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

Dysfunctional Parent Modes

In this chapter you will learn more about the Modes putting pressure on you or making you feel unwanted or rejected – like an inner voice telling you over and over again that you are not smart or attractive enough to accomplish your goals and be accepted by others. The origin of such inner voices is usually in your childhood and adolescence – nobody dislikes him- or herself from birth. In most cases, somebody in the close environment of a child made it feel unwanted or “not good enough.” These Modes are called “Dysfunctional Parent Modes” to underline that they contain early messages from other people. Dysfunctional is in this context defined as “damaging” or “not helpful.”

Unfortunately the name “Dysfunctional Parent Mode” can be misleading, as it implies that it is always the fault of the parents when people cannot accept themselves. Such is the case for many people – parents do often play a significant role in the development of this Mode. Nevertheless, other people can also hurt you so badly that you turn out to have a strong “Punitive Parent Mode” later in life. Oftentimes, children are bullied and excluded from their classmates. This can cause lifelong feelings of rejection. Within families it might be other persons than parents (like grandparents or siblings) who make a child feel bad or inadequate by criticizing, ignoring, or abusing him or her. However, it may be that only some parts of the parents’ behavior were damaging, not everything they did. Maybe your parents loved you a lot and were able to show their love in many situations; but if they were very perfectionist in some areas, you may still have developed a so called “Demanding Parent Mode.”

Despite all that, we decided to keep working with the term “Dysfunctional Parent Mode,” as parents in most cases partly enabled these problems, or were at least not able to protect their children. For example, they did not prevent your brother or sister bullying you. Moreover, this term is used by schema therapists worldwide.

In the box below you will find three examples of Dysfunctional Parent Modes. Some cases represent Demanding Parent Modes, others Guilt-inducing or Punitive Parent Modes. Maybe you already have a clue about how these three Modes differ.

Case Examples “Dysfunctional Parent Modes”

1.  When Aisha gets into an argument with her friend Helena, Helena sometimes stops talking to Aisha for a whole day and pretends that she doesn’t exist. Aisha feels terribly unwanted and unloved (=Vulnerable Child Mode). At the same time, she blames herself for being egoistic and feels extreme pressure to please her friend, even if she thinks that her position in the argument was justified (=Guilt-inducing Parent Mode). Her friend’s reaction reminds Aisha strongly of her own mother, who used to punish her by depriving her of love. Aisha always had strong feelings of guilt when she did not wholly comply with her mothers’ wishes. Presumably that is why she is so vulnerable to those feelings.

2.  Annabelle used to get punished sadistically in the Magdalene asylum where she grew up. When she stood up against the sisters, she was sometimes not allowed to have dinner. Even many years later, Annabelle is not able to respond to someone who is in the wrong, because this would make her feel ashamed and full of self-hatred. Moreover, Annabelle is incapable of enjoying tasty food. When she is invited to a delicate dinner, she gets overwhelmed with shame. She simply feels not worthy of good food. The inner voice proclaiming “you are too bad to deserve good food” is a strong Punitive Parent Mode. Feelings of shame belong to Annabelle’s Vulnerable Child Mode, since the sisters had exposed her to ridicule many times.

3.  Freddie always was an overachiever in school, at university, and in his professional career. His accomplishments were praised by parents and teachers, but were taken for granted after some time. Today he is 28 years old and would like to spend more time with his girlfriend. However, it is very hard for him to leave work when there is something left to do. He feels strong pressure to do everything in time and never postpone an urgent job. Even when he leaves his office he cannot stop thinking about work; he cannot relax and enjoy his leisure time. There is a constant voice in his head telling him “you have to be perfect in everything you do.” This is a Demanding Parent Mode focusing on achievement.

Dysfunctional Parent Modes and Vulnerable (sometimes also Angry) Child Modes often come together. Risky situations are negative events related to experiences of being rejected or being criticized. Such situations often trigger a Dysfunctional Parent Mode. This may be the case even if your “critics” are actually friends with a high opinion of you. An example would be the case of Aisha: rejection by a friend triggered her Guilt-inducing Parent Mode.

Perhaps you have the experience of your boss pointing out a mistake you’ve made. This may make you feel very bad, even though it is actually a completely normal thing to happen. If you have a strong Demanding Parent Mode, it will easily be triggered in such a situation. It may make you feel severely criticized and incapable. If your Demanding Parent Mode is really strong you may even be afraid of being fired, although the criticism was constructive and factual. These experiences are quite probably associated with feelings of helplessness or shame, depending on your experiences in childhood and youth. These feelings represent the Vulnerable Child Mode – an example of the way that Dysfunctional Parent Modes and Child Modes are often triggered together.

Nevertheless, we think that it’s very important to treat the Child and Parent Modes separately. In the later chapters of this book you will learn that the schema therapy treatment for these two types of Modes is very different. Vulnerable Child Modes call for comforting and protection; you have to learn to take good care of them. Dysfunctional Parent Modes, on the other hand, have to be reduced and limited, especially when they make you feel really bad. Therefore, Dysfunctional Parent Modes and Vulnerable Child Modes are addressed separately, even though they often occur together.

In Dysfunctional Parent Mode people put excessive pressure on themselves, do not consider their own needs, think that their feelings are ridiculous, or devalue themselves for unjustified reasons.

Criticism or demands from your Dysfunctional Parent Modes can have different foci. It is important that you get to know all facets of your Dysfunctional Parent Mode. As remarked, one can differentiate between Demanding, Guilt-Inducing, and Punitive Parent Modes. Of course, it’s sometimes a “mixed version,” somewhere in between extreme demands and punitive messages. This is most often the case when several people devalued you in your childhood (e.g., parents, teachers, and classmates).

Demanding Parent Modes related to feelings of failure. Demanding Parent Modes are all about unrelenting standards in regard to the self. The main focus is on achievement in school, at university, or in your job. Strong Demanding Parent Modes in regard to shape and weight are common, too, especially in women. When the Mode’s excessive demands cannot be fulfilled, people feel like failures.

Guilt-Inducing Parent Modes. “Guilt-inducing” means to make somebody else feel guilty. This Mode gives you the feeling that you are guilty of not fulfilling the expectations of your parents. Many people have difficulties setting limits in close relationships or expressing their own needs, because they feel that the needs of others are much more important. The most important messages are “you are responsible for making other people happy” and “you have to please and look after everyone.” When you cannot live up to these demands you may feel guilty and depressed. This is why we speak of a Guilt-inducing Punitive Parent Mode.

Punitive Parent Mode. The Punitive Parent Mode is less about demands and more like an inner voice that simply denigrates and devalues the self. Often, the Punitive Parent Mode’s messages are very broad and general. It may tell you that “you have always been like this,” “you will never …,” or “you are absolutely …,” followed by negative attributes such as “stupid,” “bad,” or “ugly.”

Box 3.1: Typical Messages of Dysfunctional Parent Modes

Demanding Parent Modes with a focus on achievements and success:

·     “You always have to be the best!”

·     “If it’s not perfect, it’s worthless!”

·     “If you’re not skinny, you will never find a boyfriend!”

Guilt-inducing Parent Modes that cause feelings of guilt:

·     “You have to take care of everyone!”

·     “It’s egoistic to put your needs in the center of attention!”

·     “You have to be a perfect mother for your kids!”

·     “You are bad if you do not put the needs of others above your own needs!”

Punitive Parent Modes:

·     “You are a troublesome and difficult person.”

·     “When someone gets to know you, they will turn away from you!”

·     “It would have been better if you had not been born!”

Some people suffer from “generalized” Dysfunctional Parent Modes. These Modes turn up in almost all situations and areas of their life. In other people these Modes may only be triggered in specific situations, such as those described in “More case examples of Dysfunctional Parent Modes.”

More Case Examples of Dysfunctional Parent Modes

1.  Generalized Punitive Parent Mode. Annabelle was punished by the Magdalene sisters with food restriction and exposure when she gave her opinion. Moreover she had to do hard work as a punishment for even the smallest mistake. Physical pleasures (sexuality, cuddling, taking a long hot shower, etc.) were rejected, demonized, and sometimes even punished.

Today it is very difficult for Annabelle to take her own needs seriously and to allow herself any pleasure. Besides food, all physical pleasures, such as showering, sex, massages, or sunbathing, are “forbidden.” When she feels that she has done something wrong (and she always feels as though she is doing things wrong), she feels awful and deserving of punishment. Annabelle is chronically depressed and very unstable due to these experiences. A long psychotherapy treatment will be necessary for her to overcome her Punitive Parent Mode, to learn to take good care of herself, and to become less strict with herself.

2.  A combination of Guilt-inducing and Demanding Parent Mode in specific situations. Leah is a social worker – a job in which many people sacrifice themselves. Leah is usually able to keep within her limits. However, with young male clients it is somewhat different. She feels very responsible and protective for them and takes on duties and problems which her clients should actually deal with themselves.

When Leah is on a workshop for prophylaxis in mental health she starts to think about this pattern. She is able to date it back to her childhood. Her younger brother was handicapped and she, as an older sister, helped to care for him from early on. When she looks closely at the feelings that her younger clients evoke they are very similar to her feeling of responsibility as an older sister towards her younger brother.

The three different Dysfunctional Parent Modes are explained in more detail below.

3.1 Demanding Parent Modes

Demanding Parent Modes with a focus on achievement and success push people to give their very best in everything. They may not rest until they are best at everything. When a student with a strong Demanding Parent Mode misses out just once on achieving the top score they may think of themselves as a failure, and may even think about changing their field of study. Demanding Parent Mode can lead to exhaustion and burnout, as you do not allow yourself any breaks but instead persist in seeking perfection and aiming for unachievable goals. People with this type of Parent Mode always put success, work, and discipline first. Joy, fun, and pleasure come a poor second.

Another typical Demanding Parent Mode can appear in the field of weight and body shape. Somebody with a strong Demanding Parent Mode will be very disciplined and controlled in regard to exercise and eating. Eating a dessert may be punished with excessive physical exertion. The biggest psychological problem related to this Mode is usually the feeling of failure.


Figure 3.1 Demanding Parent Mode

Case Example “Demanding Parent”

Lisa is 32 years old and mother of two little children. In her youth and during her time as a student she used to exercise a lot and was always very slim. She gained a few pounds after the birth of her children. In her everyday life there is rarely time for exercise, and so she has not shed the extra weight yet. Everyone thinks that Lisa still looks slim and fit, but she is dissatisfied with her shape and weight. She often resolves to start new diet and exercise schedules, but she can’t keep them up due to stress and lack of time. She weighs herself every morning and when she has had a big dinner the scales sometimes show an extra pound. This makes her feel angry, frustrated, and desperate. The next day she will go jogging instead of having dinner.

It is often quite easy to pick out parents or parent figures with high standards in the life stories of people with strong Demanding Parent Modes. They may say about their childhood, “An A grade was good for my father, a B was OK, but he would always disapprove of a B minus.” In particular, lack of explicit praise will make people get into a perpetual race, always chasing higher achievements. They hope to reach a point when they are good enough and their parents are finally happy with them. From a child’s perspective it is not possible to understand that it will never be good enough.

Many people with strong Demanding Parent Modes were engaged in competitive sports or played a musical instrument at a high standard in their childhood and adolescence. When we seek the origins of Demanding Parent Modes in therapy, we often uncover judo, gymnastics or track and field trainers, or piano teachers. “He was never satisfied, we always had to give everything in the training but nothing was ever good enough to satisfy him.” After every achievement the child reached, there was always a new and higher target – it never came to an end. These dynamics are fueled by the competitive structure of the related systems. The child or adolescent has to climb up a ladder that extends and becomes steeper the higher they get. When a child is successful in sports or musical competitions, the next step is to compete on a higher level. This continues until they reach a level where success is no longer possible.

Case Example “Demanding Parent Mode in Sports”

Sebastian took part in competitive swimming as a teenager. At the local level he was a champion, which is why he started swimming in national competitions. Despite his extremely tough training he never did better than 6th or 7th. Sebastian learned from this to feel like a loser despite hard work and good results. His central memories regarding his career as a swimmer are not the successful local competitions, but his trainer’s disappointment with the national results. Now, Sebastian is at college. When facing exams he experiences severe pressure and feels like a failure when he doesn’t get excellent results. This feeling reminds him strongly of his situation as a competitive swimmer.

Box 3.2: Demanding Parent Mode or Healthy Ambition?

We are living in a world where you are expected to succeed – at work, in sports, or in your appearance. For many people this is accompanied by the experience of an “inner booster” pushing them to accomplish difficult goals. You may wonder about the difference between healthy ambition that drives you forward and a Demanding Parent Mode. The difference is how you feel about your ambitions, and whether your ambitions still allow you to fulfill important basic needs for rest, pleasure, attachment, etc. We would incline towards identifying Demanding Parent Mode if you experience difficulties such as sleep disturbance, intense rumination, binge eating or exhaustion related to stress and excessively high standards. Another sign of a Demanding Parent Mode is failure to participate in pleasant activities that fulfill the need for relaxation and fun (e.g., dancing, meeting friends, going to the movies). When you always “have to work” you are probably dealing with a Demanding Parent Mode. However, as long as you are feeling fine, you are not suffering from stress-related symptoms, and you manage to balance work and relaxation, you probably have healthy ambition driving you towards success.

You should be able to see from everything you’ve read so far that people who were the cause of a Demanding Parent Mode in a child probably had the best of intentions. However, the balance between praise and demands was out. It often happens that parents show affection and recognition through praise for achievements. Despite good intentions, this can lead to the child feeling loved only when he or she has accomplished something. Some children experience love and affection being taken away from them when they do not achieve good results, for instance when a mother shows disappointment and hardly talks to her son because he got a C grade at school. This is very distressing for children and can leave a permanent scar on the soul of a child. The child will do anything to avoid bad grades but will take no pleasure in accomplishing something – just strong disappointment and a feeling of being unloved when they fail.

It may be the case that parents, teachers, or other important people never explicitly asked for achievements from the child or adolescent. Instead they exemplify extreme commitment by never allowing themselves any time for relaxation and fun. Even if they reassure children that good grades are not everything in life, they display quite another example. Psychologists call this “vicarious learning.”

Box 3.3: How does a Demanding Parent Mode Usually Develop?

·     Parents or teachers emphasize the importance of grades and achievements very strongly.

·     Parents deprive a child of love when they fail with something.

·     A child is rewarded for achievements only.

·     A child is active in a highly competitive system, for example, sports or music.

3.1.1 How can I detect my own Demanding Parent Mode?

The following statements help you to find out whether you have a strong Demanding Parent Mode or not.

·     I don’t allow myself to relax or to have fun until all the work is done.

·     I am under permanent pressure to accomplish or achieve things.

·     I try to never make a mistake. If I do, I punish myself.

·     I know that there is a “good” and a “bad” way to do things. I try very hard to do everything in the right way. If I don’t manage this, I am very critical of myself.

Worksheet 6, “My Demanding Parent Mode,” will help you recognize a Demanding Parent Mode and, if necessary, enable you to get more familiar with it. You may integrate the results in your Mode overview.

Worksheet 6: My Demanding Parent Mode

My Demanding Parent Mode

My name for this Mode (e.g. Hurrier):

Messages of the Demanding Parent Mode:

1. How can I realize that my Demanding Parent Mode is present?

What is triggering my Demanding Parent Mode?

What feelings do I usually have in this Mode?

What thoughts tend to come up in this Mode?

What memories are associated/get triggered?

How does my body feel in this Mode?

How do I usually behave in this Mode?

2. Was my Demanding Parent Mode triggered by another Mode? By which one?

3. What are my actual needs when I am in the Demanding Parent Mode?

4. How does this Mode affect my feelings of safety?

3.1.2 How can I detect a Demanding Parent Mode in other people?

When someone you interact with has a strong Demanding Parent Mode, you may get the impression that their perfectionism is really over the top. You may feel that they try way too hard and take on much more responsibility than they should. Possibly, you think that their effort is often exaggerated. You may think, “Why do they have to do all that? That’s not necessary! They could ask for help, nobody expects them to do everything by themselves” or “If they go on this way they will have a breakdown. It’s too much, they need some rest.” However, even if you tell them, they may not understand or accept your view, or they will not be able to relax anyway.

You almost certainly know people who always tend to overstress themselves. Even when they feel exhausted they sign up for that extra task that nobody wants to do. Why can’t they avoid these jobs just like everybody else? Probably a Demanding Parent Mode is involved.

Listen carefully to their answer when you confront them with their Demanding Parent Mode. If they are happy with your suggestion to get around the extra task, and act upon it, they probably do not suffer from a Demanding Parent Mode, but rather hadn’t thought of a way to step aside from the task in the first place. But if they start explaining why they have to do more than anybody else you have probably encountered a Demanding Parent Mode.

3.2 Guilt-Inducing Parent Modes

In these Modes, people also set very high standards for themselves, but their demands focus on how someone should feel or behave in certain social situations. It is very common for people in such Modes to feel that they have to do everything for others and that they must not criticize anyone else. They feel that they always have to be nice and friendly, and responsible for the wellbeing of others; when they can’t live up to this ideal they tend to feel guilty. People in social professions – physicians, psychotherapists, social workers, or nurses – often have this type of Parent Mode, at least to a degree.


Figure 3.2 Guilt-inducing Parent Mode

Case Example “Guilt-inducing Parent Mode”

Violet is a psychotherapist who is very popular with her clients. She is very empathic with other people, understands their problems, and can support, encourage, and cheer them up in a unique way. Nevertheless, she sometimes has difficulty setting boundaries both in her professional and her private life. She tries to take care of everything and everyone, even if she feels overstrained, and when she can’t help someone she feels guilty and unloved.

Violet’s mother suffered from depression. During depressive episodes she was very distant and dismissive, even towards her children. Violet always tried to cheer her up and to get a little smile. Because of that she still feels responsible for cheering everyone up. She feels as though she can’t be loved until she makes everybody she deals with happy and satisfied.

Taking the role of your parent (parentification). The case of Violet is typical of the genesis of a Guilt-inducing Parent Mode. People with a parent suffering from a mental disorder such as depression often develop a Guilt-inducing Parent Mode. This is because as children they felt personally responsible for their parent’s mood and wellbeing. Other family members may feel overburdened with the disorder and cope with the situation by retreating from it. This may increase feelings of responsibility in the caring daughter, because she is, indeed, the only one who cares. In fact, this is a role reversal. Psychotherapists call this process “parentification”: a child has had to take the role of an adult, especially its social and emotional parts, way too early. The child becomes the parent of its parent.

A similar situation occurs when parents separate and one of them uses the child as a “garbage can” by talking badly about the marriage or the former spouse. The child easily adopts the role of an advisor or negotiator, which again is not appropriate. When the child is not “successful” in this role, for example, failing to make the parents happy or save their relationship, he or she feels guilty and tries even harder. A child cannot understand that this function is inappropriate and outside its limits. Instead they may simply take it as normal and internalize the role as a Demanding Parent Mode for the rest of their life.

Vicarious learning. Learning from somebody else (i.e., a role model) can also lead to the acquisition of an emotionally Demanding Parent Mode. People with a strong Mode of this type have often experienced a situation in their childhood where all the family members had to adjust their life and needs to the needs of one person, such as a physically or mentally ill sibling or parent. Or everybody had to pretend to father/grandfather/grandmother that they were happy and satisfied and loved them deeply. You had to play this role, no matter what your true feelings were. In such cases, everyone in the family circle is obliged to show emotions, attention, affection, or joy which they do not actually feel. Later in life they may feel guilty when they openly display disapproval.

Case Example “Emotionally Demanding Parent Mode”

Anna is a nurse. She is very popular, always calm and in a good mood. Nevertheless, she is aware that patients with bossy behaviors and who made heavy demands are extremely distressing to her. When she deals with these patients she becomes hectic and feels bad when they are not satisfied.

They resemble Anna’s father. Life was always quite pleasant for Anna’s family when their father was absent. But when he came home after work, the whole family had to try hard to keep his mood up, to avoid him getting irritated and bossy. Nobody ever explicitly advised Anna to behave in a certain way, but from her early childhood she learned to follow her mother’s example.

In extreme cases it may even be dangerous not to play a certain role. Daughters of alcoholic fathers, for example, often came to realize that their fathers were irritable, incalculable, or even violent when they were drunk. Sometimes, the mother stayed in the marriage despite dangerous violence from the father. She always reacted submissively in order to calm him down. Children in such family constellations often experience anxiety and threat when they try to express their needs in a relationship or to criticize their partner later in life, even if there is no longer a real reason to worry.

Box 3.4: Typical Biographical Situations for the Genesis of an Emotionally Demanding or Guilt-inducing Parent Mode

·     Parentification: Parents were emotionally unstable and the child learned to be responsible for the wellbeing of others from early on.

·     Vicarious learning: A child learned from other family members to play a certain role in order to please somebody.

·     A (physically or psychologically) violent family member could be calmed down when everybody pleased them.

3.2.1 How can I detect Guilt-inducing Parent Modes?

With the help of the following statements you can check whether you have a Guilt-inducing Parent Mode:

·     I try very hard to make it right for everyone and to avoid conflicts, arguments, or rejection from others.

·     I am a bad person if I get angry at others.

·     I force myself to take more responsibility than most other people.

You can find questions with regard to your Guilt-inducing Parent Mode in Worksheet 7. You may add this information to your Mode overview. In your everyday life you can recognize this Mode by the feelings of pressure and guilt that make it really hard to show your needs, even if it would actually be completely justified.

Worksheet 7: My Guilt-inducing Parent Mode

My Guilt-inducing Parent Mode

My name for this Mode (e.g. Mother Therese):

Messages of the Guilt-inducing Parent Mode:

1. How can I realize that my Guilt-inducing Parent Mode is present?

What is triggering my Guilt-inducing Parent Mode?

What feelings do I usually have in this Mode?

What thoughts tend to come up in this Mode?

What memories are associated/get triggered?

How does my body feel in this Mode?

How do I usually behave in this Mode?

2. Was my Guilt-Inducing Parent Mode triggered by another Mode? By which one?

3. What are my actual needs when I am in the Guilt-inducing Parent Mode?

4. How does this Mode affect my feelings of safety?

With regard to Guilt-inducing Parent Modes in others, you may suspect this Mode if you feel that someone should not put so much effort into making it right for everyone else. You may feel that they should pursue their own needs more strongly. But if, when you tell them, they will not accept it, even if they would like to, then you are justified in assuming there is a Guilt-inducing Parent Mode.

3.3 Punitive Parent Mode

In the Punitive Parent Mode people devalue, denigrate or even hate themselves. In their childhood, these people often experienced emotional, physical, or sexual abuse. An example would be a girl who was teased by her classmates because of her big breasts. It is quite likely that this woman will feel ashamed of her breasts, or even of her whole body, for the rest of her life. Or think of a boy who was cruelly punished for the slightest mistakes. Later in his life he will probably feel as if he deserves to be punished when he slips up.

There are different types of abuse that can result in a Punitive Parent Mode. Some people even experience several types of abuse simultaneously.


Figure 3.3 Punitive Parent Mode

Sexual abuse. This is probably the best-known type of abuse. In some cases the perpetrator is the father or stepfather. However, other people can be perpetrators, such as neighbors or people in positions of trust like leaders of youth organizations, priests, or sports trainers. Sexual abuse leads to a Punitive Parent Mode for several reasons. Sexually abused children are often ashamed of what has happened even though they are not to blame. In addition, perpetrators often make the children feel that it is their fault. Abused children often feel that they deserve no better treatment – in a way, the assault is proof that they are obviously bad.

Physical abuse. Physically abused children are battered or physically harmed in other ways. Sometimes the perpetrator basically has a bad temper and is very impulsive. In other cases, physical abuse seems to be rather sadistic, meaning that the perpetrator finds pleasure in abusing the child. This leads most often to severe psychological scars and to strong Punitive Parent Modes. Physical abuse can also happen between classmates or peers, with terrible psychological consequences for the victim.

Emotional abuse. This means that children are harmed psychologically by their parents or others. Emotionally abusive parents may tell their child that it is guilty, and responsible for their problems; that they would be happier if the child had not been born. They may leave the house announcing suicide, etc. Note that these examples are rather extreme – emotional abuse can also be more subtle and inconspicuous.

Neglect. When neglected children feel that they are not worthy of good care they will probably internalize this as a strong Punitive Parent Mode. Neglect can be a failure to care for a child’s basic physical needs, such as food, clothing, warmth, etc. However, emotional needs can also be neglected, for example when a parent is insensitive to a child, does not support it in dealing with problems at school or with friends, leaves the child alone without saying when they will be coming back, etc.

Other severe punishments. Some people experience very cruel punishment in their childhood. Examples are being locked outside the house naked, being excluded from meals, or being locked away in a dark cellar. Such experiences leave deep scars and most likely will only be overcome with professional psychotherapy.

Mobbing. Mobbing between classmates or peers can be an extreme and long-lasting type of abuse. People often report mobbing situations that went on for years. Mobbing by classmates is disastrous, because you have to spend almost every day for many years with the same people. Uncovering the mobbing situation might make the perpetrators feel offended and can even worsen the situation for the victim! This constellation induces strong helplessness and pressure to surrender.

Case Examples “Punitive Parent Mode”

1.  Julia is a 28-year-old psychotherapy patient with borderline personality disorder. She cannot manage to live a normal life and pursue goals like other people. When a small problem or conflict comes up, Julia injures herself and retreats completely. As a child she was severely abused by her grandfather over many years. Although the family guessed what was going on, nobody took action and Julia was sent to her grandparents over and over again. Today she hates herself, and in particular her body. She feels that she deserves bad treatment. She ignores her own needs, and will certainly not talk about them. She punishes herself with self-injury when the feeling of self-hatred overwhelms her.

2.  Patricia cannot stand herself and hardly allows herself any food. Eating provokes feelings of disgust in her. She grew up in a foster family with a sadistic foster mother, who was presumably overstrained with her foster children and often accused Patricia of stealing food. As a punishment she was sent to bed without dinner and locked in her room. Patricia’s foster mother was wrong to accuse Julia most of the time but punished her cruelly nevertheless.

3.  Danny has an antisocial personality disorder. His father battered him for years. Even if he did not do anything wrong he was battered and locked in his room without food and water. His father told him that he was a bad person and no good for anything. Danny lived on the streets and became involved with a criminal youth gang. He used cocaine, alcohol, and amphetamines. He thought, “If they say that I’m bad, I’ll prove they’re right.” Sometimes he’s used drugs in an attempt to destroy himself. He is convinced that he is actually not worthy of living.

Punitive Parent Modes can have different “messages.” They are almost always related to being unlovable. Moreover, these messages can comprehend shame and disgust in regard to the self, for example, addressing needs that had been punished in childhood. People with a strong Punitive Parent Mode can rarely see that their needs and rights are important.

3.3.1 How can I detect a Punitive Parent Mode in myself?

The following statements help you to check whether you suffer from a Punitive Parent Mode:

·     I am not allowed to do pleasant things like other people because I am bad.

·     I deserve punishment.

·     I have the urge to punish and hurt myself (e.g., cutting myself).

·     I cannot forgive myself.

If you hate yourself most of the time; feel ashamed of yourself, your feelings and needs; or think that you cannot expect anyone to spend time with you, you are certainly suffering from a Punitive Parent Mode. You can hardly believe that anyone likes you or that you are important to anybody. In Worksheet 8 you will find questions to ask yourself about your Punitive Parent Mode. You may add this information in the Mode overview.

Worksheet 8: My Punitive Parent Mode

My Punitive Parent Mode

My name for this Mode (e.g. Inquisitor):

Messages of the Punitive Parent Mode:

1. How can I realize that my Punitive Parent Mode is present?

What is triggering my Punitive Parent Mode?

What feelings do I usually have in this Mode?

What thoughts tend to come up in this Mode?

What memories are associated/get triggered?

How does my body feel in this Mode?

How do I usually behave in this Mode?

2. Was my Demanding Parent Mode triggered by another Mode (e.g. Vulnerable Child) By which one?

3. What are my actual needs when I am in the Punitive Parent Mode?

4. How does this Mode affect my feelings of safety?

3.3.2 How can I detect a Punitive Parent Mode in others?

An important sign of a Punitive Parent Mode in somebody else is that positive messages do not seem to reach them. The person does not value himself or herself no matter how hard you try to convince them that a little mistake is not important or that they are loved and precious.

The person in question may ask all the time if you can still stand being around them. Or they emphasize over and over again that they are stupid and annoying. Maybe you feel desperate around this person because your view of them is completely different. You might even get angry after a while because you feel that all your effort to express sympathy and interest in the other person is not reaching them. The Punitive Parent Mode stands like a wall between the two of you.

Case Example “Punitive Parent Mode”

Charlotte has a strong Punitive Parent Mode. As a child she was physically abused and was left with the feeling of being absolutely worthless. Today, Charlotte is a lovable woman who has some loyal and reliable friends. Her friend Christine has similar problems, although less severe. Christine sometimes tries to question Charlotte’s punitive self-perception. She suggests that Charlotte sees things from a different perspective to make her realize how good she is. However, Charlotte hardly reacts to such efforts from her friend. She seems to hear the words but the information does not “stick.” Christine gets frustrated by her reaction and resolves to let Charlotte stay “on her own planet” the next time, although she feels so sorry for her.

You may have noticed that in Punitive Parent Modes a vicious circle can be triggered, as with the Vulnerable Child Mode. People with a strong Punitive Parent Mode feel that they do not have the same rights as other people. Close friends will probably have a completely different opinion on that. They care about the other person’s needs and would be happy to see them enforce their rights. Nevertheless, people with a strong Punitive Parent Mode seem to be “deaf” to such encouragement. Because of their self-hatred, they might even repel people who want the best for them. This urge to punish the self can even lead to devaluation of others – just because they are interested in oneself!

3.4 Summary

Dysfunctional Parent Modes are a kind of negative inner voice telling you over and over again that you are bad or worthless and that you will never be accepted or loved by others.

The name “Dysfunctional Parent Mode” does not mean that your parents were bad or that your parents gave you these negative messages. Sometimes some parts of the parents’ behavior may have been damaging, but not everything they did. Within families it might be people other than the parents (such as grandparents or siblings) who make a child feel bad or insufficient. Children are often bullied and excluded by their classmates, which can cause lifelong feelings of rejection.

We distinguish three Dysfunctional Parent Modes. The Demanding Parent Mode is developed when parents or teachers focus on accomplishments and success, and only show affection and recognition through praise for achievement; it is never good enough. The Guilt-inducing Parent Mode arises from parents who have (psychological) problems themselves and make their child responsible for their wellbeing or marital problems. The child has to take the role of an adult, especially its social and emotional parts, far too early in life. The Punitive Parent Mode is caused by emotional, physical, or sexual abuse by parents or other caregivers.

You can put the information about Dysfunctional Parent Modes in your personal Mode overview.

It is not always easy to detect your Parent Modes. If you have a Spoilt or Undisciplined Child Mode it is especially difficult to find out whether you also have a Dysfunctional Parent Mode. Maybe you do not have a self-critical inner voice at all because your parents put too little pressure on you and did not give you healthy limitations. If your parents were ill or had a lot of problems you still only feel sorry for them and don’t feel they did anything wrong.

In the next chapters you can detect how you “survived” the negative messages of your parents and developed different possibilities for dealing with difficult emotional experiences. The ways you dealt with difficult or threatening situations are called “coping styles.”