Updated: Oct 13
Dealing with difficult relationships.
Overcoming self-sacrifice syndrome.
Most of us have encountered at least once in our life, that person that makes sacrifices for work/love/family/friends/etc., and more often than not, this self-sacrifice comes with strings attached. This type of subconscious pattern runs deeply within family dynamics, inherited from one generation to the next with detrimental effects in our adult relationships.
As a society we have learnt that self-sacrifice is a virtue, for example, one look in the dictionary would give us the following definition: noun. Sacrifice one’s own desires, interests, etc., for the sake of duty or the well-being of others. It might sound altruistic, the right thing to do opposite to hedonism and selfishness, but when self-sacrifice is done because it is expected, side effects such as resentment and passive-aggressive behaviour could potentially devastate relationships.
Self-sacrifice that brings blame, guilt and denial, will affect parent-child relationship, and in the long run how we related to peers, choose friends, and romantic partners. It creates a range of negatives responses including fears of not being good enough or deserving, resulting in insecurities, bitterness, and misplaced anger. This dissonant concept affects women in a much larger proportion than their male counterpart (in men, self-sacrifice is mostly perceived as altruist sacrificial: the hero that sacrifices himself to save others. Take for example, the fictional character of Jack in the movie Titanic.)
Maybe one of the most dangerous aspects of misplaced self-sacrifice is that it can potentially turn into victimhood, and once a person steps down into that arena, boundaries are blurred, including those that define them as independent, capable individuals.
Failing to establish healthy boundaries increases the feeling of neediness to prove goodness of actions, enhancing insecurities carried from childhood into adulthood. Another downside of self-sacrifice is that conscious or subconscious manipulators might take advantage of this trait in the other leaving them feeling more insecure and resentful than before. In unhealthy relationships this circle will continue to perpetuate itself as the self-sacrifice person will also manipulated through guilt and blame, and a narcissist manipulator will turn those to their advantage by making themselves indispensables. Self-sacrifice type, more often than not, also deal with abandonment issues. They can become people pleaser at the cost of their own happiness and wellbeing.
The good news is that this self-deprecating pattern can be broken. Changing questions like
What did I do wrong? And blame: I gave you/my kids/work/… my time/youth/attention, into empowering statements.
To find those statements, first we must understand and forgive the past, knowing that forgiving is not excusing damaging actions from others, but the act of letting go of that that no longer serve us. It is honouring our wounds and moving on, liberating our ancestors’ flaws and taken responsibility for ours.
Once we purged the past, the second step is learning to say NO. This will help to establish healthy boundaries, respecting time, and claiming a space for ourselves. As a healthy practise, I personally find an exercise from the book The way of the Artist by Julia Cameron, extremely helpful: a date with the artist. The artist being you. This is a time to indulge in a space for yourself and yourself only. It could be that you sit down for a cup of tea, take a nice bath, go for a walk, or a social distancing cappuccino, the choice is yours, the only catch is that this is a date between you and the artist (also you) and no other parties are invited. This is a simple step towards liberation from self-sacrifice, and a gentle start into the practise of honouring your personal time without guilt.
Once the myth of self-sacrifice is debunked in you, limiting beliefs can be unset and with that perception of relationships will move to create balance and loving dynamics. Here is an example of a letter to self that can help you to ease out of negative patterns. Please feel free to change and/or adapt the words to suit your feelings and emotions.
I see you mother/father/ with all you mistakes, your smiles, your love or lack of it, your rights and your wrongs. I let go. I move on. I free myself from the patterns of my ancestors and take responsibility for my actions. Love does not require sacrifices. Love is generous, love is joyful. Love constructs you. Love is an inside job. And so is healing.
NLP Life coach
Compassionate resilience coach