Defectiveness Abandonment Schema Dartford, Kent
Diagnosed: Emotionally unstable personality disorder, depression and abandonment issues. Limited Reparenting.
Jenn (not her real name) was enduring a range of life-interfering problems (interpersonal chaos, abandonment, emotional deprivation). Most recently, her relationship with her boyfriend had broken down. He was someone who would consistently act coldly towards her, emotionally witholding and punishing towards her, in order to get his own way. This relationship would trigger Jenn's emotional deprivation, abandonment and defectiveness schemas.
I spent some time discussing the nature of schemas with Jenn, explaining how they have their roots in the past. I wanted her to build a 'bridge' from the past to her present experience.
Without that 'bridge' we're hardly able to make sense of our current behaviour, let alone change it. I asked Jenn to relax and put herself back into a situation she'd described where her boyfriend was shouting at her. As she began to connect with the emotion, I asked her to take it back to the source, "where does this feeling go back to?" She began to just let certain memories come to her.
The memory that came to the fore was a situation one evening where Jenn's mum was taking care of her brother, who was ill at the time. Jenn wanted a glass of water, but was too scared to ask her mum for one. Finally she plucked up the courage to ask her, and Jenn recalled, "My mum looked at me with pure hate on her face and I'd curl up really small. I was so scared — she hated me, I was confused, I didn’t know why".
In session, Jenn began to cry, sobbing like a child. When she'd composed herself a little I asked Jenn to look at the memory of the situation with her mum, and to look for the similarities with her more recent experience with her boyfriend: "He looks at me with hate on his face, just like my mum used to, I even remember now how I'll curl up in front of him like I did back then. I know it's irrational, but I really feels like he hates me the same way my mum did".
I asked her when you're in that situation with him, how old are you? She paused before she answered, and a realisation dawned on her face as she stated, in hushed tones: "I'm seven". She began to cry again.
It took some time for her to compose herself again before we could continue. She began to connect with her seven year old 'inner child', and her awareness of this vulnerable child-like part of herself both shocked and amazed her. It was from here that she was able to put all the pieces of the jigsaw together.
The information flowed fast. When he would look at her that way she would tell herself that she was disgusting and deserving of his hate, that nobody would ever care about her because she was just no good. I asked her, "was there someone who told you that in the past?"
"Yes", she said, "my mum. She would tell me constantly that I was disgusting, she would tell me that no one loved me and I believed her. My mum's not here now, but I do it to myself. Why? When I lose control, that's when the little seven year-old girl comes out, isn't it?"
She gave me a lot of feedback after the session. "I feel a weight's been lifted from my shoulders. Like I'm starting to piece it all together".
The feeling of inner strength and self-confidence lasted long into the next week. Her adult had begun to reassert herself
Now the next phase of work: changing her dysfunctional schemas, by monitoring her responses — surrendering, counter-attacking or escaping; responses that only served to keep the problems going — could begin.