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Schema Chemistry: The Entitlement/Self-Sacrifice Trap

Schemas are the core beliefs we develop as a result of our early childhood interactions. They can inform many things about our adult lives, including the way we approach romantic relationships.

For example, if you have ever found yourself feeling resentful and lonely in a relationship, a self-sacrifice schema could be at work. This is a pattern in which you tend to be vigilant about others’ needs while ignoring your own needs.

“Schema chemistry” refers to the human tendency to be drawn to people who reinforce our own core beliefs. A person with a self-sacrifice schema may notice a pattern of being with partners who view their own worth and needs as a priority in any situation—in other words, partners who have an entitlement schema. That’s because the self-sacrifice schema and entitlement schema reinforce each other. With every new interaction, both people in the relationship have their core beliefs strengthened by the ongoing dynamic.

At the Bay Area CBT Center, we want you to be able to break this cycle and enjoy a relationship that is positive and uplifting for you and your partner. We help couples develop effective communication and healthy boundaries so the relationship feels more reciprocal—a collaborative effort between you and your partner. The first step is to understand how this “schema chemistry” works and where it’s showing up in your relationship. Then you will be able to implement specific strategies to change that dynamic.

Before we describe some of the specific strategies taught to clients in our practice, here is a closer look at the characteristics of these two schemas.

Self-Sacrifice/Subjugation Schema

If you have a self-sacrifice schema, these characteristics may describe how you interact in intimate relationships:

      • You prioritize taking care of other people above yourself. You feel overly responsible for other people’s feelings and may put your own feelings aside.
      • Taking the blame. You claim responsibility for other people’s behaviors.
      • You struggle with asking for what you need. You feel guilty or selfish if you make your own needs a priority. You may be afraid to ever do this because you sense that your partner may dismiss your needs, get angry at your request, or even leave you.

    Entitlement/Grandiosity Schema

    As someone with a self-sacrifice schema, you may be drawn to relationships with partners who have characteristics of an entitlement schema, such as:

        • They feel entitled to get what they want in any situation.
        • They use controlling and manipulative tactics to get what they want.
        • They see themselves as special—the rules don’t apply to them.
        • They believe they are victims and should not be accountable for their own actions.

        People with an entitlement schema are drawn to self-sacrificers who are unlikely to challenge the entitled partner’s beliefs. Since the entitled person’s needs are always getting met, that person has no incentive to change the dynamic.

        What Can I Do to Get My Needs Met?

        With the help of a trained therapist, it is possible for you to learn how to assert yourself in your relationship so that it is rewarding and fulfilling for you—not just for your partner.

        Here are some of the skills that your therapist may help you build:

        • Discern between needs and wants. Identify your needs and recognize them as non-negotiable, while also recognizing your wants as negotiable and becoming more flexible with your requests.
        • Practice saying “no.” No matter how small a request is, try saying “Maybe, let me think about it” instead of automatically complying with the request. Give yourself more time to explore whether it’s something you’re willing to do, rather than agreeing out of fear or guilt.
        • Clarify and prioritize your needs. What is most important to you in a relationship—honesty, affection, encouragement? What is non-negotiable—respect, safety, fidelity? It’s okay to have one or two “deal-breaker” needs that absolutely must be met in order for you to continue in the relationship.

        Remember, a healthy relationship is one in which both partners are able to express needs on an equal basis without fear of retaliation or abandonment. A trained therapist can help both you and your partner to understand and practice relationship skills that create a balanced, fair, and reciprocal dynamic between the two of you.

        In couples therapy at the Bay Area CBT Center, we help partners clarify the values they wish to emphasize in their relationship. To learn more about how we can help, you can click here to book an appointment online. We have office locations in both San Francisco and Oakland.

Is Social Media Damaging our Relationships?

The excitement you feel when your social media post is “liked,” or otherwise validated, is due to the release of dopamine in your brain, which is also released during sex or a delicious meal. Increasingly, our brains are becoming conditioned and rewired to associate this boost of happiness with our online behaviors like social media, online games, email or aimless surfing.

Unsurprisingly, this leads to a host of emotional and social problems. But how serious is our dependency on mobile internet and social media, and what can we do to live with it in peace?

How Pervasive is Internet Addiction?

Internet addiction affects nearly 6 percent of the global population. Symptoms of online addiction include anxiety, depression, euphoric feelings around devices, lost sense of time, weight gain and the avoidance of work. It also has serious ramifications for those in romantic relationships. Excessive usage of Twitter and Facebook has been linked to cheating, breakups and divorce, often rooted in conflicts over time spent on these platforms.

How Do We Get Hooked?

Healthy self-soothing behaviors such as  exercising, reading, or meditating help us build effective coping strategies in the long run . Avoidance behaviors are automatic behaviors that  we do in order to try to get rid of distressing emotions such as boredom, insecurity, loneliness, shame, hurt, or uncertainty. internet addiction and social media - Oakland therapistThese behaviors usually make us feel better in the moment, but lead to more pain in the long run. Avoidance behaviors are short term solutions to long term problems and end up exacerbating our pain in the long run. These behaviors may include include drinking,  drug use, isolating, internet addiction, yelling, overeating, gossiping, and many others. Since similar chemicals are released when you get a “like” on Facebook and when you take drugs, many are turning to using the internet and social media as a way to escape negative feelings, like boredom or loneliness.

However, when we don’t cope with those feelings, we rob ourselves of the opportunity to better our lives. People who are able to tolerate uncomfortable emotions have more behavioral flexibility, they are better creative problem solvers, and are more likely to engage in adaptive coping responses such as reaching out to friends or make new acquaintances.

Online Identity Confusion

Beyond this addictive chemical reaction, another key issue with heavy internet use is in users identifying more with online identities than real life. Online, you my find it easy to frame your life as one of total fulfillment, and it’s likely many in your network are doing the same. Because of this, it’s often easier to interact online, as it is simple to avoid awkward or vulnerable moments that reveal our insecurities and problems.

And there’s evidence that this is leading to an increasing preference to online interactions over those in real life. According to one study, one in four spend more time on social media than in real-life social situations, and as many as 11 percent of adults prefer to spend a weekend communicating online than socializing.

When Social Media Makes us Feel Bad About Ourselves

Beyond their addictive properties, there are many occasions where social media, in particular makes us feel bad. My clients frequently tell me that Facebook makes them sad, and research bares this out. According to a sturdy from the University of Michigan, the more participants used Facebook, the worse they felt. This, researchers said, is likely due to social comparisons. You most likely have experienced social comparisons when looking your social network’s glamorous photos, happy messages and feel your own life pales in comparison. Repeated exposure to these comparisons can lead to unhealthy beliefs about our self worth.

 How to Use the Internet Mindfully

  • Though there are serious concerns, there’s no need to cancel your social media accounts or throw your cell phone in a lake. There are ways to live mindfully with the internet. We can enjoy its benefits without it draining us of our self-esteem and free time. Try these tips today to live with the internet in peace:
  • Track the amount of time you spend on social media and in real-life interactions.
  • Call a friend. Even if you haven’t spoken to this person in months, ask to spend some time together.
  • Make a point of silencing your mobile device when around your friends.
  • Pay attention to how often you pull out your mobile device out of necessity, and how often out of impulse, or urge. Note the emotions you experience.
  • Note the overall purpose of your social/mobile usage. What are you trying to accomplish with each post, text or interaction? Ask yourself if the message feels genuine.
  • What do you value in your relationships?
  • Are you behaving authentically—like you would in-person—or are you trying to put on a good face?
  • Limit how frequently you check your email and phone.


After you recognize which parts of your connected life make you feel good, and which make you feel bad, you’ll feel more confident in cutting out the latter. You’ll begin to feel more power over your device, rather than the other way around.