Breaking Negative Thinking Patterns: A Schema Therapy Self-Help and Support Book


Promoting Your Healthy Adult Mode

As you read this chapter you may start to think that it’s repeating issues from the earlier chapters, and you’d be absolutely right! The Healthy Adult part of you is needed for all changes to all the other Modes. Let’s summarize: Vulnerable Child Mode should be comforted and strengthened; Angry Child Modes should be given the opportunity to express their emotions and needs more adequately; Impulsive or Spoilt Child Modes must learn to tolerate reasonable limits; Avoidant Coping Modes should be reduced; and Punitive, Guilt-inducing, or Demanding Parent Modes have to be neutralized. All these developments are driven by your Healthy Adult Mode: the Healthy Adult part of you comforts the Vulnerable Child, sets limits to the spoilt child, negotiates with coping, and silences the Parent Modes. Thus, your Healthy Adult Mode is vital for all the changes you might wish to achieve.

Now it’s up to your Healthy Adult part to set priorities. Which change seems most important to you and how much energy do you want to put into the process? How will you reward yourself when you’ve made the first steps? Reflecting on these issues is an important exercise for your Healthy Adult Mode. Don’t overburden yourself, as your Demanding Parent Mode asks of you. Accept that you can’t get everything at once, as the Undisciplined Child may suggest. Unfortunately, the Vulnerable Child elements may not get all the care they might need, even if you manage to take better care of them… Again, it’s the job of the Healthy Adult Mode to recognize limits and to stay level-headed. The following ideas may help you to set up a realistic change schedule.

Role models. Fortunately, most people have someone, or several people, who can serve as role models for Healthy Adult behavior. We dealt with this topic in Chapter 9. Who will listen to you and understand your sorrows when you are sad or upset? Who looks at you affectionately? Who do you know that can manage and balance his or her own needs and the interests of others?

Often, such models are real people – maybe your aunt, your grandmother, or a close friend. But if you don’t know a real person who fits as a role model you can perfectly easily use a character from a story or a movie instead. It’s important to have someone at your side who is both warm-hearted and realistic.

If you feel that adopting such a perspective is very difficult for you, you are not a failure. It might be a good idea, however, to see a professional therapist as a source of support for your Healthy Adult part.

Be realistic. Life isn’t perfect, and human-beings aren’t perfect either. This is no reason to become desperate – it’s completely normal. You should always keep this in mind. Don’t expect to fly to the stars, don’t plan a day that would actually need 60 hours. Being realistic includes taking your true potential into account – no matter whether you are focusing on your social contacts, your job, or your finances. You should always deal with actual, existing conditions and plan how to get the best out of them. Being realistic also means acknowledging that there are better and worse phases in your life: you’re not going to get a perfect personal balance every time. Accept your limits and the ups and downs of your life; aim to get your needs met as fully as possible under the circumstances. It is also part of being realistic to review and act within your power to change a situation at all. Imagine that you want to change the conflicts you have with your boss. It may well be that after careful consideration you have to accept that your boss is just too difficult to change, or that you’d have to put up with unbearable conditions at work to stop the conflicts… In such situations the realistic action is either put a lot more distance between you and your boss, or look for another job.

Be honest with yourself. Often, people want to change a lot in their life. However, change demands a lot of effort. For instance, it will take many years to make a wish for a university degree come true. It will certainly be positive for your mental and physical health to pursue a healthier lifestyle – healthier eating, losing weight, quitting smoking, or exercising more. But keep in mind that you’ll need a lot of discipline and effort. You will only reach goals like these if you are motivated and mobilize a lot of energy. Some dream bubbles may burst when you ask yourself if you’re honestly ready. Being honest with yourself is important: if you’re not honest you’ll likely end up chronically frustrated and dissatisfied (and of course you won’t reach your goals).

Find a balance between your needs and the needs of others. All the chapters in this book deal in some way with the question of how you can manage to get your needs met. But, of course, you have to realize that others have their needs, too. The limit to our freedom is always the freedom of others. It’s usually possible to find a compromise and we should always be ready to meet people halfway.

When people finally start paying attention to their own needs, it can be quite irritating for others in their circle. Other people may just not be used to it. It’s important to watch carefully the steps you’re making. Give the people around you some time to get accustomed to your change. For instance, if you’ve never before “shocked” your husband by taking up activities on your own, don’t start too many of them overnight! Give him some time to get used to the new you… If you sense that someone important in your life is irritated or annoyed, just take your time with your development –they’ll probably get used to it after a while. If they don’t, though, you may decide to talk things over and explain your new behavior. Maybe this is a time for working out a compromise (see above)…

Get concrete. Many people spend years longing for some change in their life. However, their ideas are often vague – “I’d like to be more self-confident,” “I need a better balance in my life,” or “I want to care more for myself.” These are good, useful goals, but they’re also too vague and too universal. Our experience as therapists has taught us that the more concrete your goals, and the closer those goals are to your actual behavior, the higher the probability of realizing them.

The following questions guide you towards becoming more concrete about one popular personal goal – “I want to be more self-confident”:

·     What does it look like to be self-confident?

·     How can I recognize that somebody is self-confident? How does he or she actually behave? What makes me realize that this person is self-confident?

·     In which situations do I want to be more self-confident? What would it look like if I behaved self-confidently in this situation? What would make other people realize it? What is the difference the ideal and my current behavior in this situation?

Worksheet 18, “Changes” can help you to set priorities and to get a realistic view of your possibilities.

Worksheet 18: Changes


I want to change the following things:




How important is this change?



How much can I influence this change?



How motivated am I for this change?



Am I prepared to invest some effort to change?



What do I need to attain this goal?


What do I need to make this goal more concrete?


Who is affected by this change? What are the consequences?


Imagery exercises. We’ve already been through several imagery exercises. They are an ideal way to strengthen your Healthy Adult Mode. To prepare yourself for change, you should imagine doing certain things in your Healthy Adult Mode (Exercise 11.1).

Exercise 11.1

Think of a particular situation where you usually back down but where you actually ought to pursue your interests. Start by imagining how you would like things to go (and how you’d like yourself to behave). Relax, close your eyes and run a film before your mind’s eye. Imagine what it would be like to be in your Healthy Adult Mode in this situation.

This sounds a little bit silly to many people when they first hear about it – but just give it a try! For many people an initial rehearsal in fantasy is a great preparation for real change.

Case Example

You already know Megan from Section 2.1. She and her family used to move around a lot in her childhood, so she was always “the new one” at school and in the neighborhood. This history makes Megan often still feel excluded. When this happens she feels sad and rejected (Vulnerable Child Mode) and is convinced that others don’t want her to participate (Punitive Parent Mode).

In the imagery exercise Megan imagines a quite difficult situation. She visualizes some of her fellow students sharing a table at the cafeteria. They all sit together talking and laughing. In real life, Megan would choose to sit somewhere else by herself in such a situation, but in the imagery exercise she approaches the table and asks for permission to join them. The others agree, they make room for another chair and include her in the conversation.

The following week Megan encounters the real-life situation. Since she is prepared by her imagery exercise, she knows exactly how her Healthy Adult Mode would like to behave. She manages to join the group at the table. Afterwards she feels proud and happy.

Activities. To strengthen your Healthy Adult Mode you have to be aware of situations which help you to get into this Mode. This may not always be easy, especially when your Healthy Adult part is not very strong. If that is the case, you should give a high priority to scheduling activities that bring you closer to this Mode. The more you pursue such activities, the stronger your Healthy Adult Mode will become. Box 11.1 lists the kind of activities that evoke the Healthy Adult Mode.

Box 11.1

You can get into your Healthy Adult Mode if you…

·     Learn something new

·     Talk with a good friend about what matters in life

·     Take responsibility for something

·     Exercise

·     Repair something

·     Write down your positive experiences of the day at night

·     Read a newspaper or a book

·     Do something healthy (yoga, eating fresh fruits…)

·     Try a new recipe

·     Do a hobby

·     Explain something to someone or help others

·     Tick an item on your “to-do list” and reward yourself

·     Write yourself a positive and friendly postcard

Make a personal list of activities that bring up and promote your Healthy Adult Mode. It’s a good idea to design your list nicely and give it a central place in your home so that you’ll stumble across it from time to time. It is important to put concrete points on your Healthy Adult list, especially if you’re aware that you tend to avoid Healthy Adult activities.

If your Healthy Adult Mode is already strong and often present, the following exercises may not be so relevant for you.

Behavior experiments. We explained behavior experiments in Section 7.2.3 dealing with the Angry Child Mode. Such experiments are a good way of approaching your Healthy Adult Mode. (Sometimes it is a good idea to access your Healthy Adult Mode in a light-hearted way.) Pick a specific situation in which you would like to behave in a Healthy Adult Mode (a situation where you need to pursue your interests) – even if you don’t yet feel like it. An example would be if you felt insecure and anxious but still wanted to have a little chat with a colleague at your next meeting; then try out the approach and the chat as a behavior experiment.

Behavior experiments can vary a lot, depending on the behavior you want to change. Worksheet 19, “Behavior experiment” and the following case example can be a help.

Worksheet 19: Behavior Experiment

Behavior Experiment

Which situation do I want my Healthy Adult Mode to become the leader in?

How exactly do I want to behave?

Which Modes have been problematic so far?

What will help me to remind myself about my resolution in the situation (e.g. postcards, imagery exercise)?

How would a caring person encourage me?

How will I reward myself for success in the behavior experiment?

Case Example

You already know Susie from Section 2.2 and the beginning of Chapter 7. She has a strong Impulsive Child Mode in which she parties excessively, drinks too much alcohol, and ends up having unprotected sex. Susie’s Impulsive Child Mode is a substantial threat to her studies and her health. She’s realized by now that her Healthy Adult Mode has to take control of “party Susie” if she wants to finish her studies. She has not been going out for several weeks now to avoid temptation. However, she is missing contact with other people, music, and dancing. In this behavior experiment she wants to look for a balance between responsibility and fun.

She first writes down a message from her Healthy Adult Mode on a postcard

Dear Susie,

At the party you will certainly be tempted to start drinking again and then go too far. Please keep in mind that your impulsive child gets her foot in the door as soon as you start drinking beer. Remember that your studies are important to you and that you cannot afford excessive partying! And I would like to remind you that this kind of behavior has put you in danger in the past… You’re really too good for the guys you end up with.

As her behavior experiment Susie plans to go to a student party. So that her Healthy Adult Mode can stay in charge she isn’t going to drink alcohol and she’s going to go home at 1 a.m. at the latest. The card with the message from her Healthy Adult Mode is in her pocket. She’s planned what to say when someone offers her alcohol and she’s already tried it out in an imagery exercise.

It all works. This night Susie discovered that she can enjoy music and dancing even when she is not drunk. Moreover, she doesn’t do things that she is ashamed of on the morning after. In fact, the next morning she is proud of herself and treats herself to a cappuccino and a chocolate cake in her favorite coffee shop.

This chapter is about the Healthy Adult Mode – the part in you that has an overview, sets priorities, stays realistic, accepts your needs, and brings them in balance with the needs of others. This is all quite demanding and no one can manage to be in this Mode all the time. However, if you often feel as if you almost don’t have a Healthy Adult Mode it’s important to accept it – but in such a case a (schema-) therapy will help you to promote and strengthen your healthy side.