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martyr

Hello everybody, welcome to episode 69 of Optimal Living Advice I’m your host, certified life coach Greg Audino. Today’s question is of particular importance because it exemplifies how a very conscious act of kindness and giving can go wrong. You hear me talk a lot about the good results of taking action, especially positive action to overcome difficult times, but of course, this, as well as other noble approaches can still lead to more difficulty. So here’s a question that came in from someone who was already -rightfully – taking great action to improve upon herself but has still run into a roadblock…

QUESTION: “How come nobody goes out of their way to help or support me when I do this for so many others?


Listen to Greg narrate this post on Episode 69 of the podcast Optimal Living Advice.


So, again, it’s interesting to hear a question coming from someone who is making clear attempts to live in the right way. There’s always more to uncover though, so let’s see if we can dig deeper and help you out.

Action vs. Motivation

I’ve talked a lot about how action comes before motivation. After all, setting an action goal requires you to carry out actions that will help create the desired outcome.

For example, someone who doesn’t like their job won’t necessarily feel excited about starting the job search all over again in search of something new. Rather than waiting for some rush of excitement to just materialize out of nowhere, AKA motivation, it’s often more useful for them to just commit to start applying a little bit each day even if they don’t feel like it. After doing this, momentum is gained, the person is exposed to new job possibilities, their hope is restored, and motivation has been generated as the result of action.

That being said, there are always bits of motivation – or at least reasoning – behind action, whether the action comes first or second. In the example I just provided, though the person might not feel like applying to jobs, there’s still a trace of motivation underneath the action – or their goal – which is ultimately to find a job. No action is made without the hope of some result on the other side is what I’m getting at.

So for you, asker of this question, it’s wonderful that you have taken action – the action of giving generously.

But let’s take a look at the motivation or reasoning underneath; the goal that you want to achieve by these acts of generosity. The first question I want you to ask yourself is, “Why am I giving so much?” Let’s focus for a moment on what YOU get from this giving and why it makes YOU happy. Are you giving because you feel it’s your duty to give to these people? Are you giving because someone has given to you in the past and you know how impactful it can be for the one who is receiving? Are you giving because you have a surplus of something? Are you giving to others to teach them a lesson about you or themselves?

In answering questions like these, which is something only you can do (I sure can’t do it for you), what you’ll start to uncover is just how transactional this giving really is. There will always be some transaction, even if it’s just wanting to feel you did the right thing in exchange for donating a billion dollars to charity. But just how much receipt are you on the lookout for? How transactional is it?

Is Giving a One-Way Street?

In what I’m about to say, I want you to know that I’m in no way blaming you, nor do I want to assume too much, but my guess is that there’s a lot of transaction in this for you if you have to ask this question in the first place, “How come nobody goes out of their way to help or support me, when I do this for so many others?”

Why do these others need to help or support you? Why should they be expected to? Can your giving to them not be a one way street? Can you not give just to give – with next to no transaction? Needing or even wanting others to give back is a form of co-dependency, and while exploring why you may not feel fully dependent on yourself is an entirely different conversation that is unique to you, it may be the more important conversation to be having.

I’ll give you a little boost, though. That conversation starts by you asking the second question I want you to ask yourself; which is, “Have I taken care of my own needs first?” and I want to briefly interject here to highly recommend a fantastic article that explores this with both great detail and great simplicity; it’s called “The Martyr Complex: How to Stop Feeling Like a Victim and Create Healthy Relationships” found on PsychCentral.com and it’s by Sharon Martin. She’s an LCSW or Licensed Clinical Social Worker and author of The CBT Workbook for Perfectionism: Evidence-Based Skills to Help You Let Go of Self-Criticism, Build Self-Esteem, and Find Balance.

The Martyr Complex

This martyr complex that is alluded to in the title is a psychological term used to describe those who constantly volunteer themselves to the needs of others. They give, give, and give some more, often unaware of the fact that in doing so they’re sacrificing their own needs.

No matter how much good-hearted people like those with a martyr complex might like it to be so, the fact is that you just can’t give to or support the needs of others as optimally without first meeting your own needs. So consider your intrinsic needs and values. You might get a good start on what they are by considering what you’re looking to in return for all the giving and supporting you’re doing.

Get clear about them, which of them aren’t being met, why they aren’t being met, and how they can start to be met in a way that is as non-transactional as possible.

The Problem with Giving Excessively

All this talk, though, has been about you. Before we wrap things up, let’s consider those on the other side of the equation. Let’s consider the effect that your martyrdom is having on those who are being given to and supported. Martyrdom, while noble, is flawed. Giving is a great thing to do; I’ve discussed this many times. But giving excessively, which can probably be determined by giving at the expense of one’s own needs, runs a high risk of generating expectation on both sides.

In the world of information systems, there's even a term called social overload which refers to social media users feeling like they are giving too much social support to others.

Friction (not to mention resentment) is already being developed in your desire to have others help and support you as you are to them, but on their side, after the familiarity of being coddled and taken care of by you sets in, they could very well build an increasing reliance on and expectation of these continued acts of service. Over time and after enough repetition, what was once a favor given by you can start to feel like the norm for both parties, and though they have no right to, it’s easy for them to start developing a feeling of being owed something by you.

In conclusion, the consistent offering of oneself made out of conjunction with the satisfaction one’s own needs, while feeling like the right thing to do, can offer more harm than good over an extended period of time.

Take some time to create healthy selfishness in your life. Given how far along you are in your path of giving, it will be sure to help you as well as help others.

——

Okie doke. I hope this was a helpful episode video for you and I hope your question was answered satisfactorily. I think it was a great question for you to ask because, as we can see, it provides a great stepping stone into the core of the dilemma which I believe to be your own needs.

And I also love opportunities to dish out psychology concepts, if I’m being honest. Everyone, if you liked what you heard today and have your own questions about your own struggles you’d like our help with, please email your questions to advice AT oldpodcast DOT com

Thanks for tuning in, guys. I hope you liked this one as much as I did, and I can’t wait to talk to you again. Until then!


Listen to Greg narrate this post on Episode 69 of the podcast Optimal Living Advice.


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Greg Audino

Greg Audino is a Rhode Island-born certified life coach, actor, and graduate of Goucher College. He is the host of the mental health podcast Optimal Living Advice and narrates dating, marriage, and parenting content over at Optimal Relationships Daily.
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