10 Questions for Giving Up Martyrdom


So many of us have been there, so entrenched in an unhealthy situation or behavior that we feel there are no other options.

Who else will lead the department?

Who else will care for Aunt Jane the way that I do?

How will this or that ever get done unless I do it?

And if we’re completely honest with ourselves, whatever it is that we are holding so tightly onto because no one else can do it in the same way isn’t just an opportunity for us to contribute, it is an opportunity for us to define ourselves through that action, a way for us to show others what we are about, sometimes in not the most subtle or gracious way.  But the stuff that we do when we are in our martyr state is never really personally empowering and almost always takes us away from the stuff that really would serve us and the world better.

Are you tired of living with the belief that you need to prove to everyone how sacrificing you are?  Are you ready to rehabilitate your martyr?  Try these ten questions to move you forward.

1.  Where do I feel my most engaged, joyful?  Forget the martyr moments for a minute and reflect on what delights you.  When are you not inclined to keep score or notice your sacrifice?  When does the sacrifice feel like an honor?  Those are the opportunities and experiences you need to seek.

2.  Where do I feel my most resentful?  Now, that you know what feels good, it is time to identify what experiences don’t bring out your best.  When does your martyr really come to play?  Martyrs might get a bad rap but that part of us is providing valuable information—we don’t want to be doing this any more than any one else; we just feel stuck!

3.  What is my best self?  What allows her to show up?  Now that you know where you are engaged and joyful and where you’re not, it’s time to identify how you most like showing up.  What does your best self do and say? How does she act when things are easy and when things are hard?  What circumstances and conditions allow her to show up?

4.  When/where am I my least favorite self?  So we all have a way that we act that we don’t necessarily love (or at least, I do, and I am hoping that I am not alone).  What does your least favorite self show up?  When you just have to insist that you were right in some iteration?  When you have too much going on and it makes you terse and highly instructive to others?  When you look at something later and think, “oh, honey” to yourself, what are those moments?  What brought them out?

5.  Why do I do what I do?  What am I getting out of it?  So, now that we know what feels crappy, it is time to identify why we keep doing it.  Sometimes the why is because we always have.  Sometimes it is because we don’t know how to let it go or who else will do it.  Sometimes, if we’re really honest, it’s because we like to have something to hold over someone else’s head.  You don’t have to be proud of why you do it; you just need to be honest about why you do it, what it does for you.

6.  What is my baggage?  So chances are that if your answer to #5 wasn’t “wow, I never realized that I didn’t HAVE to do this” then there’s a little bit of baggage that is being tended to (or enflamed) when you do these tasks that illicit some resentment in you.  Is your identify linked to being the good daughter and so you like doing everything for your parents (while simultaneously being annoyed that your siblings don’t step up)?  There’s no shame in baggage.  We all have it.  But the only way to unpack it is to get really honest about it.

7.  What are my triggers?  You can start to put away that baggage by figuring out what triggers your least favorite actions and how to work around them.  Perhaps your trigger is when you have too much on your plate and you are running from thing to thing and it totally annoys you that your partner doesn’t anticipate that laundry still needs to be done and lunches still need to be packed.  Sure, you could ask your partner to do those things but can’t he/she think of it?  Now is the time to take that big breath and realize that the outcome is more important than how it came about and ask for what you need in order to not be triggered.

8.  What do I want to be thinking, feeling, saying, and doing less of?  Now that you’ve done all this deep, deep work, what does all this information tell you about what you want to be experiencing less of in your life?  You want to feel less alone?  Ask for company in your journey.  Want to have more breathing room?  Commit to less so you can commit to your soul, etc.  Knowing what you want sets you up to create the life that will give you more of that.     

9.  What am I meant to do?  Chances are you have gained some insight about what you most have to offer, what gifts you most wish to be giving in your life with this reflection.  Now, flesh that out.  What should you be doing/offering to allow your best self to show up more?   

10.  What is your treatment plan?  You’ve got all these ideas.  It’s time to make them actionable.  How do you diminish the stuff that doesn’t bring out your best self.  Maybe you need to resign from a committee, hire a home health aid to take some of your parents’ care load off you, be really open with your partner about how you need him or her to contribute.  How do you allow the stuff you love and that brings out your best self to show up more in your life?


Whenever we feel discomfort in our lives, we are giving ourselves the opportunity to take notice and grow.  Rather than feel shame that we aren’t our best selves everywhere, always, we actually allow an opening for greater connection with ourselves and others when we claim what isn’t for us and what is.  Embrace what you know deep down within; that awareness is the greatest gift in our humanity.

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