No One Cares That You're Acting Like a Martyr

Yesterday’s posts weren’t as funny. Sorry about that. Some days will be like that, but I will try to avoid them. I’m more going for honest than funny though, so there will be days that aren’t as funny. You should know, though, that part of my brain has developed a DeNiro voice and is asking “What, you think I’m some kind of clown? That I’m here to amuse you?” There are a handful of people who could be doing the voice – various actors have had some version of the line at some point in their career. In my head, though, it is DeNiro. I don’t know why, it just is. I think some part of me finds him both scarier and more approachable all at the same time. DeNiro is a gem – that is undeniable.
And again, folks, this is the way my brain works.
Anyway, I told you to stay tuned for a post entitled “No One Cares That You’re Acting Like A Martyr”, and you have stayed tuned. So now I will do my best to make it worth your while…
No one cares that you are acting like a martyr. No one cares that you took the “messy” piece of pie or the smaller piece of chicken. (I don’t eat meat, but I imagine that you do and that you’ve taken the smaller piece before because you thought it was the “right thing to do”.) No one cares that you keep skipping dessert, that you did x instead of y, or that you didn’t do something you wanted to do because some part of you wanted credit for not doing it. No one cares. They mostly don’t care because they don’t know. Your quiet, and entirely self-imposed, suffering has happened without notice because that was part of the deal – you suffering in silence. So no one cares. The end.
But it isn’t, actually, is it? Because some of you haven’t TOTALLY suffered in silence. You’ve suffered in exaggerated sighs, “I’m fines”, and statements just loud enough to be heard by the person you want to notice your martyrdom. You’ve suffered in vague Facebook statuses and awkwardly placed statements about how you feel unappreciated. I know you’ve done this, because I have seen you. I know you’ve done it because I have done it too. 

If you’re one of the people who acted like a martyr and not suffered totally in silence (and I am willing to entertain the possibility that a fraction of you ARE people who have never done this), then you should know that it isn’t actually that no one cares that you’re acting like a martyr – it’s that people really wish you would stop.  There is an alternate title for you guys (us). It is:

People DO Care That You’re Acting Like a Martyr Because They Find Your Actions Irritating
Look, here is the deal, no stable, healthy person really wants to be a martyr. Think about it. Think back through history. No one said, “I’m so looking forward to being burned at the stake! I won’t have to wear a sweater!”
No one wants to be a martyr because martyrs suffer. People of sound mind and mental health, free of most unhealthy learned behaviors DON’T want to suffer. We want to be comfortable. That is a trademark of humanity. That is why we built shelter, developed agriculture, and invented computers that allowed us to order things on Amazon while wearing pajamas.
Now, sure, some of us have different ideas about what that looks like. Some people like sleeping suspended from the sides of mountains in a sleeping bag on a platform held up by nothing but strategically placed carabiners. I am not one of them, but I don’t begrudge them their experience because they are doing it for some other purpose. The view is probably glorious, the bragging rights are fantastic, and freaking me out is probably pretty funny. Point is, even if they do find it somewhat uncomfortable they are doing it because it is a temporary part of something that is much more enjoyable for them on the whole.  Even if they aren’t fond of sleeping like that, they are making the choice for themselves. No one up there is acting like a martyr because they are smart enough to know not to irritate someone who could unfasten their safety harness. (I feel like this is a fair assumption because I’m pretty sure that anyone who would make that mistake has probably not been invited on the trip up the side of a sheer rock face in the first place. They’re all at home nursing broken bones obtained from “falling” from a much lower height.)
For my part, I would like to be writing this blog from a lounge chair by the side of a resort pool on a warm day while someone makes sure that I am never without a fruity umbrella drink. Why? Because I am a pioneer in what I like to call “extreme comfort”. If I were to CHOOSE to switch seats with someone else and take the lounge chair that doesn’t have the most ideal sunlight to shade ratio, then I would be doing it because I CHOSE TO. I would be doing it because, for whatever reason, I determined that the other person deserved the slightly better lounge chair more, or because I want to be charitable and being charitable makes me feel good about myself. I wouldn’t do it so that the other person would have a blood debt to me that can only be paid in with unending statements of gratitude. I wouldn’t do that because that is really bloody irritating and I don’t want to be really bloody irritating.
When John (husband) found out I was going to write this post he said, “I’m really looking forward to that one.” and “I wonder who that will be about.” The thing for you to know about John is that (a) he really was looking forward to this post, and (b) he is one of the few people I know who I can’t remember having tried to be a noticeable martyr. I suppose that it is possible that he’s just really good at being one of the genuinely quiet ones, but I doubt it. I think he really doesn’t do it. I think that’s because he recognizes that he has a choice. He does nice stuff for me all the time, and he has taken the messy piece of pie on more than one occasion, but he isn’t doing it for praise – he’s just being nice. And when he wants praise or attention he does me the service of just asking me for it. No mind games, no manipulations, just honesty. I like to think that doesn’t come up as often because I do try to give him attention and praise without being prompted, but whether that is true or not, I really appreciate that he respects me and our relationship enough that he just says what he means and lets me know what he needs to feel okay with the way our interactions with one another are going.

As for the part about wondering who this post was about… that was sarcasm. He thought he knew… right up until I pointed out that it could be about any number of people – including me. In fact, it IS about me more than it is about anyone else. I couldn’t get into the mind of someone who thought like this if I didn’t have plenty of experience with the thought processes of my own. I think that I, like a lot of people out there, learned along the way that we should put our needs and desires aside. It’s what we’re “supposed” to do. It’s what makes us “good”.  Good spouses, good children, good parents, good friends, good employees… good people.
The truth is, that sort of thinking, is a mistake.
It’s a mistake because it hurts us. It encourages us not to value ourselves, and that is a mistake. It comes about because of the idea that our value is determined by what is outside of us and by the value OTHER people assign to us. When we allow that to happen we lose. In fact, everyone loses. When we do that it strips us of our inherent value as individuals and it strips all of us a little more as a group. Think about it, think of 9 other people and assume that they all have a starting value of 10. You are in a group with these people and together you have a group value of 100. You decide that someone else outside the group gets to reassign you a value based on your utility to them at that given moment. The person you have given this power to is having a bad day and they decide you’re only worth 3. You have brought the total group value down to 93. Without going too far into a metaphor that could get us way off track considering collective bargaining, democracy, or economics, I am going to assume that you can gather my point.
So if you’re trying to martyr yourself for the sake of others, not only are you irritating the group, you are bringing down the average. You shouldn’t do it, you shouldn’t allow others to do it, and we should all stop venerating the idea.
Dear friends, if you want someone from someone else, give that person the respect of asking for it. They might say no, but at least you won’t be unconsciously trying to bring down their value by manipulating them into saying or doing something.
If you want something for yourself, just do it – or choose not to – but know that the choice is yours. Give yourself that much value.
If someone is trying to take something from you that you don’t feel comfortable giving – tell them that you don’t like it. In some situations – like work – you might have to do it anyway, but at least it won’t be assumed that everything is hunky dory. Even when you still have to do something you’ve made it clear that you value yourself, you have treated your boss with enough respect that you aren’t casting them as a villain (which is an attempt to take value away from them), and you are valuing your coworkers because you aren’t just going along with something that they probably aren’t comfortable with either but feel they have to do because if they don’t you will and that might make them look bad (encourages others not to treat them with appropriate value).
I’m not telling you to be selfish – certainly don’t go around behaving in a way that doesn’t respect the value of others – but know that there is a difference between valuing yourself and devaluing others.
If you’re not sure if doing a thing would infringe on someone else, ask them. Most people don’t care about the pretty piece of pie – pie is delicious regardless of how neatly it comes out of the pan. Whatever they say will inform your choice, but it will still be YOUR CHOICE.
If you need something, ask for it. That is more respectful of your needs and the needs of the person you are asking.
Whatever you do, don’t act like a martyr because the best-case scenario is that no one will care.
If all else fails, cut a new piece of pie and send the messy piece to me. Pie is delicious


This post was originally published on April 4, 2014 on the blog "I Try: The Additive Property of Happiness". This is the link:

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