By Alex P. Vidal
“He that despairs degrades God.” – OWEN FELTHAM
IF we are in a high-maintenance relationship, this subject matter may interest us.
Dealing with martyrs was recently cited in the survey as the second most difficult relationship.
“We all have days when we feel a bit like a martyr, days when self-pity descends on us,” wrote psychology professor, Dr. Les Parrot III of the Center for Relationship Development at Seattle Pacific University. “For most people, self-pity is fleeting, a reminder that life isn’t always fair.”
Parrot explained in his book, High-Maintenance Relationship, that for most people self-pity can be like an infection. If it’s not caught early and treated aggressively, he said, “it can become chronic, leading to people to feel continually like victims.”
Such is the case for martyrs, Parrot revealed. They can be knocked over by the tiniest difficulties–a burned dinner, a lonely weekend, a traffic jam–and show little interest in getting up. Like flowers flattened by a strong wind, martyrs stay down.
“Hopelessly and helplessly they give in to real and imagined unfairness and refuse the helping hand of a friend: ‘Oh, don’t worry about me. I’m fine,’ or ‘You don’t have time for my troubles. You just go ahead.’ Martyrs feel spurned by the world. They often refuse help and are burned at their own stake,” added the fellow in medical psychology at the University of Washington School of Medicine.
According to Parrot, “it doesn’t take much to become a Joan of Arc. Mothers can overburden themselves with household chores, then say, ‘No one really cares about me. As far as my family is concerned, I’m just a slave.'” Fathers can use the same approach: “I work my fingers to the bone, and no one cares. Everyone uses me.”
The ordained minister of the Church of the Nazarene cited the case of Vicky as a typical martyr. With her soft-spoken manner, you barely notice she is in the room. She suffers from excruciating back pain, and at times she barely sits up for more than five minutes at a stretch. But she refuses a friend’s offer to clean her apartment and cook dinner. “I’ve got to manage alone,” Vicky says, “because I can’t expect someone else to be here every minute of every day.”
Vicky refuses help but feels all the more persecuted when her friends don’t stop by. Like every other martyr, explained Parrot, Vicky wallows in self-pity. It has become so insidious to her soul that she is all but entrapped. Her friends fear she will never emerge to live a fun, contented life. And her woeful existence is becoming increasingly exhausting for even her family members and most dedicated companions.
“If you have martyrs in your life, you have seen firsthand how their wallowing can go on and on. Solutions to their problems, no matter how powerful, can’t seem to penetrate their complaining,” Parrot stressed. “Martyrs are locked tight in a victim chamber. But that doesn’t mean you need to suffer too. You can use several effective strategies for living and working with confirmed martyrs, even when they refuse to be rescued.”
Unfortunately, martyrs are all too prevalent in our society, warned Parrot. “Turn on any morning or afternoon talk show, and you will see people who are stuck in a bad marriage or who are too fat or too miserable to deal with life. You will also hear them blame their parents, their schooling, their income, their siblings, their friends, their church, their government, and, of course, themselves. What dynamics do martyrs have in common? They are defeated, passive, self-blaming, helpless, irrational, broody, and worrisome.”
DEFEATED. “Everyone whines a little in response to life’s small irritations: you have an acne outbreak at the worst time; you lose your keys; you get stood up for an appointment,” continued Parrot. “Who wouldn’t feel a little defeated? But most of us are able to stop feeling negative, recover our equilibrium, and get on with living. Not so for martyrs. They give up quickly and suffer long-lasting defeat.”
PASSIVE. If one were to coin a battle cry for martyrs, the author said, it would be “I can’t!” I can’t lose weight. I can’t get a promotion. I can’t change. I can’t meet new friends. Martyrs make little effort to rally against downbeat thoughts, Parrot observed. “And rarely do they ask for or accept help, even–or especially–when that help is freely and lovingly offered. Martyrs may desperately need help, but they will rebuff a gesture of caring.”
SELF-BLAMING. In his book, When Bad Things Happen to Good People, Rabbi Harold Kushner tells of paying condolence calls on the families of two women who died of natural causes. At the first home, the son of the deceased woman told the rabbi: “If only I had sent my mother to Florida and gotten her out of this cold, she would be alive today. It’s my fault she died.” At the second home, the son told the rabbi: “If only I hadn’t insisted on my mother’s going to Florida, she would be alive today. It’s my fault that she’s dead.” Martyrs, like these sons, are often addicted to self-blame, according to Parrot.