February 9, 2022

Why we Self-Sacrifice—& 6 Writing Prompts to keep our Martyr Complex in Check.


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“Loving ourselves through the process of telling our story is the bravest thing we will ever do.” ~ Brené Brown


Helper syndrome, martyrdom, self-sacrifice.

We’ve all heard these terms, and many of us experience them on a daily basis.

But being addicted to meeting everyone else’s needs leaves no space for our own.

Self-sacrifice is likely something we’ve learned early on. Perhaps we learned to wear its wounds like a badge of honor.

Maybe we even chose a profession where disregarding our needs is encouraged, or we just live it in our personal lives because it’s what’s expected of us. For women, this last statement is true more often than not.

As a psychologist, I believe that to understand where we are on our personal journeys, it may be necessary to look into our past.

Doing that can help us become aware of how we function in this world, so we can identify the areas in which we need to be more conscious about while taking care of ourselves.

A beautiful tool to use to explore the dynamics that are at work is telling our story through writing.

To give you an example of how this might work, I’ll tell you mine.

I grew up in a household where the role of a woman was that of a caretaker. The only thing I knew until I became an adult was a scenario in which a woman’s needs were met last. It’s what was modeled to me.

And even though, as a child, that meant that my mother would always first tend to my brother and me, I also understood that this is what I’ll have to do one day. Because I didn’t see an alternative; I thought this was how it was supposed to be.

Even though this wasn’t the only reason, the automatism my mind had acquired was to watch out for everyone else’s well-being first.

Of course, this had its benefits.

For example, it was obvious how well I could keep connections, as my friends always had a place to vent, talk about their problems, and get advice. It felt good to be needed. It still does.

But there was a time, during my first job as a caretaker when I noticed that I couldn’t continue like this. I had to start making changes in my life and take better care of myself, as both my physical and my emotional health were deteriorating at an alarming speed.

I recall that my reason for studying psychology was the somewhat classic response of “to help people.” Little did I know that this meant learning how to help myself first.

While I was discovering how to recondition my mind in regard to the role of a woman and a mother (which is a challenge given the society we live in), I also had to recondition what it meant for me to take care of others.

I had to face the fear that others will withhold their love if I prioritize myself, that they will pull back if I say no to their requests, and that they will judge me.

Thankfully, most of these fears were unfounded.

But I’m even more grateful and proud that I was able to realize that in the cases where someone really didn’t accept this new version of myself, this person didn’t really care about me, but only about what I can do for them.

And that’s not real love to begin with.

I believe that loving myself as I am will be a life-long journey, and I’m still learning. But I’m now at a point where I’m conscious enough to notice when old patterns kick in. I’m mindful enough to stop, pause, and reevaluate to see if I want to approach things differently this time.

I’m aware enough to know that these moments are the practice.

They are what I need to keep doing in order to stay centered and balanced. So I can be there for myself as well as for others in the best way possible.

On most days, I know that my self-worth doesn’t depend on how well I can fulfill the needs of other people. Even though I still have to remind myself at times, deep down, I know I am inherently enough the way that I am. And that’s a beautiful thing to know.

Now, your story will likely be different from mine, as we each are walking our own unique paths and are at a different point in our journeys.

This also means that there is no right or wrong way to do this.

Just put pen to paper and start writing with a sense of curiosity of what will come forth.

To get you started, and in case you get stuck, I provided you with some prompts.

You don’t need to use all or any of them. They are simply here to give you some guidance if you need it.

Now, before you start writing, find a comfortable position in which you can write easily. Take a few deep breaths in and out through your nose. Inhale all the way into your belly, and exhale completely. Take a moment to check in with your body and let any tension melt away.

Enjoy your writing process.

>> When have I first learned to sacrifice my own needs for someone else’s?

>> Does the work I do in this world include helping others, and was it my initial motivation to become a helper?

>> Which decisions and events were key to defining my motivation, and is this motivation still working for me today?

>> What do I gain from sacrificing my needs, wishes, and desires?

>> Are there any consistent themes that I can find regarding the choices I’ve made when it comes to self-sacrifice?

>> What have I learned from connecting with my story in this way?

After you finish, thank yourself for being brave enough to explore this part of yourself.

If it feels right, share any insights in the comments, or share your story on Elephant Journal.

May it be of benefit.


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