I recently started schema therapy, also called lifetrap therapy. This kind of therapy believes that the problems we encounter in our adult life, often originate in our childhood, in the early connection or relationship with our parents. The way our parents choose to connect with us, is what we get familiar with, it’s what we learn to be right, it’s what we expect and know, and even when our parents treat us badly when we are young, the familiarity of their behaviour makes us look for the same bad treatment in adult life. We are trapped in our childhood experiences, simply because the unfamiliar scares us more than the repetition of the pain we already know.
Where other forms of therapy try to help you to change the struggles you encounter today by changing the adult version of yourself, schema therapy takes a different approach and focusses on your lifelong issues, the things you have been struggling with during your entire life, the full story of the problem you experience today.
In schema therapy, the goal still is to help you with what’s troubling you today, however, the start of change is understanding what happened to you as a child, and understanding how the pain you’ve felt then and the way you choose to deal with this pain, caused what you feel right now as well as throughout your entire life.
In order to do so, the first step is to feel the wounded child inside you, to feel the emotions you felt years ago, while at the same time comforting your inner child, offering guidance and advice.
” The inner child is frozen. We want to bring it back to life, where growth and change are possible. We want your child to heal.”J.E. Young – Reinventing Your Life
Today, I was trying to connect with my inner child, trying to remember myself with my parents and my sister, trying to go back to a moment in which I felt pain, so many years ago. It’s hard to do so, like I taught myself to never go back, protecting myself from my old pain with vague flashes of the truth. After a while however, those flashes started to become more clear, I was able to stay inside them longer, I started to gain time and being able to look around, see myself, feel myself and understand my child-me thoughts. After some practise, I found myself in the living room of our second house on a Saturday afternoon when I was about 6 or 7 years old…
” Mom, can I paint? ”
” Mom, can I have scissors and glue? ”
” Mom, can I play with my sister? ”
No. Your sister is playing with her friend. You should find your own friend if you want to play.
” Mom, can we go to the library? I finished all my books. ”
No. I have more to do today! Stop annoying me and find a way to keep yourself busy!
” But mom, I’m trying to! Can I draw? Than we don’t have to cover the table like we have to do with paint. “
This is enough! You know the whole table will be covered with pencils when you draw! You never listen to me! Now, go to your room!
“ But if I could just draw. I promise I will be silent! “
No but! Upstairs! Now! And be quiet! I dont’t want to see or hear you until dinner!
In my room I sit down on the floor, wondering what to do with the 4 to 6 hours until dinner. I don’t have toys, I finished my books… What can I do in here? Maybe I can make my room nicer? Put my chair closer to the window so I can read there once I have my new books? But that means I have to move the bed, and switch the desk and the wardrobe, otherwise it won’t fit. It’s a lot of work but I can make such a nice reading corner over there! It will be amazing!
Ok. Let’s start. I can move my bed, I can put the chair, the desk goes to the other side, just this wardrobe is too heavy! I’m already halfway though, and I will enjoy this reading corner so much! Maybe if I just take everything out of the wardrobe, I might be able to move it when it’s empty.. Yes! It’s moving! Almost there!
What happened in here!
“ I wanted to make a reading corner for when I have new books from the library. “
Why can’t you ever be normal! Dad! Come to see what your daughter has done this time!
I can hear my sister and her friend laughing in her room on the other side of the hallway. Yes, she is so weird! She can never act normal, that’s why she doesn’t have any friends, no one wants to play with a weirdo! I’m so happy she is not allowed to play with us anymore, she always ruined our games. I wish I had a normal sister. Mom! Do you want to make a cake with us?
I hear footsteps coming up the stairs, my mother leaves the room and takes my sister and her friend to the kitchen. Yes, your sister has done something terrible, let’s make a cake and leave her to fix what she has done.
My father enters the room.
WHY DIDN’T YOU LISTEN TO YOUR MOTHER?
“ I did listen! I had to go upstairs and I stayed in my room. But look! I can make a nice reading corner over here, so I can read when we get new books from the library. ”
ENOUGH! I’M SURE YOUR MOTHER DIDN’T ASK YOU TO MAKE THIS MESS!
“ But I will clean everything myself. Look! I just move the wardrobe here, the desk there, and then everything goes back in and I can read my books in this corner! “
My father doesn’t listen, he is walking through my room, the door is closed behind him. He picks up some of the things that are on the floor, throws them towards me, I can see the anger inside him. He picks up a cd I bought a couple of days ago, my grandparents took me to the store once I had enough money for it. Getting the money had taken months of picking up 5 and 10 cents that are thrown on the ground to bully the children that pick them up. I didn’t even listen the whole cd yet..
“ Dad, please! Please don’t throw the cd! It’s new! I bough it with my own money! “
YOU’RE SELFISH! YOU SHOULD CARE ABOUT YOUR MOTHER THE WAY YOU CARE ABOUT THIS THING!
“ No! Dad! Please! “
WHEN I GET BACK THIS MESS BETTER BE GONE!
He throws the cd, the case brakes, the cd bounces out and lands underneath the bed.
I cry, I’m scared, scared of him. And I did soo much to get that cd! How can he just brake it!? It’s unfair! The whole day is unfair! I just wanted to draw or read or finishmy reading corner..
I keep crying.
WHAT ARE YOU DOING! WHY IS YOUR ROOM STILL A MESS?
“ I had to… “
YOU HAD TO LISTEN TO ME!
My father closes the door and comes closer.
“ But… “
He grabs my arm and squeezes hard
YOU’RE A SHAME TO US!
He slaps me in my face
DON’T BE SO PATHETIC! YOU ASKED FOR THIS YOURSELF!
“ But what did I do? “
I’VE HAD ENOUGH OF YOUR BUTS! YOU DO AS WE SAY! UNDERSTOOD!
“ You’re hurting me! “
He tightens his grip and lifts me from the ground. What will he do this time. His face frightens me, his hands even more… He throws me away and leaves the room without looking back. I hit the chair with my head, I feel blood…
IN AN HOUR THIS ROOM IS CLEAN!
I must admit that I used to say “but” way too often, something that was one of the biggest issues between me and my parents. I guess my family was one of the few in which such a big variety of “butt” expressions existed. No more buts! Can you ever stop butting!? You don’t but your parents, understood!? I can not hear one more but! The next but means going to bed without dinner!… Everything was about my buts.
But, I do believe that they should have listened to some of my buts, or at least understood that my continuous butting meant that I did not understand them, in the way they did not understand me.
Ok. I had ADHD I was supposed to be annoying, and although I wasn’t diagnosed yet, my parents knew very well that there was something different about me. But instead of accepting this difference to exist, they tried to change me into what they believed I should have been, while punishing me whenever I did something that proved what they already knew. Punishing me, for still being me.
If my parents would have accepted one of my buts, I could have explained how what I had done actually made sense to me. They could have explained me what was wrong about this, they could have helped me to understand what my differences where and how to overcome them.
But they never did.
When I remember myself during this whole memory, I see a little girl that wants to enjoy herself with very little things. No matter how much her parents ignored her, she kept trying to have fun, she kept looking for the good. Even when she had to stay in her room, without any books or toys, she found a way to amuse herself, she found excitement.
I was such a positive child, trying to make the best of every situation, being satisfied with just little things. My parents however, never understood this part of me. For them, it was strange that I enjoyed painting more than playing with friends and dolls. There was nothing they wanted more than changing me, and in order to do so, they forbid me to do the things I liked and punished me when I would not do what they wanted me to do. But their punishment never had the effect they hoped for, instead, my ADHD brain’s creativity always found a way to enjoy, a way to play.
I guess this created frustration within in my parents many times. They couldn’t punish me the way they wanted to, or tried to. Whenever they would send me to my room, they would get angry after a while, because I found a way to play instead of overthinking the mistakes I had made and feeling sorry for making them. Sometimes they would make me eat dinner alone in the kitchen, while they would enjoy their meal together around the dining room table. Again, this did not upset me much. I would organize the fruits in the fruit basket or read my mothers cookbook. I wasn’t feeling miserable or sorry in this kitchen by myself and they hated it. Often I had to do the dishes and stay in the kitchen till it was time to go to bed, but again, I found a way to enjoy my evening there, until my father would get angry and threw me on the bed, with a new collection of bruises…
I can understand that it’s hard to be a parent, especially when your child doesn’t do what you want her to do, and when there is no way to make her understand that she did something wrong. But, again but, was I really such a bad kid? Where my parents really right to punish me in the first place?
I don’t believe so, at least not in this memory. When I look at my child-self, I see an really easy, simple, positive and excited child. On this Saturday, so many years ago, I could have spend 5 hours painting or drawing, I could have taken the leaves out of our garden, I could have finished a whole book in one go, I could have helped my mother with laundry. I never asked for much and I was easily satisfied. It was very easy to keep me silent and busy for hours if I just had a tasks or something creative to do. I was very good at spending hours, silently inside my hyperfocus.
My parents choose to prevent me, and themselves, from this ease, especially my mother hated it, because I didn’t pay enough attention to my environment when I entered my extreme state of concentration, because I lost track of time. She didn’t want me to do what I liked because she didn’t like me doing it, I wasn’t doing something bad, instead I did something that confronted her with who I really was, or am. She couldn’t, and still can’t, accept that I like different things, she isn’t able to listen to my needs and always puts her own first, while I had no idea about what was wrong about me.
My inner child is a beautiful, positive and creative little girl that is completely misunderstood by the people around her. When her mother enters her room, I want to grab her hand and shout at her mother to stop the unfair punishment. I want to tell her mother what an amazing little girl she is, I want to tell her mother to stop trying to change her, to understand how amazingly smart and strong this little girl is.
I would tell her mother to open herself up, for one little but, to understand that the world is different for this little girl. I would tell her mother that being different is hard enough already, that she doesn’t need to be reminded all the time, that her mother should be the one that accepts her differences. I would tell her mother that differences are not bad, just unfamiliar, but maybe even more beautiful and interesting that the normal her mother is so desperately looking for.
I want to tell her mother to, for once, see what her father does to her. To stop walking away and stop denying what is happening in this house, to witness the pain this little girl has to go through because of her, every day. Maybe then her mother will stop calling her worthless and finally understand the strength that is inside this little person next to me.
I would hold the little girl and tell her she is beautiful and smart, I would tell her to never give in to what her parents want her to be. I would help her to complete her reading corner and I would take her out to get a book. I would tell her that she is not strange, that she has as much rights to be herself as any other person and that she deserves happiness and love as much as the rest of this world does. I would listen to all her little buts and let her change the way I see the world, let her interest me, surprise me. But most of all, I would make sure her father would never enter her room.