Beating the Martyr Syndrome: Putting Yourself First
To put yourself first, to actually consider your needs above all else is inconceivable to a lot of people. Take a look at any mom and you’ll see someone who is a martyr, self-sacrificing and the giver of unconditional love.
Watching my friends, who are now mothers, as well as my sister in law, I see very tired women, whose priorities quickly changed and they will all admit they had to learn how to put themselves last. But if you’re a codependent this skill comes very easily and has deep childhood roots.
The message these children received was that they were somehow responsible for other people’s feelings, behavior and moods.
The Martyr Syndrome is when you lose the ability to see your own needs and desires. It’s something all codependents have in common. It’s when you lose touch with your own reality and your life becomes all about someone else. It doesn’t just have to be in romantic relationships either. When you are the one that is constantly being put out, whether by your own will or someone else’s – Houston we’ve got a problem.
Defeating the Martyr Syndrome Through self-Care
Changing our mindset is paramount to how we learn how to value ourselves. We learn to value ourselves by raising our self-esteem, which comes from the practice of self-care.
Day to day self-care means taking care of ourselves physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually and financially every day. It’s about becoming an autonomous being, who is fully in the driver’s seat of their own life. What does it all mean? Let’s break it down:
Taking Care of Ourselves Physically – this means paying attention to how we treat and what we put into our bodies – food – alcohol – drugs – cigarettes. Do you practice safe sex? Protecting yourself from disease is something you should always practice. If your sexual partner refuses to wear a condom with you, it means he/she refuses to wear a condom with their other partners and that’s a risk you shouldn’t have to take. If your partner has herpes, hepatitis, HIV or any other serious STD, they aren’t special enough to continue taking that kind of risk for.
Do you exercise? That doesn’t mean getting up at 8:00am and hitting the gym. It could mean going for a bike ride, taking a walk on your lunch break or after work. Just as long as you keep moving. Taking care of yourself physically shows that you respect your body and it means you don’t succumb to self-sabotage or self-harm. Some people who don’t love themselves don’t love their bodies and tend to abuse it. Physical Self-Care is an important first step to learning how to value yourself.
Taking Care of Our Minds – this means doing things that we enjoy, finding our happiness, participating in hobbies and activities that bring us joy. For some it’s painting, or writing or playing music. It could be home improvement, fashion, gardening, spending time with friends, participating in deep conversations, cooking, being in nature, meditation, reading. Everyone has interests. When you’ve been a martyr for a long time, these interests get blurry and we lose ourselves trying to figure out what makes other people happy. Self-care is finding and maintaining your own bliss. If you don’t know what you enjoy you first priority needs to be sitting down and spending actual time trying to figuring that out.
Taking Care of Ourselves Financially – this means making sure that we live within our means and that we are financially independent of other people. Dependency breads fear and when we are dependent upon another for our own financial security that’s a huge problem. It means we can’t leave, or we’re too afraid to leave, because our security is dependent upon another. For many, especially those with children the idea of leaving their abuser is a financial impossibility. I was absolutely terrified when my Narcissist left me. I had never in my entire life lived alone. I had never been solely dependent upon me. I didn’t know how to be and the fear paralyzed me. I was lucky in a sense because my mother had just died and my long-term partner had left so I had no choice but to get financially independent. What is it that they say, “Necessity is the mother of invention.” I was self-employed, so I had to get another job. In essence I had 3 jobs going at once just trying to survive. I left my house and moved into a small apartment. I was busy and lonely, but I did it. I persevered and now I earn far more than what both of our salaries were combined. When you can take care of yourself financially you gain a freedom of choice. I can tell you through experience there is nothing like the freedom of choice, being beholden to none and the master of your own life.
Another part of taking care of ourselves financially is that we don’t make bad investments. It’s about not giving away our resources in exchange for love. Money and things will never buy you love, hell they won’t even buy you respect or even gratitude. If someone is not at your level financially- get rid of them. Tough statement I know, but who needs a drain on your resources? I’m not talking about a partner that works and makes less than you. I’m talking about someone that is always taking, seldom, if ever giving. Doling out money to someone who is perfectly capable of taking care of themselves is not self-care it’s the opposite of that. If you’re giving, hoping to get love in return, you need to change your behavior and your mindset pronto.
Freeing yourself from codependency means ridding yourself of the martyr complex and understanding that the responsibility of others does not lie on your shoulders and that you cannot buy love with things.
Some people may get stuck on the idea that giving and helping others is a spiritual act and keeps you humble. Sure, I would agree, to an extent, but when you suffer from codependency, the ability to give is tainted by insecurity, doubt and the need to please. I live by the old adage, “God helps those who help themselves,” and I’d rather teach you how to fish than keep giving you fish. If you’ve never acquired the ability to learn how to fish or you just plain don’t want to learn, then you ain’t getting any of my fish. That doesn’t make me selfish – it makes me someone who practices sound judgment and self-care. We can always help someone out if they truly need it and if it’s coming from the right place, ie, not trying to buy love and not harming ourselves in the process.
To some practicing self-care will be like getting on the treadmill every day when you haven’t exercised in years. At first you’ll be thinking, “This is hard… it doesn’t feel right… I want to stop,” but you’ll get used to it and the more you do it the better you will feel. When you start to do things that honor your mind, spirit and body you can’t help but feel good about yourself. Self-esteem really shouldn’t be a noun it should be a verb because it is in the practice of doing good for yourself where you find your value and the move you value yourself the more you will expect to be treated like a person of value from others.
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