Love & Life

It’s Time to Quit Playing the Martyr Card

Warning: We are going in deep, ya’ll.

Don’t be nervous, this is a tough one but you can do this.
Okay, you ready? Good … How many times have you played the Martyr Card in your life?

What’s the Martyr Card?

Martyr Syndrome is when someone perceives themselves in a constant state of self-sacrifice and suffering.

I have to suffer through for the greater good. I must suffer in order to get xyz.

It’s the victim card on steroids. It’s when self-righteousness and perfectionism meet and have a baby and that baby … well she’s a troll. I said it.  Someone who plays the Martyr Card thinks they are doing the right thing  when they have to give something up or turn something down to save someone else. But let me ask you this – did they asked to be saved? Who says you have to suffer in order for both of you to succeed?

I hope a light bulb went off in your head and you sat up a little straighter in your chair because you can probably see where I am going with this.

Moms – we have all played this card. I catch myself putting this card down on the table a lot, more than I want to admit. Why? Because I was raised in it and it took me a long time to see it. In fact, I’m still navigating my tendencies to be that way. The old “grin and bear it” story likes to try to pop up often. Shut it down, Kristin!  And to a certain degree, I get it. Sometimes in life we do have to grin and bear it, we do have to do things that we don’t like in order to get what we want or where we want to be in life. We have a draw a line in the sand, though, for our sanity’s sake.

It all starts from a good place, right? You have a beautiful baby, you take care of that nugget 24/7 because their needs are important. You start to change, you give up things you once loved all because you think you’re doing it for the love of that sweet baby. But soon, you’re giving up what free time you do have to help out one friend, and then another and then another and, oops, don’t forget that commitment you agreed to months ago. The obligations build and build and soon we don’t even have time to sit down and eat at the table with our kids at night.

Now let me clarify something. Giving up something, let’s say drinking yourself into a stupor on Saturday nights and switching to two glasses of wine, when you become a parent is one thing. But giving up on your dreams to write a novel? Opening an Etsy store to sell adorable scarves? Going back to school for that degree? We don’t have to give those up. In fact, we should be pursuing those dreams to show our littles that it ALL really is possible. And we can go after those dreams with a poop machine at our feet. It’s not easy. The journey is long and hard, but shouldn’t we show our kids how the three Ps -perseverance, passion and patience – can make a big impact in achieving our dreams?

Maybe your biggest dream was to have a family and raise them to be good human beings. If so, that’s wonderful! Do it! BUT for those of us, like myself, who want something different – we shouldn’t apologize for it. No matter your dreams in life, giving up something for someone else is noble … as long as it doesn’t come at the detriment of own selves and our dreams. The truth is that you’re not helping anyone, you’re hurting yourself and those around you. Helping others, sacrificing for the greater good should help pull us closer to our purpose, God’s purpose for us on Earth, not backwards into a pit of resentment and self-righteousness.

People with martyr complex may feel or act like a victim in most situations and feel they have no choice regarding their lives. Liar, liar pants on fire!  We can choose how we react to something that’s happening either to us or around us at the moment.

Let me see if this sounds similar:

Ugh, Kathy said she couldn’t work her shift at the food pantry this week because it’s her and Dave’s 32nd wedding anniversary so I said I would pick up the extra shift because we need someone. It’s on our busiest night, too! Must be nice to celebrate! I can’t even get my husband to buy me a card for any of our anniversaries!  Martha couldn’t pick up the shift because her son, who is the Navy, is home. I get that because she could have offered to split the four-hour shift with me so it’s not me working two shifts back-to-back! I’ll just shut up and deal with it. It’ll be fine. 

I know I have had similar thoughts in my head. Poor, poor pitiful me. We all do it. It’s easy to point the finger at someone else. No one likes to point at themselves. We are never the problem, are we?

Now let’s imagine that scenario differently:

Kathy told me that Dave is taking her to that fancy new restaurant in town for their 32nd anniversary! How sweet?! I really need to talk to my husband about doing more for our anniversaries. Anyway, she can’t help out at the food pantry and Martha would help but her son is home from the Navy and she hasn’t seen him in nine months!  She did tell me if she really needed me she could come in and help … maybe I should see if she wants to split the shift. I thought she said he wasn’t coming in until early the next morning anyway. Or better yet, maybe Martha and Kathy could help me find someone else to step up and help me out that night. I bet if I tell them how much it will stress me out to do two nights in a row, we can surely find a way for it all to work out. It’s just one night.

Ladies, please don’t beat yourself up if you are realizing that you throw yourself a mini pity party sans cake more than you realize after reading this. Hope is never lost, there are ways to hold onto that martyr card instead of playing it or even better, take it out of your deck completely.

First, learn to express your needs instead of bottling up feelings and harboring resentments. You are not a robot. You don’t have to bite your lip and suffer. Make your needs known respectfully and try to find a solution to the issue. Granted, sometimes the only answer is just to do it but that doesn’t mean you have to do it with a resentment scarf draped over your collarbone. That look is so 2009.

Second, change your mindset. Recognize you have choices in a situation. You do not have to be the victim. Not sure how to change your mindset? Let Google be your friend. Check out books at your local library. Hire a life coach. See a therapist. Get some perspective and watch things in your mind start to shift.

Third, cut back on your overall workload and give yourself a break, sister. Many people take on too much, leading to feelings associated with martyr syndrome. Super heroes need a break and there are big benefits to consciously resting. When you’re well rested, you perform better, think better and just naturally feel, well, better! I’m not talking about a weekend binge on Netflix and Halo Top ice cream.  I mean meditation, journaling, a good old’ fashion cat nap, quiet time doing something that relaxes you for a certain amount of time that feels right to you. And I also mean getting plenty of actual Z’s, too.

Again, don’t beat yourself up for thinking this way. It’s extremely common, as in everyone does it, and it doesn’t make you a bad person! Start small, speak up for yourself, cancel a commitment that isn’t life or death. Make a list of things you want to say “yes” to and then go back through the list and find things you could actually say “no” to in order to make room for the “yes’s” that matter the most to you. Do what matters most to you, not what someone will think of you if you don’t do something.

I’m with you; let’s move some cards off the table and get out of our own way, so we can be the people God destined us to be. Let’s play these cards that have been dealt to us instead: Love, patience, kindness, honesty and forgiveness.

I just slapped down an honesty card.

You’re up.



1 thought on “It’s Time to Quit Playing the Martyr Card”

  1. I couldn’t have said it better myself. I hear this kind of thing ALL THE TIME, and unfortunately I hear it sometimes because it’s coming out of my own mouth. Yikes.

    And I must say it’s usually a Christian doing it when this behavior is the opposite of what Christ wants from us. It’s important for me to remember I don’t get any points for doing something ‘out of love’ and then playing the martyr card.

    Great post! I’m glad to be your neighbor at the Let’s Have Coffee linkup this week.


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