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

Healthy Adult Mode

The Healthy Adult Mode is your internal superior authority. It has a fairly objective, reasonable overview of your emotions and other psychological processes. In psychodynamic therapies this Mode is called the “healthy ego function.” In this Mode you have a healthy, adequate view of yourself and others. You can deal with everyday problems without getting into emotional troubles; small signs of rejection will not upset you too much, because they do not mean the world to you; you can tolerate conflicts and deal with them. However, you also know that you sometimes have to compromise and put your own needs and desires into second place. Overall, you can keep a healthy balance between your own needs and those of other people. Since you are not overwhelmed by negative feelings in this Mode, you don’t have to avoid or overcompensate your feelings; you usually have at least some idea how you feel and why your current feelings have been triggered; you feel (mostly) adult – you can pursue adult interests, responsibilities, and pleasures. Of course we are talking about the big picture here – nobody is perfect!

Maybe you have already noticed that the Healthy Adult and the Happy Child have some things in common. The main thing is that you feel generally well and relaxed in either of these two Modes. In the Happy Child the main feelings are ease, fun, and curiosity. In contrast, in the Healthy Adult Mode you experience more adult pleasures, but also responsibilities and challenges.

Box 5.1: Features of the Healthy Adult Mode

·     “Healthy ego functioning”

·     Realistic judgment of situations, conflicts, relationships, yourself, and other people

·     Little problems do not trigger overwhelming negative emotions

·     You sense both your own feelings and needs and those of other people

·     You can balance your needs with the needs of others

·     You can make commitments, take responsibilities, and comply to your duties

·     You find constructive solutions for problems

·     You enjoy adult pleasures and interests (sports, culture, sex, etc.)

People with a strong Happy Child Mode usually experience a strong Healthy Adult Mode, and vice versa. In people with strong Dysfunctional Child and Parent Modes, however, the Healthy Adult Mode is often underdeveloped. It’s no wonder that people with a strong Healthy Adult Mode suffer less from psychological problems than those with weak Healthy Adult Modes.

An important precondition for the development of a strong Healthy Adult Mode is the fulfillment of basic human and child needs in childhood and adolescence (see Chapter 2, p. 10). When a child feels loved and attached; when they experience the right to express their needs and feelings freely; when their autonomy is accepted, but they also experience limits – these are the bases of a Healthy Adult Mode. Unfortunately, it works both ways – people who did not have these positive experiences find it much harder to develop a strong Healthy Adult Mode.

Case Examples

1.  You already know Anne from Section 2.3 about the Happy Child Mode. She and her husband are both working and jointly care for their three children. They have strong Happy Child Modes – but they also need a strong Healthy Adult Mode to balance their responsibilities and needs.

It is important for them to set priorities, in order to keep on track despite all daily hassles and problems. Moreover, they are able to take care of their kids, but can also express their needs for relaxation and recovery. Thanks to their Healthy Adult Mode they have enough discipline to exercise regularly – sport is very important for psychological stability. Of course they are not perfect – but altogether things work well for them.

2.  Emma. You have already heard about Emma, who is fond of kids, in Section 2.3. For years she has been committed to her job with passion and she’s tended to sacrifice a little too much. After suffering from a herniated disk she learned to take better care of herself, instead of putting all her energy in taking care of others. Today she integrates phases of recovery in her daily life. She has started walking and has a sauna regularly. Moreover, she has put a little more distance between herself and some friends who were often very demanding, asking her for help but not caring about her needs.

5.1 How can I detect a Healthy Adult Mode in myself?

In Healthy Adult Mode you feel well and relaxed (at least to some degree). You may have worries, but you don’t feel overwhelmed by daily hassles; you have good contact with yourself, i.e. you are able to sense your current feelings and needs –you can access your inner experiences. In Healthy Adult Mode you are not tense; you don’t need avoidance or exaggerated surrendering to deal with problems or conflicts.

The following sentences characterize the Healthy Adult Mode:

·     I know when I should talk about my feelings and when I should not.

·     I can solve problems rationally, without being overwhelmed by my feelings.

·     I have enough stability and safety in my life

·     When I feel unjustly criticized, abused, or exploited, I can protect myself.

Many people aim to promote and enforce their Healthy Adult Mode. Think about the situations where you have easy access to this Mode: these will be good starting points to develop and strengthen it! Worksheet 12, “My Healthy Adult Mode,” can help you with this.

Worksheet 12: My Healthy Adult Mode

My Healthy Adult Mode

My name for this Mode (e.g. Responsible Peter):

1. How can I realize that my Healthy Adult Mode is present?

What is triggering my Healthy Adult Mode?

Which feelings do I usually have in this Mode?

Which thoughts tend to come up in this Mode?

Which memories are associated/get triggered?

2. Are my basic needs met when I am in the Healthy Adult Mode?

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

·     What activities or situations are related to my Healthy Adult Mode?

·     Are there some people in my life who help me to access my Healthy Adult Mode?

·     How do I feel in my Healthy Adult Mode?

Try to get a feeling for the factors supporting your Healthy Adult Mode. By the way, no one is always in their Healthy Adult Mode – that would be an unrealistic goal!

5.2 How can I detect a Healthy Adult Mode in others?

The Healthy Adult Mode is activated when you deal realistically and adequately with your problems. You have a clear view of things and aren’t hindered by exaggerated self-criticism (Punitive Parent Mode), by extreme vulnerability (Vulnerable Child Mode), or by attempts to avoid or overcompensate emotions.

You can address critical issues or conflicts, and the people you’re dealing with won’t get it all wrong or overreact. With regard to your relationships the Healthy Adult Mode resembles the Happy Child Mode: while Dysfunctional Parent and Child Modes often trigger negative feelings, burdening and straining a relationship, the Healthy Adult Mode works in exactly the opposite way, enabling good, resilient relationships, and making successful cooperation with others possible. Conflicts do not lead to a total breakdown. People with a strong Healthy Adult Mode not only have relatively few psychological problems, they are also popular and can build and maintain relationships and friendships with others. Their competence in living a self-determined (social) life strengthens their Healthy Adult Mode. Positive feedback is a virtuous circle.

5.3 How can I distinguish the Healthy AdultMode from other modes?

You have probably noticed that it can be complicated to distinguish precisely all the Modes that you have read about so far. The Healthy Adult Mode serves the fulfillment of responsibilities and duties – but how does is differ from the Guilt-inducing Parent Mode that has a tight focus on fulfilling assignments? The Healthy Adult Mode is able to express annoyance – but what about the Angry Child Mode, expressing a lot of anger? What about the avoidance of feelings? When is it dysfunctional, and when might it actually be functional to avoid certain situations, people, or feelings?

These questions are important. Sometimes the Mode in the foreground is hard to identify – several Modes can be activated simultaneously. For instance, I may feel hurt and rejected (Vulnerable Child Mode) although my head is telling me that the other person likes me and doesn’t want to reject me (Healthy Adult Mode).

Nevertheless, there is an important rule of thumb to find out whether it’s your Healthy Adult Mode or one of the dysfunctional Modes that is active. The key, again, is a consideration of your needs. When both your needs and the needs of others are met in a given situation, the Healthy Adult Mode is active. Note that having a good sense of your own and others’ feelings and needs is important. However, when you are mainly acting upon your own needs, not greatly or at all caring about the needs of others – or when you do not have a sense of your needs at all – then Dysfunctional Modes are active.

5.4 Summary

In this chapter you have discovered how the Healthy Adult Mode feels, thinks and acts. This Mode, together with the Happy Child Mode, gives you a good feeling about yourself and others and helps you to attain your goals. You can put information about the Healthy Adult Mode into Worksheet 1, the Mode Overview.

In the second part of this book we will explain how you can change your persistent patterns by weakening Dysfunctional Modes, supporting your Child Modes and making your Healthy Adult and Happy Child stronger. Table 5.1 is an overview of Functional and Dysfunctional Modes.

Table 5.1 An overview of Functional and Dysfunctional Modes


Healthy Adult Mode

Dysfunctional Mode


Fulfills duties and is disciplined, but watches out for limits and needs.

Example: He is ambitious and fulfills assignments but can also take breaks and leaves time for recovery.

Demanding Parent Mode; overstrains and demands to much discipline.

Example: He is ambitious and works around the clock, has no interests outside work, runs high risk of burn-out.


Can criticize themselves, but without self-hatred.

Example: Can detect own weaknesses and tries to work on it; doesn’t think she’s worthless.

Punitive Parent Modes; exaggerates self-criticism, hate themselves, block themselves by prohibitions.

Example: Thinks she is worthless as soon as any weakness becomes visible.

Pleasure, overdoing things

Knows that it is important to enjoy things and not always be disciplined; but doesn’t exaggerate.

Example: Grants himself a luxurious dinner from time to time or buys expensive shoes just for pleasure. However expenses are never beyond reasonable limits.

Undisciplined, Impulsive, Spoilt Child Mode; fulfills own needs without consideration of others or long-term consequences.

Example: He buys new clothes all the time despite being in debt.

Expression of anger

Expresses anger in a socially adequate way.

Example: Tells her boyfriend in private why she is upset.

Angry Child Mode; has uncontrolled outbursts of anger with negative consequences.

Example: She explodes out of nothing at a party after anger has been accumulating for some time.

Avoidance of feelings

Can use avoidance as a strategy but is not hindered by extreme avoidance.

Example: Is in contact with own feelings but “switches off” when the moody boss has a bad day and starts screaming.

Avoidant Coping Mode; avoids any kind of emotion and keeps the person from important relationships, experiences, and developments.

Example: Is afraid of criticism and therefore keeps distance in all contacts, also towards friends and reliable, friendly people.

Taking control

Does not fear taking control, but stays flexible and takes the interests of others into account.

Example: Takes over command when it becomes obvious that things are not coordinated, leaves the command happily to others when things work out.

Overcompensatory Mode; fixates and repeats on control, imposes control on others; is very inflexible.

Example: Always commands everything; everyone around is annoyed.