Schema Coping 3: Surrender

The third and final in my series of Schema Coping styles. To see Overcompensation and Counterattack and Avoidance, follow the links.


A human hunter manoeuvres with bated breath searching for a clear shot at the grazing deer. The deer’s senses, so much more refined than the hunter’s, alert it to the threat. And the hunter, spotted, raises his gun. And the deer, still alert, freezes.


Frozen in Submission

We often talk about Fight or Flight. The evolved physiological and behavioural response when animals encounter a threat. But what about this deer? It neither flees nor fights but remains frozen. Why would it have evolved this way?

The deer in the example above is evolved to deal with mundane predators like wolves. These predators may not have seen the deer. Or they may take running as a cue to start the chase. Sometimes it is better to remain frozen and be contemplated as dinner, than to start to run and remove all doubt.

It is sometimes safest to freeze in social settings. Dogs, being a quintessential social animal, regularly use the submission pose to end fights with stronger and more dominant dogs. The winning dog does no further damage to its vanquished foe. But all dogs in the pack now know who commands respect and who does not.

In Schema Therapy, the freezing or submitting coping method is called Surrender. What does the surrender response look like?

Been abused? Seek out an abuser and play the victim role.

Been humiliated? Find new friends that denigrate you.

Never had your feelings taken seriously? Choose a partner who is self-involved and selfish.

My clients are often confused by the Surrender response to Schemas. Why would you allow yourself to live under the dark spell of the schema? Why perpetually re-experience the pain? Why not fight back or run away?

Because we tend to be drawn toward the familiar. It has a comfort, even when painful.

Because sometimes, it’s just easier and less painful to freeze or submit. Better to not put up too much resistance. Brace yourself and let the bad wash over you.

Because the schema tells us just how reality is. So if we feel like a failure, we act like a failure because we must be a failure. And if we feel unlovable, we act unlovable because we must be unlovable. To act differently to how the schema tells us we should act would be to deny reality. And denying reality can be genuinely dangerous.

And, the truly creepy thing, all this living under the schema’s version of reality just keeps proving the schema was right all along. “I must be a natural born victim; I keep getting abused”. Indeed a Lifetrap. Stuck in a moment you can’t get out of.

The Power of Imagination

Only there’s no reason to be stuck.

Schemas form because of little or large traumas in childhood and adolescence. We learn a lesson. We Overgeneralise this lesson. We Filter out the details that don’t match the schemas reality. We Magnify the details that validate it.

To escape the schema’s spell, we first need imagination. Imagine if you are not a failure. Imagine if you are adequately likeable. Imagine if you have value, quite aside from the things you’ve achieved or the people you’ve helped.

To escape the Schema, we need to validate our needs and our rights to ourselves. Of course, you deserve respect from those around you. Of course, you have a right to expect love. It can feel dangerous to surrenderers to assert their rights and needs – what if I’m attacked? What if I’m told “no, your needs aren’t important at all” – then it will really hurt. It takes courage to reimagine.

Once we imagine that the schema is not true, we are freer to validate and express our wants and needs. Breaking out of our frozen submission. Leaving childhood trauma behind.

Speak Your Mind


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