A lot of us fall into the martyr trap. We think we don’t deserve as much as other people – time, money, social contact, love, respect, effort… When your self-esteem is low, it’s difficult to ask for what you need, let alone what you want, because you assume you are not worth it and everyone would say no anyway. Why bother asking when we know the answer? It’s not worth the time and effort.
Sometimes our martyrdom can become a security blanket and an excuse – if we never access everything we could, we don’t have the resources we need so we don’t have to try to achieve our goals. When we don’t reach our potential, we can blame our circumstances. Our failure isn’t “real” because we didn’t have the advantages enjoyed by other people. We convince ourselves we are just not the type of people who succeed. It’s easier than challenging this assumption.
Stop! Asking for what you need is not “bad”. Asking for what you want isn’t a bad thing either – especially when getting what you want allows you to contribute to other people’s lives.
Think about it on a basic level: if you are very poor and struggle to support your family, you might go without food so that they can eat more – but what if you eat so little that you cannot care for your family? You might become too weak to work, which means your family will starve. You might be so weak that you cannot prepare meals or feed your children if they are too young to feed themselves. By giving up your share of food, you are actually being more “selfish” because you leave yourself less able to meet your family’s needs.
The same applies to other basic needs, like sleep, and activities that are not essential to survival but are important to living a happy life, like contact with friends. When you fulfil your own needs, you are in a better position to fulfil other people’s needs. You are stronger, more energetic and resourceful. You can help others – without jeopardising your own health and happiness.
Let’s examine this further: what about activities which contribute to your own life, but leave you with less time/money/energy/whatever for your family and friends? The benefits are less obvious, but they still exist. Who do you think makes a better parent, partner, friend, neighbour, etc. – someone who makes time to follow their own interests because it gives them more satisfaction, or somebody who does nothing for themselves and resents it more as the years pass? Which person is more likely to motivate the people around them to achieve their own goals? Who is happier?
The happier and more satisfied you are with your life, the higher your ability to affect other people’s lives in positive ways. It can be hard to appreciate this in the short term, especially when working towards your goals isn’t going according to plan, but it’s vital to recognise this truth. Sure, you will have to make short term sacrifices, but it’s worth it in the long term. Even if you fail in your endeavours, you are setting a wonderful example to everyone around you. You are chasing your dreams, which is inspiring and encouraging.
So be selfish. Set aside time to satisfy your needs and work towards your goals. It will make you a better parent, a better child, a better friend – and it will make you a lot easier to live with!