What's the Martyr with You?
I hate the book The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein. I LOVE a lot of his other works, but The Giving Tree has always made me uncomfortable . . . even when I was younger. I will say it again; I HATE that book.
It’s a poem about a beautiful tree who shares herself with a little boy. It starts out kind of sweet. He loves her and she loves him. He collects her leaves to make hats. He swings on her branches. He sells her apples with her permission. All is well and the tree is happy because the boy is happy. The tree is at her happiest (or maybe really only happy) when the boy gives her his attention.
Then things start to get dark. To make him happy, the tree starts to sacrifice large parts of herself. Parts that will be forever gone. She cuts off her branches so he can build a house. She gives up her trunk to build him a boat. Then, when nothing is left, she offers him her stump as a place to rest. And the poem says . . . she’s finally happy.
This tree is the ultimate martyr. The tree gives herself so completely for a cause she cares about . . . the boy’s happiness…and then she has nothing left.
Besides sending a questionable message to young kids . . . “your happiness is the most important thing; it romanticizes the idea of sacrifice.” Ok, there are times this is appropriate, I guess. We have religious and wartime heroes that we treat as superhuman and heroes and they are remembered for their great sacrifice. They gave their life for a cause they believed in. I guess there is a place for this.
But in these modern times, being a martyr, or worse yet holding yourself up as a martyr is a true psychological problem. One that can cause a lot of pain to oneself and to others. Acting like, feeling like or being a martyr rarely turns out well for anyone who is involved.
In today’s podcast we’re gonna talk about some warning signs you might see from a martyr. I’m gonna shine a light on some classic martyr behavior and ask you the all-important question . . . Are you acting like a martyr? I hope you don’t turn off this podcast before we get to the good news.
This podcast has come out of two things . . . me looking at my own martyr-like behavior and an interesting article I read on the subject.
Before I say too much, I know there are individuals who have really big and nasty personality which can include of these martyr-like behaviors. These people leave a slew of unhappy and wounded folks in their wake. Narcissists, Sociopaths, Psychopaths. If you think you’re in relationship with someone like this, I encourage you to get some help. People with these kinds of personality issues can make your life a living hell and have you questioning your own sanity. Please, go find help for yourself.
But for the rest of society who does not have this diagnosis. . . I think any and all of us can exhibit martyr-like behavior.
When I say martyr, I’m really talking about feeling or acting like the victim. I’m sure you’ve heard that word thrown around a lot. In this article I ready by Alethia Luna, she described someone with a martyr complex as someone who has and likes to play a ‘get out of jail free card. She says, this way of seeing the world allows the person to “evade guilt and shame, bypass self-responsibility, and perhaps most importantly (and tragically), it allows “them” to dodge real life self-growth. Dodge self-responsibility and self-growth. Having a martyr complex essentially involves pointing the finger at other people or situations in your life and blaming them for your illnesses, disappointments, crushed dreams, and emotional turmoil.”
Yikes! Who hasn’t done that before—or at least wanted to? That’s something we all do and it’s one of the main reasons people can’t find happiness. Avoiding responsibility for your own life assures you won’t have a life that brings you joy.
Let me say that again, blaming others and refusing to take responsibility for what you do, say, have and are is the best way to stay stuck and be unhappy.
So, while it feels good sometimes, pointing fingers and blaming others, we must remember that this short-term good feeling is really hijacking our future.
“But Cheri—what if someone done did me wrong?” Well, okay so you have been a victim. But staying a victim is the noose you put around your own neck. Sometimes bad stuff happens that you have no control over. But letting that define you for the rest of your life is shackles you put on yourself.
In Luna’s article she talks about 18 traits of the person with a martyr-complex. Granted she’s talking about martyrs with a capital “M”. Like I said, there are folks who are real pathological martyrs with personality disorders that do this kind of behavior all of the time. But for the average person many of these traits are worth noting. As I list and talk about each one, ask yourself “Do I do that?”
Do you portray yourself as self-sacrificing, or the good girl who is always there to take care of others? If you’re like me, I may not say it but there are days I feel a bit self-righteous for all that I’m doing or have had to endure. Day I want the world to throw give me a bouquet to thank me for all my sacrifices.
What about avoiding responsibility for your own actions and instead blaming those who have done you wrong in the past. Do you find yourself telling others your woes and blaming your past for your present? If you do this, what is the wrong that was done to you? What is your role in that?
Do you ever exaggerate your level of suffering or mistreatment? Play it up, really big? Again, I do this one. Especially if I’m telling a story and have an audience. I can spin a yarn where I’m the suffering hero and the villain in my past has mistreated me and left me forlorn on the side of the road. I can put the back of my hard on my forehead and play the Femme Fatale as good as anyone. But this is martyr and victim behavior and it ain’t pretty! Again, someone may have done something to you but it’s you who are exaggerating it for dramatic affect and attention--and as an excuse.
Martyrs and victims also have a hard time saying NO or setting boundaries. They put themselves in center of attention, so their sacrifice is noticed. This does not necessarily come from a place of service, but it feeds their egos and allows them to feel owed and to have people indebted to them. At least it’s a good victim story. “Look at all that I have to do for others!” Do you ever play the role of the noble sufferer?
A biggee that I’ve alluded to before is a martyr or victim will not take the initiative to solve their own problems. When I was single, I used to joke that I’d look outside my window everyday just in case there was a knight on a white horse. But alas—there never was so I had to take the trash out myself. But a martyr wants others to fix their problems. Do you feel this way sometimes?
Lastly, martyrs will seek attention or recognition by creating drama! OMG!!!! I know I have done this one and bet you have too. We create drama and whip up a frenzy. We do this often to keep from doing the real, more purposeful things that really need to be done.
Sidebar here about drama. . . I’ve come to believe that anyone who repeatedly says “I hate all this drama” is 9 times out of 10 the very one who is causing it. Be careful if this is one of your friends or family. Most importantly, if you’re the one that is saying it, you may need some real help to change your thinking!
So being a victim or a martyr can feel delicious sometimes. In fact, in many cases we ARE the victim and have had bad things happen to us.
But I will say it again . . . letting those bad things define you for the rest of your life or using those things to excuse your lack of action or taking responsibility in you’re here and now is a shackle you put on yourself. That prison you’re in now is one of your own making.
The good news is you have the key. You have the key to break the martyr habit.
First, by recognizing when you’re abdicating responsibility and trying to play your “get out of jail free card”. Second by taking responsibility for everything currently in your life. And I mean everything!
As best you can begin to recognize and acknowledge when you’re playing the victim and then immediately take responsibility for everything in your life. Because when you take responsibility, you’re now able to claim your POWER. Victims give their power away. Healthy people find their power from within no matter their circumstances.
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