If you often feel stressed or pressured, are hard on yourself and prone to self-criticism, you may well have a strong Demanding Parent – one of the most common modes in schema therapy. These modes are parts of our psyche, which have different functions and can be more or less helpful, depending on the messages they give us. For example, the Healthy Adult is a nurturing and protective mode, which helps us function well day to day and defends the more vulnerable parts of us from the critical, unsympathetic parts.
This may all seem a bit confusing, but we all have different sides to our personality – some more positive and helpful than others. In order to work directly with these different sides, in schema therapy we name them and try to get clear on their particular flavour: protective or attacking; encouraging or destructive; soothing or upsetting. The Demanding Parent is the part that drives us on, trying to achieve ever greater volumes of work or higher standards in our work, parenting or academic achievement. To an extent, this is helpful – it's good to be hard-working and ambitious, to take pride in everything we do. That's certainly the approach I take to my therapy sessions – I always want to do my best for people and help them as much as I can.
Never good enough
The trouble is, your Demanding Parent is never satisfied. It's like however hard you try, however many hours you spend slaving away at your desk, however much praise you get from your boss, that internal pushy parent always wants more. I see this mode in people who are perfectionistic, never happy unless they get all As or a first in their degree. Also those who are harshly self-critical, jumping on every mistake, however small, and berating themselves for it. If you have a strong Demanding Parent, no wonder you feel exhausted and under pressure all the time!
In schema therapy, we aim to quieten this destructive voice down and get the Healthy Adult to take over its job. This part of us still pushes us and helps us achieve, but is encouraging, not aggressive; positive, not negative; and supportive, not undermining. Think of it this way: if you wanted to lose weight, would you rather have a personal trainer who screamed at you and put you down all the time, or one who was encouraging and on your side, helping you achieve your goals without making you feel bad about every little slip-up? I know which I would choose.
Remember to be kind to yourself, even when you are striving and aiming high. Research clearly shows that being harshly self-critical is not remotely helpful or motivating. A firm but fair approach achieves far better results – and doesn't leave you vulnerable to developing mental health problems like chronic stress, anxiety or depression.
If you would like to learn how to be less self-critical, email firstname.lastname@example.org