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Schema Chemistry: The Entitlement/Self-Sacrifice Trap

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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.

Understanding Schema Chemistry in Relationships 

“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. CBT tools available on our CBT Questionnaires page. We have office locations in both San Francisco and Oakland.

Frequently Asked Questions

Evidence-based therapy involves interventions that are scientifically proven to be effective for particular issues. In this approach, a strong partnership based on trust and collaboration is formed between you and your therapist. Within this supportive and unbiased environment, you can freely express yourself without fear of judgment. Over a series of sessions, you and your therapist will work together to address obstacles and set goals aimed at personal growth and fulfillment. This method ensures that the techniques and strategies used are not only supportive but also empirically validated to help you achieve your therapeutic goals.

The Bay Area CBT Center provides therapy services for everyone, from children to adults, and welcomes individuals, couples, and groups. We help with various concerns like anxiety, depression, trauma, relationship issues, and behavior challenges. We value diversity and cultural differences, offering personalized and culturally sensitive care to each client.

Studies show that the bond between you and your therapist, known as the therapeutic alliance, is a key factor in treatment success. This alliance is characterized by the strength of your relationship and how well you both agree on treatment goals. Research indicates that individuals with a solid therapeutic alliance experience better treatment outcomes including greater productivity at work, more satisfying relationships, improved stress management, and decreased engagement in risky behaviors.

You can expect a 15-30 minute phone call with our care coordinator, who is extensively trained in ensuring the perfect match for you. During this conversation, our matching expert will collaborate with you to understand your therapy needs, preferences, and scheduling availability. This discussion builds upon the information you provided during sign-up and offers an opportunity for you to address any personal questions or concerns you may have about therapy or our services at The Bay Area CBT Center. Following your conversation, we’ll pair you with the therapist who best aligns with your needs, goals, and preferences.

At your matching appointment, we will match you with a therapist specifically chosen for you and schedule your first session. Depending on your availability, you can expect to meet your therapist anywhere from one day to a week after this appointment.

Our approach to therapy includes a flexible hybrid model, blending both online and face-to-face sessions. This option is perfect for clients situated close to our clinics in the Bay Area who prefer the flexibility of choosing between virtual consultations or meeting their therapist in person. Our aim with hybrid care is to ensure every client is matched with the ideal therapist and therapy environment, be it from the convenience of your own home or in one of our clinics.

At the Bay Area CBT Center, we accept PPO insurance plans that allow you to use out-of-network providers. This means if your insurance plan is a PPO and it includes mental health benefits, you could get back some or all of the money you pay for our services, depending on what your insurance company allows. When you see one of our therapists, they’ll give you a superbill. You can send this superbill to your insurance company to ask for reimbursement. If you’re not sure if your insurance covers services from providers not in their network, it’s a good idea to give them a call and check.

You may be eligible to have 60-80% of your costs covered by out-of-network benefits.

Also, if you have an FSA (Flexible Spending Account), you can usually use it to pay for individual counseling sessions. It’s wise to double-check with your FSA provider or talk to your accountant to make sure that counseling sessions are considered an allowed expense.

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