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Mental Schemas #12: Subjugation

Handling negative emotions

This is the twelfth in a series of articles that draw on the field of schema therapy, an approach to addressing negative thinking patterns that was devised by Dr. Jeffrey Young. You can find an introduction to schemas and schema therapy, a list of schemas, and links to other schema articles on The Willpower Engine here.

A person with a subjugation schema feels an overpowering obligation to submit to another person’s will, to be told what to do and be judged by someone else. Often such a person will believe in their heart that they need to do what another person says in order to be loved, valuable, etc., and/or will be afraid that they will be judged harshly or punished if they don’t fall in line.

Or a person may have the schema and act out because of it, accusing others of trying to be controlling when this isn’t the intention, or rebelling against other’s wishes regardless of the individual’s own feelings.

As a result, having the subjugation schema means burying or ignoring one’s own needs, desires, inclinations, judgments, and beliefs–whether this is happening due to giving in to others or to being preoccupied with rebelling against others, as in both cases the person with the subjugation schema is reacting to others’ needs, desires, and actions instead of their own.

A person with this schema may also assume other people are trying to take control or may tend to put them in positions of control even if they don’t want to be. Another common pattern with this schema is first complying with what someone else wants, then resenting “having to” do that thing. A person with this schema may have an overwhelming feeling of being trapped.

A typical way for a subjugation schema is to develop is through an overly controlling parent.

Overcoming a subjugation schema
As with other schemas, idea repair can be a key tool in overcoming a subjugation schema. Statements like “I have to do ____” or “I should do ___” are usually variations of “should statements,” which make it seem like something is necessary when it’s really only one of the available options. Thoughts about what will happen if a person doesn’t comply with what another wants are often fraught with magnification and fortune telling instead of being a true assessment of the likely results. Other kinds of broken ideas can also apply to this schema.

Communication is another a key skill for dealing with these issues. If a person wants to become more assertive without being destructive, it’s important to understand how to express one’s own thoughts and emotions without running over those of others. Two excellent books for learning how to resolve conflicts through communication are Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes are High and Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life.

Mindfulness is an important and powerful tool in overcoming subjugation schemas. In order to act on one’s own thoughts and emotions, it’s important to be in touch with those thoughts and emotions. This is also something that’s needed as a basis for idea repair.

Over time, the goal in overcoming a subjugation schema is to learn to recognize, value, and respond to one’s own thoughts, emotions, and needs, so any progress is becoming more aware of one’s own feelings, getting perspective, being constructive assertive, or communicating better will help.

Photo by Grufnik

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How to Become More Focused and Enthusiastic, Part III: Willingness

Strategies and goals

The first article in this series talks about the difference between distraction and lack of focus or enthusiasm as well as the problem of not believing your goal can be achieved. The second article touches on how much the goal matters and whether or not it’s possible to track progress. This article will tackle another essential of being committed to a goal: willingness.

The question of willingness came up as a side note in my article the other day about whether our willpower gets used up on a daily basis. The idea was that people seem to usually be less willing to keep doing things that require self-control the more of them they’re asked to do. Repeated demands are one reason a person might find she or he isn’t willing to exercise willpower. Others include

  • Feeling anger or resentment about having to do the thing in the first place, or being unhappy about some expected result–for instance if a person avoided cleaning an area up because they didn’t make the mess (even if they knew the mess-maker wasn’t going to clean it up), or if they were to hold off on doing certain work because they strongly suspected someone else would be getting the credit.
  • Being uncomfortable with success, for instance when a person is scared of the life changes a new job would cause.
  • Having a broken idea that someone else should be doing whatever it is, that whatever it is shouldn’t be necessary, etc.
  • Focusing on short-term discomfort or interruption of pleasure, like not wanting to pull a splinter out due to anticipating that being painful.
  • Feeling as though you don’t deserve to achieve your goal, for instance because of impostor syndrome.

Those are a few samples. The key point is that even when we have a desire to do something and recognize that it would be a good thing to do, we often still have conflicting feelings about moving ahead. To say that we simply want something or don’t want it is to imagine our minds being much simpler than they are. For instance, a person might desperately want to lose weight for reasons of both health and appearance, but also might want to feel free to indulge in eating as they like, might be worried about the discomfort of regular exercise, might feel protected in some ways by being overweight, etc.

Feeling conflicted is a natural result of being a complex human being, but when these kinds of conflicts prevent us from committing whole-heartedly to our goals, it’s time to address them and move past them. Broken ideas (including ideas about what should happen or what a person deserves) can be repaired, conflicting needs can be compared so that the highest-priority need can take precedence, discomfort can be faced in light of the greater happiness it will lead to, and so on. In the end, most barriers to willingness can be sorted out–and starting that process only takes asking ourselves this question:

“Am I really willing to succeed?”

Photo by Gavatron

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