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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A very powerful message to me. Again, ill print this out and post it on my wall, making it an everyday reminder to me.
Savannah, your posts are awesome in their clarity & conciseness. Just so helpful without a bunch of wordy fluff. Can you please write about (surely I am not the only one), or can anyone lead me to good resource reading for processing ‘guilt’ or ‘selfish’ feelings once we invest in ourselves for a change & begin seeing & living the ‘fruits of our labors’? I’m having difficulty finding the core of my anxiety, but it is definitely here, in the back of my mind, or sometines feels like it’s slithering around in between things… some doom that will tear all my peace apart again…maybe even ‘show me’ (that I need to get taken down a notch), or when I beautify my spaces with treasures, I keep having flashes of anxiety that the house will burn to remind me not to put too much emphasis on any of it because it can be gone in an instant & real peace is never material, blah blah, ..things I don’t need reminded of… My peaceful place inside keeps moving, creating, beautifying, actually laughing at how much fun this finding & loving ME can be (!), but it is becoming a real challenge to be repeatedly harrassed by the nagging party-crashing intrusive ‘thoughts’ (or whatever it is.) I want to be free enthusiastically & organicly, without having to coach my way through every good thing over & over. I do love me, I do deserve the fruits of my labor. But logic isn’t always winning. I keep stopping, meditating, reminding me, using positive apps & having what I call ‘little therapy sessions with myself’ where I both ask & answer the questions. So I AM finding ways to deal..but tiring of the struggle & feeling a little pissed off at it..as in, I am finally successful in getting rid of & understanding my patterns with the assholes,…. & now there is one that is ME (?!) trying to take my peace & forward motion away???! Eff! Any helpful thoughts or relatability out there??
I’m 6 mo out of what I now know was 5 years of a classic abusive N relationship. I was so lost, hurt, and broken with the final discard (there were many over the years). Therapy, a couple of good friends and wonderful family have helped tremendously and I am on the path to healing and rediscovering my true self. In true N fashion, I was isolated big time and currently struggling to figure out what to do with myself socially. I have taken up a regime of self care – yoga, meditation, etc and I still feel unfit for the world at large and am looking for a bit of advice on how to muster up the courage to get out of this funk. I’ve read all there is to read about doing things that make me happy – trouble is, I don’t even know what I like to do. A lot of the time everything seems so flat and void of color. My friend, who I have been leaning on, keeps telling me I just need to do something. What is this blockage? I’m at a loss and the task of making new friends and creating a new life seems overwhelming and scary. Any ideas? How does one relearn something that has never been a problem before an N relationship? I know I won’t be broken forever but this hurdle is stumping me.
Kathy I don’t know you but I was a little disappointed with your reply to this well written and eye awaking article for deep rooted codependents. Savanna has shown just by work alone that all people are special and we just feel that way about ourselves no matter what outside distraction comes our way that causes us to weaken from our codependency traits that are not good for us.
Why am I disappointed in your reply? Because there are so many young through older age women who really need to hear this message about STD’s coming from such a person as Savanna. Look at how many more lives and health can be saved! My feelings is we should not classify groups of people as “special” because we are ALL special regardless of our life circumstances and things we inherited from our past that will “haunt” us for the rest of our lives. And the was the much stronger lesson I received from this article. In fact I love it so much that I couldn’t wait to read the comments. Thank you, Savannah for this article that helped me so much. I don’t have any life time STDs but I have done things to my body due to unprotected sex that will haunt me for the rest of my life IF I allow it to. At that part of me is going bye bye. I can be indifferent about some one mentioning abortion as bad because it may save someone else from having to deal with abusive relationships and get out as soon as you see the red flags….
“when you suffer from codependency, the ability to give is tainted by insecurity, doubt and the need to please” ouch, but truth. I am 4 weeks free from my narcissist until he wrote me a 4 line email. Of course, my urge was to run right back to him and forgive all of the terrible treatment. I fight it everyday. I am sticking to the self-care and putting me first, but it most certainly does not come natural. I will persevere and keep trying. The last thing I want is to go back to that terrible relationship – god please help me get my head on straight. Also have a complete narcissistic mom that is now sucking the life out of my codependent dad. Uggh
The pull back into the Ns orbit is very strong at first. Read Savannah’s posts on the addictive nature of Narcissitic relationships, they will help you understand what’s going on.
You have been programmed to be in an abusuve relationship and it takes time to undo the programming. The key thing is to ignore the very strong impulse to go back to what you know is a horrible situation. Reconnect with old friends and your family if you can, exercise and do things you like, go back to your hobbies and interests, find a therapist and / or support group(s) to help yo through the pain of withdrawal, connect with a higher power or spiritual source. Get busy rediscovering yourself and the urge to go back will die out with time. It works, it really does!
I have some questions. I grew up with a mother who I have in the past thought was a narcissist. Her father was, as well, and so are her two siblings.
Both my parents had very difficult childhoods, and I think both have attachment problems.
In my adult life, there have been times they’ve brutally rejected me, and other times they’ve been shockingly supportive.
My sister has left her long-term partner who was a textbook narcissist. My sister, though, has always been a user of people. And so then when my sister goes months without asking me a single question, as I am constantly checking in on her and dropping everything in my life to support her, I wonder if she is also a narcissist… Or then I wonder, am I “diagnosing” everyone with narcissism because I know something is wrong in my family of origin, but this is the closest thing I can find to identify what it is?
My family has just begun another cycle of rejecting me because they don’t like something my child has done. They frame it in religious terms. I try so hard to be understanding and patient with them — I know they did not have the benefit of a stable childhood, and are probably doing the very best they can. But the fact that this is a cycle, and it seems to repeat every few years, is exhausting. Mid-cycle I attempt to reconcile with them and things go well and I manage to convince myself we are a close and loving family… then I or my children disappoint them and we are cut out.
I know I am just rambling. I guess I’m wondering if anyone else here has a similar family situation, or if there is something other than narcissism that comes to mind, or any advice…
Savannah, I absolutely love each of your posts and immediately click the link to read as soon as a see a new one in my inbox. However, this one disappointed me, the overall message was truly wonderful and necessary but I couldn’t get past the line “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.” Savannah, too many beautiful women I know, contracted one of the STDs you mention from their wayward cheating spouse after being monogamous and loyal for years in their marriage. Telling them that because they now have an STD makes them no longer special only adds to the shame and embarrassment they already feel and perpetuates the stigma that they are now somehow dirty. Your articles center on Codependcy, women (and men) who read them are drawn to the support and reassurance your writing gives them about themselves and their seeming “brokenness”. They certainly judge themselves enough each day and do not need to read an article that then appears to judge them for an STD they contracted from what they thought was a monogamous marriage. I ask that you please consider these types of situations in your future posts and judgements on the “specialness” of a partner.
Kathy too many of my clients take risks like this – the point of that line is if you know your abusive partner has an STD don’t be a martyr and stay with them because you feel you can’t leave and put yourself at great risk in the process – respect yourself enough to take care of yourself. I certainly don’t mean that all people with STD’s aren’t special. Come on now.
Self esteem..a verb..of motion.
Marilyn Monroe said they want parts of you. Not her wounded part. In an orphanage as a child and having been molested, and trying to tell the headmistress she was slapped I believe she wrote…and not protected. Boy that will set you up for a take that you are not worth much..so you create MARILYN. But she thought it washed off with the makeup and the rest. Better get down to that hurt…get on the treadmill until you start feeling good on your own..YOU DO NOT NEED TO BE FOUND AND SAID TO HAVE TAKEN TOO MANY SLEEPING PILLS AND BE A NATIONAL MYTH ..just some regular joy you were born for