with an impulsive mode. It’s a natural part of every human being. However the failure to bring impulsivity under sufficient control and learn self-discipline is what is maladaptive. Children are by nature, uncontrolled and undisciplined. Through experiences in our families and in society as a whole, we learn how to become more controlled and disciplined. We internalize a Healthy Adult mode that can restrain the Impulsive Child in order to meet long-term goals. Sometimes another problem, such as ADHD, makes it hard for the child to accomplish this (this is not a schema issue).
Often, there are no specific beliefs and feelings that go along with this schema. It is rare for patients with this schema to say, “It’s right to express all my feelings” or “I should act impulsively.” Rather, people experience the schema as being outside of their control. The schema does not feel ego-syntonic in the way that other schemas do. In fact, most people with this schema WANT to be more self-controlled and self-disciplined: They keep trying, but cannot seem to sustain their efforts for very long.
The impulsive mode is also the mode in which a person can be spontaneous and uninhibited. A person in this mode can play, be light, and have fun. There is a positive side to the mode, but when it is excessive – when it is not balanced by other sides of the self – the cost exceeds the benefit, and the mode becomes destructive to the person.
Goals of Treatment
The basic goal is to help patients recognize the value of giving up short-term gratification for the sake of long-term goals. The benefits of venting one’s emotions or doing what is immediately pleasurable are not worth the costs in career advancement, achievement, getting along with other people, and low self-esteem.
Strategies Emphasized in Treatment
The basic idea is: Between the impulse and the action, you must learn to insert thought. It is important to learn to think through the consequences of giving in to the impulse before acting it out.
Occasionally the Insufficient Self-Control/Self Discipline schema is linked with another schema that may be more primary. For example, sometimes the schema erupts because patients have suppressed too much emotion for too long. This often happens with the Subjugation schema. Over long periods of time, people with the Subjugation schema do not express anger when they feel it. Gradually, their anger accumulates, then suddenly bursts forth in an out-of-control way. When patients display a pattern of swinging between prolonged passivity and sudden fits of aggression, they often have underlying Subjugation schemas. If a person can learn to express what they need and feel appropriately in the moment the anger will not build up in the background. The less people suppress their needs and feelings, the less likely they become to behave impulsively.
In terms of this schema, this is exactly where my problem lies. From the age of 8 years old I was raised in the martial arts. Control and Discipline are two words that are deeply ingrained into my mindset. If you lose control, people get hurt. Outwardly I always appear in control. However for me, this also means suppression of my emotional states. I was told not to express my feelings, not to let people see my next move. So I suppress, subjugate, what I’m actually feeling. This is coupled with the fact that, despite how much I know my father loved me, he was the parent that was primarily responsible for me growing up and he taught me to “suck it up” and not show when things were upsetting to me. I don’t ever recall a time when he tried to understand what was upsetting me. I only remember being told to stop expressing any negative emotion. To this day, any time I feel any kind of emotion that is not ‘positive’ or ‘strong’ I hide it from showing and refuse to express it. I put on a tough face and let people believe that I am unphased. This would result in the most magnificent explosions of anger and violence from me. By the time I turned 12 I began to lose my ability to control my temper. My frustration tolerance was non existent. One morning I was having trouble getting my hair perfect (I was borderline OCD was many things) and put my fist through the bathroom wall in a fit of rage. I would having screaming arguments with my parents almost every single day. I broke down doors, put my fists through windows and walls, my rage was absolutely uncontrollable. It wasn’t just anger that was impulsive though. Stealing, vandalism, sex…. I needed to feel better and I needed to feel better now.
It’s often helpful to imagine past and current scenes in which insufficient self-control or self-discipline was displayed. From here the scene can be revisited but from the perspective of how a Healthy Adult would act in the situation and exert self-control. This is especially important for people with Borderline Personality Disorder. Because of their Subjugation schemas, people with BPD feel that they are not allowed to express their needs and feelings. Whenever they do, they feel they deserve to be punished by their internalized Punitive Parent. They repeatedly suppress their needs and feelings. As time passed, their needs and feelings build up, beyond their ability to contain them, and then the person flips into the Angry Child mode in order to express them. They suddenly become enraged and impulsive. When this happens, it’s important to vent the frustration fully, treat the situation with empathy, but also reality-check to measure the magnitude of the reaction in proportion to the actual event that triggered it.
I also completely relate to this aspect of Subjugation and needing to punish myself. I absolutely do not believe that I could express what I needed or felt. Hell, I still feel like this. I feel like I have no right to expect others to think about what I need. It’s my responsibility and my responsibility alone to think of myself (though I desperately wish someone would, at least every now and again)… usually after I’ve thought about everyone else first. Letting other people know that I need things is akin to admitting to weakness. Weakness means being vulnerable. Being vulnerable means someone has the chance to take advantage of you. That is not acceptable. So I hold it all in. Bottle it all up. And that works. Until I’m shaken by something. The internal pressure becomes too much. And then it all explodes.
When the lack of parental involvement in childhood is the origin of this schema it’s important to establish limits and set boundaries.
Special Problems with This Schema
Sometimes the schema appears to be biologically based and therefore very hard to change with therapy alone, for example, when the patient has a learning problem such as ADHD. If the schema is biologically based, then even when patients are highly motivated and expend tgreat effort, they may be unable to develop sufficient self-control and self-discipline. In practice, it is often unclear how much the schema is linked to temperament and how much it is related to insufficient limits in childhood. Medication should be considered for patients who have persistent difficulty fighting the schema despite an apparent commitment to therapy.
I wonder if this isn’t why so many kids are diagnosed ADHD these days. Instead of taking a good look at the parents and the home life, doctors just jump to the conclusion that it’s biologically determined. They don’t stop to consider that maybe kids aren’t being raised with any/enough discipline or boundaries. Doctors don’t want to make a judgment and blame the parents so they avoid the potential for uncomfortable truths and push for the prescriptions instead.