The Martyr’s Wakeup Call

Overwrought? Put-upon? Carrying a too-heavy load? The sooner you stop, the better off everyone will be.

The Martyr's Wakeup Call

by Katherine Gustafson

photo courtesy of Liubov Burakova

filed under Advice

Do you self-sacrifice too much in order to prove how devoted you are to your relationship? Do you want to appear the long-suffering hero, handling onerous difficulties thrust on you by others? Do your problems feel impossible to solve? It’s a dangerous game, playing the martyr: You will likely end up suffering unnecessarily, and sacrificing the health of your relationship to boot.

What Makes a Martyr?

Martyrdom in relationships often revolves around a sense of victimhood and helplessness. You might blame your partner for all the problems you perceive in your life, insisting that you’re a victim and that you play little or no role in how things have gone. You might complain to your friends about problems only you have any power to address, and reject all their suggestions for what you might do to solve them. You may feel trapped or put-upon, despite the fact that there are concrete actions you could take to improve the situation.

“When you behave like a martyr, you give your power away, including the power to solve your own problems and to learn new ways of responding to your emotions,” writes Pamela D. Garcy, Ph.D., in Psychology Today.

What’s It Like for a Martyr’s Partner?

As a relationship martyr, you shouldn’t be surprised when your partner gets fed up. The one you’re supposed to love (but keep accusing of entrapping and victimizing you) may start feeling that you are what Margarita Tartakovsky, M.S., refers to as a “toxic person.”

A toxic person is someone who is wounded in some way but unable to take responsibility for the problem that affects them. Instead they lash out at others, blaming others for their own negative feelings.

Your partner may mention that you create unnecessary drama, or that they are exhausted or angered by your expressions of victimhood. They may say that your interactions cause them to feel bad about themselves, or that they spend all their time and energy trying to fix you or care for you without success.

How Can a Martyr Change?

Before your partner pulls the plug on your relationship, think about making a serious change in your outlook. Garcy offers ten steps you can take to transform the way you approach your partner and your life in general.

This involves simple things like swearing off sulking, blaming, and avoiding hard conservations. But it also involves more difficult steps like considering solutions to problems that you’re inclined to write off as impossible or beyond your ability to fix.

To help improve relations with your partner, start by noticing their good qualities. How much care does your partner offer? How much concern do they show? It’s time to think of things you appreciate about this person who’s so important to you, and to express them, instead of continually dwelling on how they are failing you. And if they truly are falling short of meeting your needs, then it’s time to take action and say goodbye rather than clinging to the blame game.


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