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, or
  • Concerns about hurting or abandoning others by not being available at any point in time

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

We start to feel tired and worn out from all the running around and helping other people. Because others don't seem to reciprocate to the same extent, it may cause us to feel resentful, unappreciated and undervalued. Since we have identified with not needing others and being able to cope by ourselves - we find it difficult to voice out. Internally, we are used to neglecting our own needs and desires and this makes us unsure of what those needs actually are. Eventually, these feelings build up, causing significant stress, tiredness, emptiness, or even resentment.  


Possible causes

In your childhood you learned that others were more important to you than what you felt, experienced or needed. Perhaps you had to take care of one of your parents, or perhaps your 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. The therapist will work with you to identify the reason for your schema and modify mindsets driven by the schema. 

  • 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

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