Life Coaching Tip: The “Martyr Trap” is similar to the “Powerless Trap” from my last post. However, it’s a bit more insidious, because we live in a culture that teaches young girls and women that it’s virtuous to put the needs of others ahead of our own. This is reinforced when we are rewarded with praise for neglecting our own needs and aspirations —making it difficult to break free from this trap. But, as always, awareness is the key and change is possible!
“What am I supposed to do?” my client, Donna, asked me.
“My sisters won’t help with our mom, and I’m forced to spend all my time at her place. Her memory is getting worse, so someone needs to check on her every day,” she said. “I’m falling behind at work, and I’m exhausted. To make matters worse, my sisters never thank me. And my mom doesn’t appreciate anything I do for her either. All she does is complain.”
When I offered to brainstorm with Donna to come up with practical solutions, she told me this would be fruitless. She told me about some of the options her husband had suggested—such as hiring a caregiver to look in on her mother or requesting that her sisters take on more responsibility—but Donna shot these ideas down quickly.
“Bringing a caregiver or my sisters in at this point would be more work for me than help,” she said. “I’d have to teach them all that’s involved with Mom’s medication, doctor’s appointments, and schedule. Plus, you really can’t trust anyone to follow through with what they say they’re going to do these days. If they drop the ball, it could be a disaster.”
Donna was stuck in the “Martyr Trap”.
And so was my client, Meg.
Meg hadn’t had a day off from work in a month when we first spoke—partly because it was her company’s busy season and partly because she always goes “above and beyond” in her business. She said she was burned out and drained.
And Meg was resentful.
She was resentful of the members of her team for not putting in the kind of effort and hours she did. She blamed them for a recent order that was delivered later than promised. And she was also resentful and angry at the customer who complained after his order was late.
“I just can’t believe the nerve of that guy,” Meg said. “I was so backed up and worked my butt off all week. I stayed until almost midnight on Tuesday. The order was only a few days late—and he could care a less about the extra work I put in for him. No appreciation!”
Meg said she always sacrifices so much for others, yet no one returns the support or validates her efforts.
“I feel so defeated,” she said.
This is what it looks like to be stuck in the “Martyr Trap”.
Similar to the “Powerless Trap”, people in the “Martyr Trap” seem to always be wallowing in misery, and they feel personally victimized by anything that goes wrong—even when the problem or circumstance wasn’t directed at them.
But people in the “Martyr Trap” take it a step further. They typically go out of their way to put themselves in situations that are likely to cause them grief—and they often have little interest in discussing possible solutions to alleviate their suffering.
They unnecessarily “sacrifice” themselves for others from a place of obligation and guilt, while ignoring their own needs and desires.
It’s no real mystery why so many women find themselves in the “Martyr Trap”. Most of us have been directly taught to believe that selflessness is the ultimate virtue for women.
Our mothers, aunts, and grandmothers have been our selfless role models, and this “virtue” has been revered in our customs, traditions, religious doctrines, arts, and literature. It’s so conditioned in us that we often don’t even realize that selflessness is the goal we are striving for.
In her book, “Untamed”, Glennon Doyle, shares her wisdom about the travesty of this conditioning that is especially esteemed in motherhood:
“Mothers have martyred themselves in their children’s names since the beginning of time. We have lived as if she who disappears the most, loves the most. We have been conditioned to prove our love by slowly ceasing to exist.”
How sad is that truth bomb?
When we spend a lifetime holding others up while denying our own needs, desires, gifts, talents, and dreams, over time, we truly become self-LESS. We become lost—and this can naturally breed anger, resentment, and a sense of hopelessness. And these feelings can make us feel trapped, without an option to say no or do things for ourselves.
Once again, Glennon Doyle says it best:
“When women lose themselves, the world loses its way. We do not need more selfless women. What we need right now is more women who have detoxed themselves so completely from the world’s expectations that they are full of nothing but themselves. What we need are women who are full of themselves.”
How is this all landing for you?
Do you take pride in being selfless?
Are you denying parts of yourself, while sacrificing your time, energy, and talents for others?
If you’re feeling stuck in the “Martyr Trap” and you’re ready for a change, you can do it!
Stuck is a mindset, and you have the capability to liberate yourself from the guilt and shame that often keeps women tethered inside this trap.
If you’re willing, here’s where you can start:
- Take responsibility for your own needs, desires, and dreams. Get clear on what truly matters to you and own your right to have it.
- Create an action plan. Write out your goals and the steps you need to take to achieve them. And then, act. (No excuses!) Action will keep you in the present moment, which is the only space where you have power and influence.
- Practice saying “no”. If you don’t want to do something because it doesn’t align with your priorities, values, or goals—don’t do it. When you feel like other people have more control over your life than you do, it’s often because your boundaries are unclear. Saying “no” will take practice after a lifetime of yeses, so start practicing saying “no” to small requests and work towards those that are more difficult for you.
- Own your “yeses”. It’s absolutely fine to say “yes” to helping others! Of course, you have the right to help anyone you want to help whenever your heart wants to do so. The important distinction to remember though is that you’re doing so because you want to NOT because you have to—no more BS-ing yourself on this. When you own your “yes”, you own your power!
- Create affirmations to remind yourself of your worthiness: When you step outside the “Martyr Trap”, your primal brain is guaranteed to bum-rush you with guilt and shame like never before. Awareness is the best antidote to this assault, and creating affirmations to repeat and familiarize your subconscious mind to your updated beliefs will be helpful. Here are a few of my favorites that you are welcome to borrow:
- I approve of myself.
- My thoughts and opinions are valuable.
- I am worthy of love and respect.
- I am enough.
- I love and accept myself unconditionally.
- I release the need to prove myself to anyone.
- When I shine, my soul expands—and the world gets brighter
6. Get support! Mindset work is not a “one and done” kind of practice. When you are shifting your beliefs and making changes in your life, it’s only natural for you to feel unsettled, worried, confused, or scared during the process. I know a fantastic life coach who can help you with that (wink)! Check out my private life coaching page here: PRIVATE COACHING
Sister! You are meant to live a life full of inspiration, not obligation.
It’s your birthright to prioritize your own needs, desires, and pleasures—and to develop your unique talents, interests, and dreams.
Not only do you deserve it, but the world will benefit when you show up completely and full of yourself!
If you embraced this belief, imagine the kickass example you will provide for your daughters, your sisters, your nieces, your friends, your own mother. . . .
Do it for them.
But more importantly, do it for yourself.
Allow yourself permission to release the shame and guilt and break out of the “Martyr Trap”— step into your power, bask in your brilliance, and share your light with the world.
You’ve given so much to everyone else.
It’s your time to shine!