Health & Medicine

How not to fall victim to a long-suffering martyr

Relationship martyrs are those people who refuse to acknowledge or address their own needs in a partnership, then chronically blame others for making them unhappy.

For instance, a woman may tell her family, “Oh, no, I don’t need anything from you.” Yet she perpetually whines, “I do all the work. And nobody cares about me.”

Martyrs are impossible to please. They are forever critical of others’ efforts. Even when loved ones do their best to be accommodating, a martyr will dismiss their hard work: “You don’t need to go out of your way for me. I’m fine with what I have.”

The problem is that martyrs aren’t fine. They’re never happy. They spend a lifetime being miserable. No spouse or children’s behaviors ever ease their dissatisfaction.

This doesn’t mean others don’t try. In fact, family members frequently bend over backward to get a smile or a thank you from the long sufferer’s lips. Children of these willing victims may try to get all A’s in school or strive for personal perfection. Husbands and wives may cater to their suffering mates’ every whim.

Conscientious loved ones are often wracked with guilt because their steps fall woefully short. Nothing they do breaks the martyr’s life-is-so-awful cycle. Since they can’t change the pattern, they tell themselves that they’ve failed: “If only I’d been more successful or more attentive, this person would finally be pleased.”

The problem isn’t the family; it’s the martyr who refuses to embrace any joy. These perpetual sad sacks are so entrenched in their tales of pity that they completely miss all the love and wellness their lives offer.

Of course, some folks truly have horrible things happen to them. Death, war, discrimination and illness can create emotional mayhem for innocent bystanders.

But many people experience horrific tragedies. Most recover and recommit to each day with renewed purpose and vigor. Men, women and children who turn seemingly insurmountable obstacles into opportunities for emotional enhancement continually inspire me.

Martyrs, on the other hand, refuse to grab the brass ring. They feel safety and contentment within their state of gloom.

They can also refuse to accept responsibility for themselves because, after all, they’re not to blame.

Martyrs are made, not born. They’re inherently nonassertive types who learn early to manipulate others in order to get what they want. They feign helplessness and pity. Meanwhile, they’re the center of attention as people attempt to quell their insatiable misery.

As a rule, martyrs aren’t depressed. They seldom suffer from the loss of interest in activities, the inability to concentrate, the physical symptoms or suicidal thinking that accompany clinical depression. In a strange way, they’re actually quite content in the role of passive victim.

Are you a martyr?

Ask yourself the following questions:

• Are you frequently dissatisfied with your life?

• Do you view your family members as the chief source of your unhappiness?

• Do you feel that your loved ones are incompetent or uncaring?

• Do you feel that you do all the work in your relationship or home?

• Do you feel unappreciated?

• Do you feel powerless to make any changes?

• Do you have trouble having fun?

If you answered yes to four or more of these questions, you’re probably a full-fledged martyr. Both you and your loved ones are suffering as a result. Take the following steps to end your emotional pain and start enjoying what life has to offer.

• Identify your personal needs and wants. Take a quiet moment and reflect on your inner desires. Write your list on a piece of paper so you can add to it and make changes at will.

• Ask for what you want. Share your desires with loved ones. You have every right to be heard and respected.

• Take charge of your own happiness. You are responsible for your own feelings. Do what you need to build a joyful existence.

• Start small. Changes may seem scary to you. Take little steps to get where you want to be.

• Express your gratitude. Say thank you often. Send notes telling others, “You’re the best.” You’ll feel good being positive. Friends and family will appreciate the good vibes.

• Have fun on a daily basis. Take a hike. Pet a kitten. Listen to a concert in the park. There are endless ways to enjoy yourself. Make pleasure a top priority.

Linda Lewis Griffith is a local marriage and family therapist. For information or to contact her visit