“Yes, but … if only you understood my special circumstances”
(“Oh how I suffer …”)
Core Fear: Being Trapped and Unlovable
Strategy: Someone hurt you a long time ago. You have not forgiven them. You want revenge and compensation for this hurt. Therefore, the fundamental mechanism behind this Shadow is that you place responsibility for your happiness upon someone or something outside of yourself: “If only you understood my special circumstances, and what happened to me, you would understand why I simply cannot be happy”. Furthermore by refusing to tell anyone exactly what you need or want, you make it impossible for him/her to give you what you want. Then you tell them: “If you loved me, you would know exactly what I want!”. You are terrified that someone will discover how needy you actually are, because you suspect that she/he will reject you if she/he found out.
Power Games: Your most commonly-used tool for controlling others is blame and guilt. By refusing to tell someone what they need to do to make it with you, you prevent any pleasure, and then you blame the other person for that absence of pleasure in your life. In this way, you take hostages in relationships. You use your ‘wound’ to manipulate people into staying with you, and to justify why you deserve attention.
Key Problem: You say that you have ‘forgiven and forgotten”. You have not – you have simply buried it. You refuse to forgive the person(s) who hurt you. Therefore, that person still controls the quality of your life, and you use this fact to justify why you are still unfulfilled and unhappy. ‘It’s not my fault – it’s their fault that I am the way that I am’. You transfer this belief to present-time relationships. You think that to forgive is to make what they did ‘right’. It is not. Fundamentally, you have handed your power over to someone else, and that is why you cannot regain control over your own choices and happiness.
Body Impact: You may use illness or pain as a tool to get attention, and to hold on to someone.
Outcome: When you use guilt as the basis for a relationship, the other person resents being manipulated in this way. Eventually, she/he leaves, leaving you alone and unloved. Also, by placing all responsibility for your happiness on someone else, you end up in situations over which you have no control, leaving you trapped.
Development & Decisions – Various Ways
The development of this Shadow is dependent upon (a) Hurt afflicted by someone else
upon you; (b) Your refusal to forgive him/her for inflicting that pain. There are various
ways in which this can occur:
Unjust Action: There are an infinite number of ways in which an adult can inflict unfair pain on a child. Alternatively, the child is hurt by actions she/he does not understand, such as your father leaving you without saying why, or breaking a promise to you about something important. Such events can include being molested, attacked, or being raped, or being forced into some action that causes great pain. Regardless of the scenario, the child is hurt deeply, and is unable to respond in kind. Resentment remains, and also an unconscious demand for revenge to remove the pain.
Conditional Love: Your parents insist that you – the child – earn love through goodbehavior. The exact nature of good behavior is a mystery to you. You are told that having a child is hard work: “You owe me”. They withhold love if you – the child - have not paid your debt by being ‘nice’ to Mom and Dad. Being ‘not nice’ can include being sick, refusing to eat when not hungry, holding on to bowel movements, and not performing when required. You believe that you are not loved for who you are. This hurts, deeply. You feel trapped and worthless because you can’t meet their requirements for love: “It’s not fair. No matter what you do, I am worthless, I am trapped. But I will make them pay – I can make them feel guilty through my suffering. That will be my reward”. Passive-aggressive behavior may ensue.
Overpowering Parents: You – the child- are not able to respond to the adult’s rage and anger. So you submit to the adult’s will. You surrender in the face of perceived threats to your survival, and no longer assert your own will – you become obedient but resentful, and get revenge through the back door. You – the child – are not allowed to express anger, but the adult is. No exploring of anger is allowed.
Role Modeling: This is quite common, especially with young girls and their mothers. For example, you watched your mother submit passively to your father. Then your mother whines about your father when he is not there. You also see that if your mother asserts herself, she gets beaten or abused. You – the child - learns that your mother’s strategy is more powerful that the father’s, because she gets revenge quietly, slowly, and continually, whereas his abuse is short-lived and sporadic. Occasionally, a child models his/her father, if she/he forms alliance with father, and is also repulsed by mother.
Later Events: It is not unusual for some traumatic event to create this Shadow. Examples would include pain caused by Apartheid – blame them for not having what you want instead of acting upon the changes; Blaming God for something, such as a miscarriage or the death of someone you love; Rape or assault – blaming the perpetrator for the quality of your life today. All these events may strongly re-activate a latent Martyr Shadow. If such a scenario applies to you, then read options 1 to 4 again, as there is most likely some childhood scenario which formed the foundation for this later Martyr emergence, which the later events simply reinforced.
Consequences in Adulthood
“Yes, I know these things happened, but I let it go a long time ago! I am not a Martyr!” We can play the game of trying to ‘prove’ whether you are or are not a Martyr. The fact of the matter is that you scored sufficiently high on the questionnaire to indicate that there are strong Martyr factors at play in your life. One of the strongest reasons for denying this reality, is your fear of being seen as needy, which you automatically associate with rejection.
First of all, you may believe that you have ‘forgiven and forgotten’ or ‘put it behind you’. The evidence suggests otherwise. It is still there, exerting great influence in your life. Secondly, no-one disputes the reality and facts of the events where you got hurt, nor the pain that it caused. The issue at hand concerns how you continue to allow this past event to justify your present reality and how you use this ‘wound’ to avoid taking personal responsibility for creating what you want in present-time reality.
The most common reason why a person would deny that she/he is a Martyr, is because he/she does not understand Forgiveness. Most people assume that to forgive is to somehow say that what the other person did was ‘right’ or ‘ok’. This is not true: Forgiveness is nothing more than releasing the power that someone else has over you, so that you can get on with creating your own life as you choose it. Whether the other person knows about this, or benefits at all, is irrelevant. Forgiveness is not Reconciliation. Reconciliation requires action on the other person’s behalf, such as compensation and a demonstration that she/he is trustworthy. In certain cases, reconciliation would be quite stupid and dangerous, such as allowing an abuser back into your life and home. We reiterate: forgiveness is all about regaining your power – retrieving it from the past event and the other person, who probably has no idea of the effect that their actions had on you. However, to do this, you have to have a hard look at your pay-off for holding on to this ‘wound’, which you use in so many different ways to hold on to the things you want, including people:
Manipulating the people who love you into feeling responsible for your happiness: You feel that if someone really loves you, the other person would discover how to make you happy. But you won’t tell him/her what will make you happy, so other person never finds out, or fails to make you happy. So, you ensure that the other person knows it: “If you were good to me I would be happy. But you aren’t good to me, so I’m not happy. It is YOUR fault that I am unhappy”. This is a very effective strategy for trapping someone else, and for avoiding taking responsibility for your own happiness. Classic Martyr strategy.
You use your ‘wound’ as justification for getting attention: You often ask for help when in fact all you want is attention. You have no desire whatsoever of actually resolving or letting go of your problem. Therefore, you defeat most therapists or ‘do-good’ friends pretty quickly with your “Yes, But …” responses to any suggestions for how to heal or resolve the problem. When the friend or therapist gives up, you feel victimized again – “If you cared, you would help me!” – and feel resentful for the lack of help. Martyrs are very powerful in trapping people, by getting other people to feel sorry for them because they suffer so much. What is the point of suffering if it is not visible and useful! You avoid feeling worthless by blaming someone else for your suffering.
Complain to the wrong people as outlet to get sympathy: You never complain to the person who causes the suffering. You have become so connected to your abuser (past or present) that you cannot live without him/her/it. Why? Because you have no intention of stopping the pain, or resolving the problem – you want a ‘good’ reason for getting attention and for avoiding taking responsible action to improve your life.
Revenge through Passive-Aggression: Martyrs torture (get revenge on) their abusers through spiteful glances, withholding fun, destroying their reputation with other people. Martyrs become sadists. Every Martyr has a sadist inside, and every sadist has a martyr inside. That is why they stick together. A classic example occurs in group settings, where the Martyr will get ‘stuck’, not understand, or do something to focus all the group’s attention onto him/her. Also, there is always a ‘good’ reason for this hostage-taking action: “Yes, but …”
The core lie behind this Shadow is that it is always someone else’s fault that you are unhappy. Some truly believe this. Others feel that the reason she/he is a Martyr is because she/he is truly undeserving and worthless, no matter how much he/she complains or blames.
When your pent-up anger builds up too much, you switch over into the Impatience Shadow, with angry tirades, which then dissolve into tears. Then you return to Martyrdom. High level of frustration lead to Impatient snap decisions, without thinking it through leading to a more trapped Martyr position.
Martyrs are intensely needy. This is because you need empathy and sympathy to justify the wounding you have suffered. The problem is that you find it extremely difficult to admit to your neediness. The fear is that if people knew how needy you were, they would reject you. Therefore, it is very difficult for you to tell the truth about your needs and wants. The reason is that you were crushed for having needs as a child – you were found undeserving and forced to earn love through complying. For example: You invite a Martyr to a picnic. She/he refuses, saying that she/he has too much work to do. If you persist, she/he gives in: “Oh OK, if you really want me to. I’ll come, just so that you don’t feel angry with me”. What she/he really wants to say is: “Thank you, thank you – I’ve desperately wanted you to ask me, and I am so happy you did. Thank you, Thank you, Thank you!”
Health: Health is not a problem, but you can use aches and pains as a means to obtain special attention. Martyrdom thrives on accidents: “Make them pay – it’s not my fault”. Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and allergies are the domain of Martyrs: Blame your body.
Creativity: Martyrdom makes it impossible for you to see alternatives: “I am trapped. There is no way out”.
Presence: You are preoccupied with injustice (Past) and restitution (Future). There is no time or energy for the present moment. Presence means being in the present, which is Power. Martyrs do not believe they have power, despite their obvious power to create suffering.
Relationships: Martyrs are abusive, bitchy, whining and complaining. You tend to select abusers to be in relationships with, in order to fulfil your belief of being a helpless victim. You also push away true support, and seek company of other martyrs – Wound Worshippers. You feed on sympathy, and the illusion of support and love. This sympathy perpetuates the identity of martyrdom.
Spirituality: Martyrs typically love religion, as religious teachings are distorted to provide support for belief in suffering and pain, for the sake of salvation. Exceptions are when you blame God for something or the other, or you project your painful experiences with your father onto God. You believe that suffering is necessary for redemption, and those are the aspects which you focus upon. Ignoring all other writings or teaching. Forgiveness? Unconditional Love? … skip to another universe.
How to Deal With the Martyr Shadow
Your primary task is to get your power back from those who have hurt you.
You have to Forgive, and let go of your need for Revenge. Forgiveness does not mean that you give up the right for Justice. Revenge is the desire to inflict pain, while Justice has to do with compensation and rectification, and assuming responsibility for actions. How to forgive? It takes time, but the first step is to be totally and completely honest about how you feel about what she/he did to you. Write a letter to this person – which does not get delivered to them – telling him/her exactly how you felt when she/he did what she/he did, what you think about him/her, and anything else which occurs to you. Conclude the letter by saying: “I recognize that I have allowed this event and your actions to exert great power over me. I now take back my power, and release you and the event”.
- Stop using your Wound as a focus for attention from others. Find some other (non-wound) qualities about yourself to talk about. Either do something, or stop complaining. If you have to talk about your pain, then put a time limit on it.
- Say what you need – stop testing the people who love you by forcing them to ‘prove’ how much they love and care for you. Be specific and honest – not vague and ‘whatever’. Tell the person exactly what you want, expect and need. If you want support, say so. You hurt yourself through your expectations which are not fulfilled, because no-one else knows what they are. Take responsibility for this.
- If something is not OK for you, then go directly to the source. Stop gossiping with people who can do nothing about the problem.