Self-care in schema therapy and cutting plants

April 7, 2019

This week’s blog is written by one of my clients and I (Diana), about her schema therapy treatment. We worked together on this blog. Anna is not her real name.

Anna (31) feels tense almost all day. She works 3 days a week, but still feels low in energy. When she meets her friends, she is the one who does all the speaking. Her friends would describe her as somebody who is always up for something new and funny, but inside Anna actually feels suppressed, seeking approval from others. Her friends don’t know that when alone at home, Anna can feel sad. She then thinks about her friends and often doubts the quality of their relationship. She has great difficulty with planning her free days and feels insecure about achievements. When she spends too long in bed in the morning, she then seems to feel miserable all day. The list of things to do seems so long, she sometimes does not want to start with any of them.

When I first met Anna in therapy she had clear goals: She wanted to learn to be kind to herself, acting with respect to her own needs and energy. She wanted to share her feelings and ideas in her relationships without fear of punishment or rejection.

When we started schema therapy it took some time to get a grip on her life. Also in therapy she presents as happy and energetic, but when we talk about her daily life, she breaks into tears quite easily.

Together we talk about her childhood. She tries to persuade me that her parents had done alright, but Anna’s attempts to convince me makes me curious. Then Anna tells me she was brought up in a family with high expectations around social relationships and being there for your loved ones. Her mum could feel tired and often had different kinds of physical symptoms. Her dad was hearing impaired. He was often home from work, when he was ill. Anna tried to meet the high expectations of her parents, even in puberty. Anna tells me she sometimes feels like her mum is making up for some bad times in the family. Her mother still overwhelms her with attention and overprotection.

In schema therapy we found out that although her parents had been very present in the life of Anna, she started to take on their feelings at quite an early age. That made her feel anxious and sad. By taking good care of her parents, being the good daughter, the feelings disappeared.

Anna learned to overcompensate the schemas of emotional deprivation and social isolation by taking care of others and tuning in with the energy of her friends in her present daily life (self-sacrifice and vulnerability to harm and illness). She used her energy primarily for the wellbeing of others, instead of herself. Then we changed to working in the modes. During the therapy process she started to put more energy into herself. On bad days when she felt sad, she learned to take care of her own needs (self-sacrifice schema exercise). Taking good care of yourself was a central aspect in our therapy. Learning to talk about difficult feelings gave space in Anna’s relationship with her parents.

The Secure Nest Self-Education Program was useful in setting boundaries when caring for her parents and feeling more relaxed when visiting them. We focused mostly on the Happy Child, Vulnerable Child and the Healthy Adult (Accepting the Vulnerable Child Mode and Promoting Your Healthy Adult Mode). In that way, Anna gained more insight into the different parts of her and how to care for them.

The last phase in therapy was really about changing her negative patterns and trying new things in life. Anna bought a campervan with her friend, dared to become pregnant and started her own small business in cutting plants and selling them as small gifts. What a symbolic way: by learning to care for yourself in small steps you can make great growth in daily life. She taught me to cut my plants too.

Diana Kleijzen & Anna
The Secure Nest Team

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