Yesterday was a holiday for those of us in the US so I didn’t have therapy. Frankly I wish I had stayed in New York instead of travelling to see my family. For as annoying as going to therapy every week can be it’s better for me to maintain my structure than to throw myself off into triggering situations. So today I’ll throw another schema at you guys.
We’re moving into the Domain of Other-Directedness, specifically the schema of Subjugation.
Typical Presentations of the Schema
Oi! This is me all over the place. Every single thing: accumulation of anger, uncontrolled outbursts, psychosomatic, withdrawal of affection, acting out, alcohol abuse.
People with this schema usually present with a coping style of surrendering to the schema: They are excessively compliant and hypersensitive to feeling trapped.
They feel bullied, harassed, and powerless. They experience themselves as being at the mercy of authority figures: The authority figures are stronger and more powerful; therefore, the patients must defer to them. The schema involves a significant level of fear. At the core, people are afraid that if they express their needs and feelings, something bad is going to happen to them. Someone important is going to get angry with, abandon, punish, reject, or criticize them. These patients suppress their needs and feelings, not because they feel they should suppress them, but because they feel they have to suppress them. Their subjugation is not based on an internalized value or a desire to help others; rather, I is based upon the fear of retaliation. In contrast, the Self-Sacrifice, Emotional Inhibition, and Unrelenting Standards schemas are all similar in that people have an internalized value that it is not right to express personal needs or feelings: They believe it is in some way bad or wrong to express needs and feelings, so they feel ashamed or guilty when they do. People with these other three schemas do not feel controlled by other people. They have an internal locus of control. On the other hand, people with the Subjugation schema have an external locus of control. They believe that they must submit to authority figures, whether they think it is right or not, or else they will be punished in some way.
Another thought, is that this particular schema may have less to do with my Borderline tendencies and more to do with the abusive relationships I’ve been in. Especially with my Evil-Ex, I often felt like I had to give in to what he wanted or I would be punished. To be true, often I was punished when I had the audacity to do things that I wanted (like go out with a friend), that didn’t include him. I became so afraid of losing his love and losing the relative peace in our home that I would do anything I could to not disrupt the very tenuous stability we were able to establish.
Often this schema leads to avoidant behavior. People avoid situations where other people might control them, or where they might become trapped. Some people avoid committed romantic relationships because they experience these relationships as claustrophobic or entrapping. The schema can also lead to overcompensation such as disobedience and oppositionality. Rebelliousness is the most common form of overcompensation for subjugation.
Ah, here we go. I’m all three of these expressions: Surrender, Avoidance, Overcompensation. All brought about my different things, and different scenarios throughout my life. Growing up I always felt like my parents were trying to control me. They over structured my life so I had very little time to do anything other than school and the excessive amount of activities I was involved in. I rebelled. Hard core. I acted out and become utterly uncontrollable.
Strategies Emphasized in Treatment
In terms of cognitive strategies, subjugated people have unrealistic negative expectations about the consequences of expressing their needs and feelings to appropriate significant others. It’s important for these people to understand that their expectations are exaggerated. It is also important to learn that they are acting in a healthy manner when they express their needs and feelings appropriately – even though their parents may have communicated that they were “bad” for doing so as children.
I know this is a problem for me. My father routinely told me to “suck it up and deal”, not to express any negative emotions. He would become very angry at me when I was upset and reacted in an unhappy manner. This taught me the necessity of hiding my emotions and feelings. This taught me to bottle it up and hold them all in.
A good strategy is to express anger and assert your rights through imagery and role play. In a safe environment, go over a scenario involving a controlling person, and work out how to exert your feelings by saying what it is you truly feel the need to express in those situations. Expressing anger is crucial. The more people are able to get in touch with their anger and vent it in imagery the more they will be able to fight the schema in their everyday. The purpose of expressing this anger is not purely for ventilation, but rather to help people feel empowered and to stand up for themselves. Anger supplies the motivation and momentum to fight the passivity that almost always accompanies subjugation.
Behaviorally it’s also important for people to select relatively non-controlling partners. Often, subjugated people are drawn to controlling partners. Working on selecting noncontrolling friends is also important.
Sometimes as a consequence of this schema the persons self is undeveloped. When someone has served the needs and preferences of others so assiduously they do not know their own needs and preferences, then these people need to work to individuate. Identifying their own natural inclinations and practice acting on those is important. For example, through imagery it is possible to recreate scenarios when a person suppress their needs and preferences, then aloud they can express what it is that they needed or wanted to do. They can imagine the consequences and work out what is reasonable to expect and what it out of proportion to the situations.
Special Problems with this Schema
As people experiment with expressing their needs and feelings, often they do it imperfectly. A the beginning, they might fail to assert themselves enough to be heard, or they might swing to the opposite extreme and become too aggressive.
This is actually a fear of mine. I know I have a tendency to swing between these extremes. I won’t voice what I need enough, or I do become very aggressive.
When subjugated people first try to express their needs and feelings, they often say something like: “But I don’t know what I want. I don’t know what I feel.” In cases such as these where Subjugation is linked to an Undeveloped Self schema, the therapist can help patients develop a sense of self by showing them how to monitor their wishes and emotions.
Again, this is a problem I have. I can’t even count how many times my therapist has asked me how I felt about certain things, and my only response was “I don’t know how I feel”. I don’t know what I should feel, I don’t know what I’m allowed to feel, I don’t know what I have a right to feel.