Self-Sacrifice Schema

We all may occasionally put the needs of others before our own. However, if we have developed a self-sacrifice schema, we may find ourselves excessively meeting the needs of others, while neglecting our own. There are various motivations for this kind of behaviour, such as:

  • The fear of displeasing someone
  • Feeling guilty for being selfish when tending to our own needs
  • Concerns about hurting or abandoning others by not being available at any point in time

We may also confuse the self-sacrifice schema with the subjugation schema, as both have the aspect of meeting the needs of others with the expense of our own. However, those with a self-sacrifice schema act voluntarily with the intention to prevent others from feeling hurt or  because they believe it is the right thing to do, while those with a subjugation schema act to avoid punishment. 


Reactions from the Self-Sacrifice Schema

✽   Surrender

Giving everything you have to people surrounding you and completely forgetting about yourself. 

✽   Avoidance

Giving to others and taking in (care, compliments, time etc.) is difficult for you, making you feel ashamed and embarrassed when you reject them. To avoid these feelings, you learned to avoid such situations in which you might have to give or take.

✽   Overcompensation

You may reach a point of setting very tight boundaries to ensure you do not have to give and take. Others may see this as selfish and uncaring. 


Effects of the Self-Sacrifice Schema

The Self-Sacrifice Schema can cause individuals to feel tired and worn out from all the running around and helping other people. Because others don't seem to reciprocate their help to the same extent, it may cause these people to feel resentful, unappreciated and undervalued.

As they identify with not needing others and being able to cope by themselves, it can be difficult for these individuals to voice out their needs. Internally, as they are used to neglecting their own needs and desires, this makes difficult for them to ascertain what their needs actually are. Eventually, these feelings build up, causing significant stress, tiredness, emptiness, or even resentment.  


Possible Causes

This schema tends to be developed in childhood, where individuals learned that others were more important to you than what you felt, experienced or needed. For instance, perhaps individuals had to take care of one of their parents, or their own parents were busy taking care of others and forgot to take care of their own needs.



The main treatment provided is Schema Therapy. Schema Therapy probes more deeply into early life experiences. In addition, it utilises experimental, cognitive, behavioural and interpersonal (object relations) techniques, which promotes higher levels of emotions in sessions and is somewhat longer-term. Therapists  work with their clients to identify the reason for their schemas and modify mindsets driven by the schema. Some activities that may occur in and out of therapy sessions include: 

  • Rehearsal of adaptive behavior in imagery or role-play
  • Behavioral homework (e.g. practicing saying “no” or “I will think about it”) 
  • Involvement of friends and family to reward adaptive behavior