In the past couple of weeks, I’ve explored the topic of self-imposed martyrdom, also known as having a “martyr complex” or possessing “martyr syndrome.” Together we’ve explored a range of signs, symptoms and examples as well as ways to stop being manipulated by a martyr syndrome sufferer. But what about personally battling such an issue? How can you actually overcome this problem?
Sol and I received a Q&A message the other day, as well as a dozen other comments from people suffering from such a problem asking “HELP!”
One particular sufferer – Tara from the UK – has asked:
I just read the article “How to Stop Being Manipulated by a Martyr Complex Sufferer” I think I am the one to have Martyr issues! What can I do to begin remedying myself?
A good 2/3 of this article is related to me and not in a positive way. I have been the giver and nurturer by nature. My husband newly sober (for the 2nd time) and in a better state of mind than I have ever seen him in our 8 years of marriage has begun calling me out of my patterns of behavior that I didn’t even recognize in myself.
While reading this I kept thinking thoughts such as, “Actually, yes, if he would bring it to my attention like this it would be more helpful. Wow, I do that. My goodness, what the hell is wrong with me. How did this happen?”
3 Ways to Heal the Martyr Syndrome
You can read an extended list of martyr syndrome signs and symptoms here. But here are a few defining factors just to refresh your mind:
- The martyr has a saint complex; in other words, they have a warped perception of their goodness, and firmly believe that they can do no wrong.
- The martyr’s low self-esteem fuels him/her to seek praise, adoration and worth from what he/she does – namely, grandiose acts of self-sacrifice.
- The martyr fails to take responsibility for his/her life, instead blaming all failures, oppression, repression and unhappiness on his/her family and friends. The martyr also exaggerates his/her level of hardship and mistreatment and ends up alienating those he/she loves.
In the article I mention above you’ll also discover a range of reasons why the Martyr behaves the way he/she does (if you’re looking for some psychological explanation).
But let’s move on. Let’s explore what you can do to overcome this problem. And please don’t jump to the extreme of thinking that you’re a terrible, horrible person! In fact, you are a well-intentioned, yet misguided person who has likely been unaware of this issue for a very long time. Don’t worry. There IS a cure, and there IS a way to heal this problem – but only if YOU are willing to put in the hard effort.
1. You need to find a NEW ROLE within your friendship/relationship/workplace.
This is extremely important. As a species, we all have varying roles in our friendships and relationships. Some people adopt roles of authority, others roles of equality, and others roles of submission. Your role has been the self-sacrificing nurturer; in other words, your role has been elevated ABOVE other people because other people have become dependent on you in one way or another. You can change this. How? You need to step out of your nurturer role and explore different roles that are authentic to you and feel honest. Here are a few examples of healthy roles:
- The lover
- The confidant
- The buddy/mate
- The adventurer
- The comic relief
- The helper (don’t get this confused with over-extending yourself)
- The peace maker
There are many other roles out there – but always ask yourself, “Is this a healthy role? Am I elevated above, below, or am I acting as an equal to this person?” Always seek roles that create equality both for yourself and for the other.
2. Prepare yourself.
There will be mistakes, and there will also be people in your social circle who are confused, perhaps even alarmed or annoyed by your behavior. When a person in a friendship or relationship suddenly changes their role, there is inevitably a bit of drama. The best way to reduce the drama is to honestly tell your friend/s, family members, partner or even colleagues that you are going through a period of self-growth which requires you to experiment. Clear, open communication is the best way to make your path a bit smoother. But don’t expect it to be. You might find that a particular connection in your life is not serving you because it is actually enabling your martyr role.
What can you do in such a case? If it is possible to repair this friendship, partnership or relationship, do so. Communicate, be patient, but don’t allow any person to hinder your healing process. After all, YOU have to live with YOURSELF for the rest of your life. Do you want to live an exhausting lie? Do you want to lie on your deathbed and reflect on a half-lived life? Or do you want to take the chance to start fresh, clear the slate, and experience the joy and freedom that comes with expansion?
The point is that you have to deeply, sincerely want to change, EVEN at the expense of potentially losing important relationships in your life. Be patient and give yourself time to think about this.
3. INvolve rather than EVolve by cultivating self-directed awareness and love.
Involution is about shifting your awareness from the external world to the internal world. It’s about making self-growth and actualization your priority, and letting go of the masks, pretentions and ill behavioral patterns that make your life a hellish abyss.
Two of the paths of inner work are self-awareness and self-love, and these are vital to healing the martyr syndrome. Cultivating these two properties can take a few months, or it can take a few years: sometimes even a lifetime. It really depends on your soulful maturity. But know that the more these qualities are honed, the more clarity, confidence and capability you have to truly love and receive love without conditions.
To help you become more self-aware you might like to start by asking someone you trust to help you out. You could sit down with your partner, explain your feelings and discoveries, and ask them to do a big favor for you: point out any time that you are slipping back into the martyr role. Let them know that you might be pissed off, defensive or hostile towards them for doing this in the future, but this is only because of your delicate self-esteem. Remember to thank them continuously for their effort.
Alternatively, you should keep a journal every day noting down your progress. You need to religiously write in this journal every day (even if you don’t feel like it), exploring what you did, how you felt and what you think in general.
Lastly, you can couple these self-awareness exercises with the cultivation of self-love. Here is a good article to begin with that will give you some ideas.
Share with me below …
How has dealing with the martyr syndrome impacted your life? How do you feel when you try to remedy this behavior? Finally, if you have managed to find a new role, what other advice can you offer?