I came across an article on the Oprah.com website by Robert Holden, “10 Steps to Letting Go of Unhealthy Sacrifice.” As I was reading the article, I felt like he was talking to me. I identified with so many passages and it was a gift of insight into my behavior and some of the things I tell myself. It also revealed to me why I become the caregiver in most of my relationships and are more concerned about others feelings and happiness over my own. I also took The Sacrifice Test and my score landed somewhere in the middle. I wasn’t the worst, but I also wasn’t the best.
“You can’t get depressed enough to make somebody happy; you can’t get ill enough to make someone else well; you can’t get poor enough to make somebody rich; and you can’t betray your heart to save someone else.”- Robert Holden
The article exposes that it is often developed in childhood. It says that there is generally a martyr within the family and the rest of the family develops unhealthy sacrifice tendencies in order to heal the martyr. I can say that I have been fully immersed in that challenge and it has turned me into the martyr in many of my relationships. I often pretend that I don’t need anyone else to help me. I tell myself that I give selflessly while I am really longing for reciprocation. I deprive myself of the things I enjoy if others don’t enjoy them. If someone wants something, I come running and I come with a bag full of things to make them happy.
For me, it’s all-or-nothing. I don’t think I ever learned how to balance my needs with the needs of others. I can remember that I was usually alone when I was doing something I enjoyed unless someone else enjoyed doing it as well. But if a choice had to be made, I would give in. I, especially, know this is true in relationships. Giving in most of the time builds resentment. When someone asks me what I want to do, I usually reply, “it doesn’t matter to me.” There are times when it doesn’t matter, but sometimes it does matter to me. I will give in with the expectation that the next time I will be asked what I want to do. After some time of sacrificing myself and resenting it, I began to feel unappreciated and used. The result is an argument or emotional outpouring on the unsuspecting person. The person thinks they are doing everything necessary to make me happy because I have either never told them or never held them accountable. It creates resentment in that person and damages the relationship.
I mistakenly assumed that everyone is willing to sacrifice as I am, but that is not the case. I used to be someone that needed a lot of attention and loved to be around people. Now, I find it exhausting. As I have grown older, the attention of a few people is enough to make me feel good. But I didn’t realize that part of the reason why I am less likely to go somewhere is because I become exhausted. I am exhausted because I know that I will sacrifice when I get there. I give when I am asked. I give even when I’m not asked.
So, now that I know all of this and have identified what my issue is, how do I change it? The first step is awareness and now I have that. I know it’s going to take time to change, but I don’t want to be a martyr anymore. If I am a martyr then, it makes others responsible for my feelings. I know that I am responsible for my feelings. It is also my responsibility to ask for what I want. If someone does not feel like they should have to reciprocate what they are being given, then that has to be unacceptable. I can’t sacrifice to get love. Sacrifice and compromise are two different things. Sacrifice means that I give away or give up for the other person. Compromise means that I figure out what part I am willing to give up, but I gain something in return as well. I would much rather compromise. Compromise shows appreciation. I am learning how to identify my needs. I’ve spent so much time denying them that I have a hard time knowing what they truly are. What I have been seeking all this time is recognition and reciprocation. But, I guess I made it impossible to give enough. No one can give your soul back once you’ve sold it for them, especially, when they never asked for it. The price is too high. I see that now.
My job going forward is not to sell my soul for anyone. I have to decide what I have to give. I have to assert when I need something in return. I have to require from other people the same thing they require from me. If I want to be a martyr, that means that I have to give myself away, selflessly. Anything less is considered human. Since I am only human, it’s time to start acting like one by stepping down off my self-imposed pedestal and hanging up my cape. I feel better already.