3 Ways to Conquer Self Sacrifice and the Martyr Mindset to Find Happiness

We know that the glorification of busy is unhealthy and annoying. We know that constant self sacrifice and other passive aggressive behaviour we use to highlight how much we give and how little we get back is obnoxious.

But we do it anyway.

Have you noticed yourself pouncing on the podium on this one?

Surely we’ve all been guilty at some point.

And yet, for anyone addicted to the martyr role, in their starving state for recognition, there isn’t any happiness or health no matter how much they are doing. How busy they are, how much they are sacrificing for others, how much they feel the need to vocalize all of the above – it isn’t making them happy – it isn’t making anyone around them happy either.

I see a lot of women in my practice especially, that are dealing with increased levels of anxiety, life dissatisfaction, and rising psychosomatic conditions as a result of the busyness they have created in their lives that they want medals for.

Medals, recognition, words of affirmation, affection … Or maybe help?

If you do this… What are you really looking to gain? What do you really need? What might be better, more effective, healthier ways to attain that?

Look, I get it. We start these habits often unconsciously. At some point we put in effort and didn’t get anything back.

The idea that we needed to do more and then find ways to manipulate attention so we could feel validated in our efforts isn’t new – it makes sense. But it doesn’t work.

I haven’t been immune to this either. I have felt overworked, depleted, and invisible and vented to friends about how much I was doing, how hard it was, how unfair.

What was I looking for? Validation, support, affirmation, help.

Did I get it? Not in any respectable way.

Not in any solution-focused or permanent reward.

In reality, it weakened me. This behaviour weakened me in the eyes of others but kept me locked in victim state.

In reality what I needed was to learn to set better boundaries around my time and energy, stop allowing myself to be depleted, and stop relying on external validation. I needed to put myself and my resources first without guilt or apology. There is a need for empathy and understanding with people close to us that we check in with.

But when it becomes a habit, a part of daily vernacular to whoever will listen – it has to be addressed. 

1. The solution is self care not self sacrifice.

Put yourself first.

There is no excuse to not take care of yourself first in every way. Emotionally, mentally, spiritually, physically – you are the only one responsible for taking care of you.

If you don’t take care of you, no one is going to do it for you and there’s no medal for you when you don’t. In fact, when you don’t you become a burden. To your partner, your coworkers, your children and your family.

Don’t think so? You’re wrong.

You, being your best you. Rested, nourished, fit, healthy, regulated…is the best version of yourself.

This is you being able to give from the abundance of health that people in your life deserve from you. You not taking care of yourself makes you tired, grumpy, boring, sick, needy and weak.

I know you’re doing everything to prove that you’re the opposite but real strength lies in recognizing that you have to do for you. It’s your job.

There are too many people out there giving up their dreams for their partner or kids. Giving up their self care and things that make them happy and relaxed for their work or families. And they end up sick and in a counsellor’s office trying to work through burn out or the grief that they have from losing themselves and not knowing who they are anymore and not even being able to connect with their own desire anymore.

If they aren’t medicated for insomnia, headaches, hyper vigilant about disease, codependent on their children for stimulation, hating their jobs, losing productivity, losing vibrancy, they are high functioning albeit ridiculously intolerable people to be around.

2. Break the martyr mindset in your language.  

Are you constantly talking about how busy you are? How much you do? How little time you have for yourself like you’re proud of it? How often do you talk about how tired you are?

How often do you complain about how much your husband or wife takes you for granted, or how your children are sucking the life out of you.

Even in healthy people this might be true – we do make choices about where to spend our energy and how to focus our time. We do make compromises.

But we also have the availability of choice in how we actively seek to balance those as well. Areas we go to regain what we need.

This isn’t about a self-serving life. This is about ditching your need for recognition for busyness and sacrifice which highlights the fact that you resent what you have chosen to give up from your life. You won’t get sympathy for leaving the kids with a babysitter and feeling guilty.

You also won’t get sympathy for not getting a sitter and being with the kids all day and using that as an excuse to not be bold enough to own your own life.

You don’t get an award for being a doormat for you partner or your family or your coworkers because the reality is that no amount of reward, even if there is one, is enough to make up for what you are giving up to others – not even being robbed of – but giving away on purpose.

3. Set boundaries in your life around your energy and effort.

Be kind. Be generous. Be value-driven in your relationships and family.

But don’t ever make your partner, family, job or busy tasks what your life revolves around and what you’re all about.  

You will end up feeling bitter, resentful… Vacant. And it’s no one else’s fault.

Sometimes we have early conditioning that predisposes us into these passive submissive roles. Get into therapy and start working through that. Start making uncomfortable choices to actively switch the beliefs that are illogical and old and limiting your potential.

You have one shot at this life. That’s it. How much more time are you going to waste living someone else’s life.

How many more years of excuses and vocalized martyrdom are you going to force onto others because you’re too scared to live?

How about today you say… Not another day? Not another minute.

You are not who you have always been. You and your brain can change every day. So start. Get the help you need. Reject your toxic martyr thoughts. Watch your tongue and how much you have adopted habits of speech that reinforce this unhealthy state. Be aware that people don’t find it endearing and they don’t care.

It doesn’t mean you can’t vent every so often or feel overwhelmed but I challenge you to address it if it’s a habit and start taking ownership and take the steps necessary to actively change your state.

So that you can be the biggest fullest version of yourself. So that you can take care of the people you love in your life better without creating deficit. So that you can start to enjoy what you are entitled to and encouraged to in a life that is connected with your desire and customized to your individual needs and wants.

Why would anyone deserve a better life at your expense than you? It’s ludicrous.

You’d hate that for your children… For your best friend. So it might be time to knock it off.

We all have old patterns and bad habits.

Let’s start having the humility and courage to work through them and bring in healthier patterns. As if you’re life depended on it… Because it does.

by Tara Miller

Psychotherapist & writer. Helping you live your fullest life using neuroscience based SRT (Self Regulation Therapy). Specializing in general and trauma therapy.

5 thoughts on “3 Ways to Conquer Self Sacrifice and the Martyr Mindset to Find Happiness

  1. Nishi says:

    Excellent article! It is every person’s job to take care of themselves to the best of their abilities. We are so conditioned to feel guilty when we put ourselves first, but in reality, we are no good to anyone if we don’t.

  2. Michael Ferrarella says:

    YES. Stretching ourselves thin and giving all of ourselves to everyone else means we aren’t taking care of ourselves. After a while of this, we aren’t able to do anything for anyone at all. Balance is necessary. And we have to be good to ourselves. Awesome article, Tara.

  3. Gary Dashney says:

    Good post Tara. Just like on an airplane during an emergency, they say if you have a child or infant, put *your* oxygen mask on first, then your child. Otherwise, you may not have the strength or ability to save either yourself or your child. I’ve also found that I can’t give what I don’t have. If I don’t have self love, care and acceptance of myself, I have nothing to truly give others.

  4. Daniel Olexa, CCHt says:

    A perfect summary of how to take care of one’s self.

    In my practice, I call your point #1 “The Airplane Oxygen Mask Theory.” I remind my clients to put their mask on first – it’s practical and gives them the resources to help others.

    As you’ve mentioned, our choice of words is so important in creating our success mindset and removing us from the victim’s perspective. Happiness should be a primary, regular state of being, not a choice based on temporary events.

    Marty mindsets are never productive in any good way.

    As readers follow your steps and take charge of their lives, they’ll remove the phrase, “I’ll be happy when __________(insert event here)” from their vocabulary and replace it with “I’m happy and ____________.”

  5. Jamie Johnston says:

    YES! Self care is so important and something I have been neglecting for a loooong time. Thanks for the boost and reminder of how important it is.

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