I see you over there, feeling guilty about wanting to buy something for yourself. I see your gears turning, thinking, “What about my kids? Shouldn’t I be buying them something instead? Surely this money would be better spent somewhere else. Who am I to think that I deserve such a nice item? I shouldn’t do it. I’m not worth it. Even if I did buy it, I’d feel bad about it for the next week, and that definitely isn’t worth it. Even though the last time I did something nice for myself was six months ago when I got that pedicure, I still shouldn’t be so selfish. I’ve already been gone from home for about two hours. They’re going to start wondering where I am. I should go.” It isn’t a money thing. It’s a personality thing. I watched my former best friend, an emergency medicine physician who makes $260/hour, have this same conversation with herself over a $25 hat!
I know your kind. I see it every day in my line of work. I easily notice you because I was raised by one of you. And if not for my rebellious spirit and the grace of God, I would have been just like you.
But I understand you. I know why you do it. You truly believe that this is how you live your greatest life – that this self-sacrifice is your purpose for being here. I watched my mother get repetitively trampled on by significant others and bosses for most of her life. She allowed the words and opinions of other people shape her self-worth. She sacrificed her hopes and dreams to take care of her children. “It’s the way it has to be,” she told me. “I do it for you!” And I know she believed it.
But what if that wasn’t the truth? What if that was just a story that she told herself because she watched her mother do the same thing, and that’s all she ever knew? What if no one was around to teach her how to break the cycle?
You know who you are. The one who can’t accept the gift because it’s “too much”. The one who says, “Oh, you shouldn’t have!” and awkwardly tries to hand it back. The one who later thinks, “Why would someone do something so nice for me? What is her motive?” The one who doesn’t listen to the advice of others when they beg you to leave the abusive relationship. The one who doesn’t accept responsibility for deciding to stay in such a relationship but continues to recruit friends to talk about your injuries. The one who has created zero boundaries for yourself. The “yes woman”. The one who expects that other people should just know how you feel – that people should be able to tell what you need. The one who is too self-righteous to just tell someone exactly what you want. The one who only truly feels your value when you are running yourself into the ground to walk to the ends of the Earth for someone else. The one who gets pissed off when your noble efforts are not recognized as much as you thought they would be. You, who routinely sacrifices yourself into utter depletion. No wonder you have a difficult time hearing someone tell you how loved or how beautiful you are.
I am here to tell you that you have a choice.
My love, your Greatness does not come from your self-sacrifice, and it never will.
Your Greatness comes from your self-serving.
Luckily, the modern-day martyr typically is, at baseline, truly a very kind person. She need not worry about “going overboard” and becoming “too selfish”. Your fear of being selfish has pushed you much too far in the opposite direction, and it is time for you to come back to us. We need you to claim your power and to decide to take care of yourself. It is a thing that you do quite naturally for others, and you need only a change in mindset to apply it to yourself. You have a choice. You can put yourself first.
Why do we need you to be aware of the possibility of this different way of living? Because we need you at your best. Because self-care actually leads to your ability to better serve. Because if you have depleted yourself to functioning at 50%, and someone really needs you, you are only able to possibly contribute a maximum of 50% of your energy. This is called helping. You see, there is a difference between helping and serving. Helping is aiding others from your own depleted energy reserves. Serving is what happens when your own energy reserves are so full that you can tap into the energy of the whole universe! An example of this is the way people feel on mission trips. There, we can give 100+% of ourselves, stay up late, and wake up early the next morning full of energy and ready to serve more! But if this is your fifth day home alone with the children, and you’re exhausted, having already done the dishes, the laundry, vacuumed, cooked two meals, gotten ready to go to your side job, and your husband comes home asking for dinner which you didn’t have time to prepare, and you sheepishly say, “Okay, let me go make some,” you are helping, and you are playing the martyr. You are not Wonder Woman for making the dinner. Wonder Woman would have spoken her truth. She is tired. She is about to leave for work. There are lots of other options for dinner, and now there is another adult in the home who is perfectly capable of figuring out dinner plans. You do not have to do it all. You cannot do it all. And you must decide to stop trying to do it all!
Living a life of self-depletion, martyrdom, and codependence causes health problems. These lifestyles are directly linked to overeating, obesity, depression, anxiety, irritable bowel syndrome, thyroid issues, heart disease, strokes, diabetes, high blood pressure, chronic pain, psychosis, and a slew of other medical issues. If you are raising children, know that they are aware of the choices you make. If you have an opportunity to break the cycle, please do it.
Here’s where you can start:
1. Be honest with yourself. Does any of this resonate with you? If so, you have an awareness now, and you will either consciously choose to change or consciously choose to remain a martyr.
2. Believe that it is possible. Nothing changes unless your own mindset does.
3. Speak your truth. Say exactly what you mean all the time. There is a difference between tact and sugar-coating. Be tactful instead.
4. Set boundaries. Learn to say no. Stop immediately saying yes to everything. Take a few moments to check in with yourself and see if it’s actually something you want to do. Try to remember what it feels like to actually want to do things.
5. ‘Don’t should on yourself,” one of my mentors taught us. Try to remove the word “should” from your vocabulary for a while. The expectations you have of yourself are likely far greater than those which other people actually expect from you.
6. Learn to give to yourself. You are a fantastic giver! See how good you can get at giving to YOU!
7. Learn to accept compliments and gifts by saying, “Thank you!” Don’t be weird about accepting gifts. Learn to receive! Challenge yourself and even respond with “I agree,” when someone says you look nice today.
8. Carve out time for yourself every day. Spend some time alone because chances are, you’ve lost sight of who you really are.
9. Remember what your dreams are – and fucking FOLLOW THEM! It’s not too late to do what you’ve always wanted to do. Again, by nature, you are caring and kind. You are the opposite of selfish. Your core values don’t change just because you decide to believe in yourself. You will inspire others by achieving Greatness, not by suffocating your shine.
10. Create a positive self-image. Speak only positively about yourself. If you focus on the beauty, you will find more beauty. Remember that your children may be watching, and to them, you are Superwoman. Kids do what their heroes do. Be the example.
11. Remember that when people see you healing yourself, they tend to heal themselves as well. Know that some people will choose not to heal, and that has nothing to do with you. You are not here to save everyone. You are only here to save yourself.
12. Be gentle with yourself. Change of this magnitude undoubtedly shakes shit up. Find your strongest friend, and ask for her service when needed. Yes – you, too are allowed to lean on people. None of us get through life alone, and you’re wasting time and energy by even trying. Also, you will likely mess this up a thousand times, so learn to forgive yourself. Every tiny decision you make to heal will shift you further toward your Greatness. You are worth it.
“Always remember you are braver than you think, stronger than you seem, and loved more than you know”. We are here for you.