Categories

Stop being a martyr

Ramit Sethi

Tony Robbins said something fascinating in a talk about feeding 100 million families.

He pointed out that if you think of your work as a “sacrifice,” you’ve set yourself up for failure.

As soon as you use words like “sacrifice,” you transform yourself into a martyr — and no one recovers from being a martyr. That identity creates a box for you to live in.

Quiz: What is your earning potential? Choose the answer you agree with the most
View Results

I want to talk about the psychology of being a martyr. Tony was speaking to CEOs, but once you understand the martyr mentality, you see it everywhere.

  • WORKAHOLISM: “When I’m sleeping, someone else is hustling. My employees are counting on me. I have to work 16 hour days.”
  • BAD RELATIONSHIPS: “I want to be single, but my boyfriend threatened suicide last month. He’ll fall apart if I leave.”
  • PARENTING: “Jane has ballet rehearsal. These clothes won’t fold themselves. And there are toys everywhere. So much for going out. Supermom to the rescue!”

Can you spot the pattern?

Hint: Anyone who says “I can’t be happy because of X” has turned themselves into a martyr.

Curiously, you can give martyrs 10 ways to overcome that problem and it won’t help. Martyrs believe they need to be miserable for other people to be happy. And they use a secret vocabulary to stay that way.

For example, “supermom” sounds amazing. Who wouldn’t want to be a supermom? Yet many moms use this label to justify putting themselves last. Want proof? Offer solutions and watch what happens:

  • If you recommend a nanny, she’ll say “too expensive”
  • If you suggest afterschool programs, she’ll say “kids need quality time”
  • If grandparents offer to babysit, she’ll say “we can’t put you out”

Slowly, you realize what’s actually going on. Martyrs have written an identity of powerlessness. And they won’t give it up without a fight.

After all: If you go out and have a blast with friends, what does it say about the last 5 years you stayed home?

Pretty painful to admit you had the power all along. Much more comfortable to stick with the identity you know.

Let’s do a show of hands. Have you ever made yourself into a martyr? If so, how? What did you tell yourself to avoid changing?

Let me know in the comments below.

-Ramit

P.S. I’ll share first. If there’s one thing I hate, it’s losing something. I HATE IT. Where are my keys? Where did I put that piece of paper? Why isn’t my apartment as organized as it should be?

After a while, I got used to the clutter.

And then I started saying things like “I’ll never get this place straightened out.” Like my apartment made itself messy. Like I had no say! (That’s the martyr mentality.)

Then I hired Andrew Mellen, a professional organizer and the author of Unstuff Your Life. Andrew’s system saved me so much time that I decided to interview him for you. Pay attention to what he says at 4:12 about holding on to “precious” items.

Do you know your actual earning potential?

Get started with the Earning Potential quiz. Get a custom report based on your unique strengths, and discover how to start making extra money — in as little as an hour.

Start The Quiz

Takes 3 min

69 Comments

 
  1. Freedom 40 Guy

    Interesting concept. I’m not sure I would think of myself as a Martyr, but I’m certainly in a job where I think of my time spent there as a sacrifice. There are lots of other things I’d rather be doing, but I keep going in because hey, it pays the bills. I think the problem for me however is convincing myself that there aren’t any better job opportunities out there. I need to shake myself from that belief and at least take the step of seeing what might be possible by putting my resume out and doing some interviews in 2017.

  2. Chris

    Before I managed to break out of a toxic relationship, I always told myself: “oh you have to do that, you have to put her first, it makes her happy and that’s what a relationship is there for. Also she needs me, when i’m not around she’ll starve!”

  3. Patrick

    This is something I’ve noticed in myself time and time again. It’s easy to put yourself at the bottom of the totem pole in the name of others or “the greater good”. The trick is learning that you have value, and your needs have weight and importance. It’s something I still need to get better at!

  4. Delia Gardner-Price

    I spent the last year in a city where I wasn’t making much progress and some crazy George R R Martin-type stuff started happening in my life. I HATE giving in when something isn’t working because I feel like I HAVE to fix it. Meanwhile my mental health went to $!*£, and so did my career, my blog and social relationships. I was impossible to help, but I finally gave in and I’m moving backhome to regroup for a few months and come up with a new strategy. I think making failure synonymous with regrouping and finding a new strategy made it easier to feel like I had no power. Even the best successes have failed at some point to get to where they are.

  5. Denise

    How about, I don’t have the time or can’t afford Ramit’s programs even though they would help me so much! The trick is to make it a priority.

  6. Esmeralda

    It’s like you read my mind. Literally one second before your email landed in my box I was despairing over if I could ever lead a rich life. My life has been reduced to sacrifices I had to make in order to support my family and I always end up thinking, “I cant do that because so-&-so needs to be done or that persons’s needs come first.”

    Sometimes these things do need to be done but your article is a wake up call of the dangerous martyr thinking that I have developed. Its tiring and depressing to keep it up.

  7. Martha

    So, while I’ve been pretty mindful of not doing this to myself, this is an issue I’m dealing with right now with prospective clients and readers of my blog. I am a divorce coach who helps divorced women over 50 regain their confidence and plan their futures so they can take their lives back, and this martyr language is something I hear all the damn time.

    I get emails on a daily basis that are like, “I guess I’ll just stay miserable, I guess I’ll just learn how to live like this, I’m used to making sacrifices” and whenever solutions are offered, the responses are “Oh, it won’t work for me” or “Oh, it costs too much,” or “Oh, there’s no point in changing now.” You’re so right—it’s definitely more comfortable to stick with the identity you know, even if you’re miserable.

    Thank you so much for this post!

  8. Amy Thiessen

    Oh this really resonates- “much easier to stick with an identity you know”. I’ve been hustling a side project, which has spiraled into, must get up earlier, must put other things aside, must be miserable now for pay-off in the future. That wasn’t sitting well, so I’ve started out-sourcing the parts that I hate (and thus take the longest). DUH. I’m already noticing a huge shift in how I view this project now… with enthusiasm instead of dread.

  9. Rococo

    Let’s have that blog name, Martha.

  10. Kimberly D.

    I like the way you’ve made these connections, what Tony said with what Andrew said. The past few weeks I’ve been looking at some things in my life I had decided were in need of change a while back, yet I am still dealing with them. So I am understanding more that I did not actually decide anything until I took some action.

  11. Hashem Ali

    I come from a muslim Shia background. Although I myself am not religious, the concept of personal sacrifice and martyrdom for the greater good is so deeply entrenched in my culture that it’s very hard to overcome. Putting yourself last, serving others and being a martyr is so valued in the way i was brought up by my religious parents that i came to associate it with success, love and THE source of reverence. It has held me back most in the way i view success. In Shia Islam, the greatest leaders were the most modest, the most self denying, the most sacrificial and eventually, became actual martyrs. I grew up in a household where these historical religious figures were so loved and respected that i thought (and sometimes still think) i needed to be like that in order to be truly loved and respected. Moreover, I subconsciously believe that a “true leader” and a “real man” must have these martyr like virtues in order to do good in the world.

  12. Kimber

    So resonant… I learned this from my mom (among others) and have a semi-secret script that I can’t be happier/do better/succeed more that she did, and especially without her approval (she would be happier with me in a corporate job – using the Wharton education).

    I keep busy & distracted with what’s easy and comfortable (teaching fitness 1 on one and in small groups) instead of acting to try to have more impact/reach more people. I’m also a martyr in simple ways of allowing client scheduling chaos, being fearful of raising rates, and trying to solve other peoples problems.

    For me being a martyr goes along with an ‘I don’t deserve it, I’m not worth it, and I don’t want to embarrass myself or be a copycat’ mentality.

  13. Kikko

    I used to have the tendency of being a martyr thinking that people relied on me. I was responsible, responsive, dependable and all other things. But I realized slowly that while I was working hard, others were relaxed and never felt thankful or sorry for me. This changed me. I now live to have a cake and eat it.

  14. Jacob

    This showed up in my inbox this morning and was super profound for where I am at right now.
    My mother (father passed when I was younger) has always been a good caregiver for my brothers and I, but as savings slowly dwindling I began to realize her lack in being able to provide for herself and others financially.

    In its current state, I’ve moved out and have my own problems to tackle. She has the family household, with 6 other people currently living there that all pay rent. And yet, notices were coming in the mail that the mortgage is behind, and this utility is past due and on the verge of being shut off. Something was wrong and it wasn’t lack of funds, it was mismanged spending. So I, after finding this out had a heart to heart with her and took responsibility of all rent collections, and started paying all the bills. I make it work and have saved the house from ruin and possible foreclosure, but now I’m in a rut where I’m tethered to every month to dealing with any issues that pop up, and collecting rent. Acting as a landlord, in a sense.

    That’s how I martyr myself.

    • Annabel

      Jacob, you are a champ for doing this, and I mean it! So many people are financially illiterate and could absolutely pauper themselves by mishandling an amount of income that should be sufficient.

      Now: OUTSOURCE THAT WORK! You’ve shown that it can be done. You’ve proven that the household can run successfully. Now automate as much as you can. Set up a direct-deposit account for those who are paying rent. Put all the bills on bill-pay. The schedules don’t match up? Move them around! Most credit cards will let you change the due date without even batting an eye. Phone bills ditto. Even the gas and electric utilities might be flexible. And you do know, don’t you, that the mortgage is not considered late until the 15th? As for the remaining work, hire a property manager. That’s what they do.

      My hat’s off to you, man, and your family is lucky you’ve educated yourself on finances.

    • Alison

      Jacob, you are not a martyr. You’re a saviour. Good on you — you’ve done a brilliant job of sorting your mother’s household finances.
      I know how you feel. My parents were hopeless with money, too. But I’m not. I think we’ve both learned something valuable from poor examples.

  15. Miriam

    Just realized that this was something that has been bothering me – the feeling that I had to move around and follow the few jobs in my field out there instead of living where my friends and family were, living on my terms. Like: If I want a career, I must sacrifice all my personal wishes, which I literally put on hold. I thought: You have to suffer through this and soon enough, you will (have to) move somewhere else anyway.

    I’ve moved back to the area where I grew up now and it felt great to say: This is what I want right now, I don’t have to suffer by working some job somewhere far away from my real home, if I am prepared to change careers.

  16. Kalyani

    I recently did a Facebook Live video on this – it is a concept that is very close to home for me and for those I work with.

  17. Nate

    Social gatherings: I used to hang around by myself, or maybe talk to one person whom I knew, and feel rather bored, take more food, then go back and take some more, and then walk around by myself wondering what I was doing there. Then I’d go and take another snack. It was dreadful. What did I tell myself to keep myself in that box? “I can’t go up and talk to someone. He or she is already taking to somebody else. Anyway, I don’t know what to say. Also, what if the other person notices something about me and starts making fun of me, like so many others used to do (long ago, when I was in a very different set of circumstances)? What if the other person just gives me a one-word answer and then I’m stuck just standing there not knowing what else to say? So, it’s OK that I didn’t make any new friends this time. I’m used to having very few friends. It’s not so bad.”

    At some point, I decided I was sick of feeling unable to talk to people or to approach people. I would force myself to push through the unseen barrier that stopping me from initiating conversations and was severely impeding my life.

    I will always remember a critically important day when I consciously told myself to start talking to a nice young lady at a mutual friend’s birthday party. I ended up marrying her.

  18. Jules

    I DK, I think there’s a butter zone where the not-fun stuff is balanced by the fun stuff; as long as the eventual payoff makes the not-fun stuff worth it then gritting your teeth and getting through it can be worthwhile. Otherwise nobody would ever have kids (2-3 months, if you’re lucky, of waking up for night feedings and poop explosions is pure hell if you’re going through it). I think the mistake a lot of people make, though, is not being realistic about the payoff or aware of how much they’re really losing.

  19. Julian T. Adorney

    I’ve absolutely done this. I frequently say I can’t go out w/ friends or family, or can’t do the things I’m passionate about (ex. meetups, martial arts, writing) because I have to work. I don’t, though; not usually. I’m just using work as an excuse to avoid doing things that a) I want to do but which b) are scary.

  20. Carmen

    OH MY GOD! This is me! This post hit me like a Mack truck! Whew!

    I’ve definitely been a martyr with my job: “Oh, they need me! I have valuable knowledge they do not have and I’m one of the most dedicated, hard working, and reliable employees here!”

    You know what’s funny? One of my co-workers takes day off whenever the heck she wants and couldn’t careless what goes wrong at the job, the last manager left abruptly after two years and decided the workplace wasn’t her problem anymore (we still do not have a new manager yet), and my other co-worker stays sick…A LOT.

    Now, don’t get me wrong, my co-workers are kind and fair to me and if it wasn’t for one of them I wouldn’t have a job in the first place (So, I can’t be burning bridges) but, I have taken note that I do seem to be the martyr for the workplace (and the pay will never get raised and I will never get benefits).

    The second place I’m a martyr is my home life and it has been my own mother to chastise me for this! I have felt guilty for wanting to move out of the house and from the shitty small town I live in but, I felt as if I was abandoning my mom (she’s all I have) and being selfish. Well, my mom was the one to tell me to stop being a martyr for her, pack my bags, get out, and that she’ll be quite alright (especially if I send her money every month, heh). In her opinion, me staying stuck at home is making me stuck in life and therefore, not helping her at all.

    I honestly think my problem is I care too much and I’m too loyal for my own good. It’s hard for me to move away from that because, I do not want to be a selfish, inconsiderate bitch and I don’t know how to find a fine balance between the two.

    Yeah, I’m one of those people who has a hard time saying no. 🙁

    Thanks for the post, Ramit.

  21. Manutej Mulaveesala

    This hit so close to home. I have always overextended and overworked myself for other people. It was with the illusion of altruism and compassion, but in reality it was a lack of self-love and self-compassion. I have lately started to move past this martyrdom dynamic by focusing more on my self first. For, how could I truly help someone else, without first helping myself? Thanks for pointing this out. Great article, Ramit.

  22. Brian

    I feel like I do this with every relationship. I want to “do my best” and see if I can improve her because I don’t want to leave her without making a positive impact.

  23. Lynnzi B.

    Thank you for sharing this article. I can see it with myself and I can see it with people around me. This is going to support me greatly in dealing with my clients. Because some of them really have it as they can’t or XYZ because XYZ.

    Great video and create article!

  24. Ari

    This is a really interesting concept and I think it applies to almost everyone. My wife and I recently had our first child and I took some freelance work to bring in extra income. I found success but it was a double edge sword because I was working so many hours that I was miserable. I kept telling myself that I needed to do this for my family, but I was missing time with them. I’ve recently gained a new perspective on the balance between work and family time.

  25. LJ Sedgwick

    Quite simply; I stopped saying yes to everything.

  26. Sylvia

    Thank you! I got excited to see the Subject line of this email. I’ve actually said this exact thing to myself and my friends (in a gentle way~~). It’s really shocking for some people, and if they’re not ready to hear it, then they continue to justify. BUT for some, you see the scales fall of their eyes and they’re able to reframe their mindset and explore the other options that, before, they felt were “not possible.” It’s a shift from helplessness to empowerment!

  27. Michele

    Ok…I have given martyrdom a place in my life in the past. Pulled the single mom card and gave up all of me for a long time. Felt guilt as I dropped off my son M-F for 10 hr. Days at daycare. Now I am married and have another child, & took some plunges like just starting the little one In day care because I wanted to work again.

    I came to realize daycare is the most fun for her because Even when I’m home, I am not just sitting on the floor playing with her all day…more like i am often ignoring her as I clean/organize/whatever else it was I did at home all day. Not only is she having more fun now in daycare, but the work is now covering the cost of daycare I thought I might not afford, and I have my own life again and my son is really admiring that and excited and proud that his mom is working.

    No more room for martyrdom…life is too short

  28. XJ

    I think there’s a difference between martyr behaviour and just negative thinking/low self esteem.

    Martyr behaviour is where you feel like you have to be miserable for the benefit of OTHERS (i.e. I can’t do X because others depend on me). Whereas low self esteem is just feeling like you’re not worth more, or you can’t get more.

    I don’t really suffer from martyr behaviour but I do suffer from low self esteem and feel trapped by my own poor choices in the past as well as other invisible scripts that I tell myself (I’m not skilled enough. I can’t get a better job. No one is going to sponsor my visa. etc.)

  29. Kristi

    It is a part of human psychological programming that is only visible to those who don’t suffer its affects. They seem to see their suffering as a moral virtue. So long as they see suffering for the benefit of others as virtuous they will not give it up. It would mean having to admit they have overworked themselves so long only to their own detriment. Most workaholics don’t usually accomplish more work; they just put in more hours and make themselves unhealthier in the meantime. Staying in bad relationships is just being an enabler for the bad behavior of their partner. Supermoms create spoiled and entitled children. Who would ever want to view their martyrdom as having a bad outcome and therefore the opposite affect of its intent? Surely it’s easier to continue believing what you already believe instead of challenging the belief and possibly seeing that you are wasting time or worse, causing detriment where you intended to do good. By not questioning it, they end up throwing away more precious time and mental resources to an unwise personal doctrine.

    You can’t ever tell these people how to fix their problems. They just want to vent the problems so you’ll praise their martyrdom. Hearing a solution to the problem might make them think their martyrdom was for nothing.

  30. Joseph Castelli

    Really insightful post, especially the bit about the “secret vocabulary.” It’s another example of the “invisible scripts” that Ramit talks about in ZTL.

    I engaged in this myself at my corporate law firm job in NYC. “I’m a valuable member of the team.” “I just want to do a great job.” “I’m a hard worker.”

    Meanwhile, I’m stuck sleeping in the office, or taking a cab home at midnight to go back at 7am.

    But really, I thought I deserved to be treated that way at my job. It was easier for me to use my secret vocabulary (“hard worker”, “dedicated”, etc.) to excuse it. It’s especially easy when I was surrounded by other lawyers who spoke the same way. It’s infectious.

    Thanks again for the post, Ramit.

  31. Faeze

    I used to feel my parents’ unhappiness. Now I decided to be happy. This way I may be a help but being sad is not empathy and can’t help them. It’s just a waste of life and energy so I stopped to do that.

  32. Kent

    I’m an educator, so I see this all the time. I’ve referred to it as the educator martyr complex for some time now. You can see it is elementary schools and colleges. What irritates me the most about it is that administrators actively take advantage of this martyrdom to get educators to work longer and harder without compensation. This is one of the mechanisms that has devalued the work of educators over time.

  33. marc

    My wife is one of the biggest martyrs in the world. However guess what. I am a close second. Her mentality has kept me believing that I have to be shackled to someone like that who disempowers me at every turn she gets the chance. I truly believe it is a self esteem thing. If you feel like shit you become a martyr. “Woe is me” rather that taking total control of your actions and your life.

  34. Ricky Anderson

    This was me, for far too many years. I would happily put myself in the martyr box.

    When I got sick of it holding me back, I started putting the problems in a box instead.

    Previously: I’m too busy with family stuff to start a side business. It may be a bucket list item for me, but family comes first so I guess I’ll never do it wah wah wah.

    Now: Wow, there’s 6 birthdays and Christmas this month. I won’t have much time to focus on my ZTL business. No big deal, I’ll start back up on January 2nd.

    The difference is I put a box around the issue. There’s an end date. It’s a valid item, but it’s a speed bump with an expiration date, not a mentality and a way of life.

  35. Matt

    Ramit. I’ve been getting your emails for a few years now. Just wanted to say that this email “Stop being a martyr” might be the best one I’ve ever received from you.

  36. Daniel

    There have been times at work that I suffer in silence under the belief that it is necessary for me to do so to make a particular situation okay. This is 100% martyr mentality, I learned quickly that you can’t be passive aggressive if you want people to work with you.

  37. Jessica

    What didn’t I use to be a martyr? That I grew up poor, my parents didn’t teach me anything, that I was in a bad (reaaally bad) marriage and it fell apart, I had depression and anxiety for as long as I can remember… but it’s funny, just a few days ago, I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder I’d been living with and didn’t even know. So if I could make all the change in my life that I had living with a disorder I hadn’t even treated, what does that say about me and my ability to grow? I really connected with the “making it an identity” line – I had, and I fought to protect my identity. But it’s not who I want to be, so I’m changing it. Thanks, Ramit!

  38. Dhaval Sunil Prajapati

    Great Great Post, Ramit!

    I grew up being taught that in order to succeed I must sacrifice! It’s like ingrained subtly from people around you, and from amateur motivational coaches, videos and books you read. While it’s important to prioritize, the idea of making it sound like a sacrifice is unnecessary!

    I used to be a martyr and to an extent still am but working to gradually go from telling myself I’m sacrificing something to telling myself it is my choice not to do something and my choice to prioritize something else instead since it is more important to me or better yet finding a way to do it both!

  39. Matthew

    Damn, this is definitely me. I’ve been CTO of a startup for the last couple years, I’ve neglected my relationship, and stopped going to RBT events, tech meetups, or friendly get-togethers.

    I justified it all as “I’m the only tech person at the company, and we’re not doing well, so I have to put in nights and weekends”.

    Now, I’m trying to decide whether to leave the company or not, and trying to repair my relationship. Even if I stay, I need to figure out a way to make it on my terms.

  40. Ann Albers

    I joke that I could have founded “ex-martyr’s anonymous.” My parents even found me playing with my little brother as a kid having him fake-nail me to a cross… seriously. I told myself I was lucky to be smart, capable, resourceful, etc., and that meant I always had to focus on others. Life taught me. I now put self-love first most of the time and in that reality am able to give generously in so many more ways. Martrydom = victim unless you’re Jesus or Joan of Arc and truly called to it. For them it was God’s grace and a calling. For us its an excuse not to shine.

  41. Malia

    By the gods, ive totally done this! And probably still do. O,,o”’ Throughout my life, ever since I was a little kid, I’ve been punishing myself by putting myself last, especially in toxic friendships and relationships. Good gods, if I could go back in time, I would beat the crap out of myself, set me straight, and cut frienemies out of my life like removing cancer, and meet the man of my dreams sooner. Not to mention save thousands of dollars I willingly let them suck out of me.

    I had let myself become such a sheep, getting eaten by wolves, day in, and day out. I’ve been doing a lot better nowadays at focusing on those things that really mean something to ME. Like writing that book, and NOT playing chauffer to a worthless ex who had an obsession with motorcycle clubs. When I started making a stand for myself, life instantly got better, and I’m seeing things that I want to happen in my life, happen.

    I used to say, “But I can’t let them down, I would want them to support me 100% too…” Even though I knew they never would.
    Now I say, “I’m a dragon. We eat sheep and wolves alike for lunch. I want this for me and those who give a damn about me, so that’s what’s gonna happen.”

  42. Juan

    Hi Ramit,

    I think I’m martyr right know in a relationship, I told my gf that we should break up and we had a really bad fight, she took a knife and cut her wrist. We went to the E.R. and everything went ok, however, every time we fight she says that I should have let her die that day, I don’t love her anymore, but every time I think to leave her I’m worried she hurt herself or even kill hereself.

  43. Jane

    Reminds me of an Anais Nin quote: “I was always ashamed to take. So I gave. It was not a virtue. It was a disguise.”

    This nonsense of meek = virtue puts you in a bind where you HAVE to, for example, let people walk all over you. And it’s possible! You can let people exploit you for a looooooong time. It’s crazy! (Literally, it will drive you insane.) It’s crazy how much damage is wreaked by this tiny invisible script.

    But you’re right: life teaches you. Eventually. If you let people exploit you for long it enough, it WILL get worse. And worse and worse. Until one day you realize…. wtf is this bs? I’m putting up with THIS?!! It’s a painful but vital wake-up call. At the risk of bringing too much woo-woo to IWT, here’s a quote by Kahlil Gibran: “Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding.”

  44. Jen

    I martyr myself by keeping myself so busy being the main income earner, housekeeper, bill keeper, social secretary, maintenance person, dog walker… for my household and the go to person at work. I justify not working toward a new career in something I really love doing but don’t have enough experience in by being so busy.

    Wow that felt good to get out!

  45. Petros

    I martyr myself in the past in staying at a job that i hated for years . I would feel miserable and just tell myself at least be grateful to have a job now. Plus I wont make money trying something else or what I love. I don’t have enough money. I’m not an expert or what do I have that’s worth sharing to people. Its already been done before. Lots of these type of talks stopped me from changing.

  46. Natasha Granath

    I can be a bit of a martyr when it comes to getting overloaded at work with too many random tasks and sacrificing my health and sleep because I believe I can’t say no to things and that the greater good of our team and our projects are more important than my long-term wellbeing. “Poor me!! i have to stay late and finish all this stuff, even though I have a migraine coming on, got three hours of sleep, haven’t had time to buy any healthy groceries. But I must, because what other way is there. Who ELSE is going to do my work if I don’t?” Sounds ridiculous when you write it down. Yet, still, I don’t really know any other way to think.
    My colleague told me the way to get ahead in our company is to do what he did, “sell your soul, show them your loyalty, and they will treat you and pay you well.”
    There has to be another way??? Yet this has stuck in my head.

  47. Liam

    I wouldn’t consider myself a martyr but this reminds me of my mother-in-law. She’s always got an excuse that she hasnt got enough time, always busy looking after her family, (there’s a grandchild due next year – I wonder how she will find time then…), always too busy working, cooking, cleaning, down ng gardening, tidying loft space etc etc etc
    Yet when ever I visit with my Mrs she is often watching catch up TV and eating junk food. Time is also another reason why she can’t loose weight. Sometimes I want to scream and say “Stop making excuses, loose the weight and be happy. Stop using excuses to be miserable and fat.” But I know it will only fall on deaf ears. Sounds harsh Ramit, but I think reading your email has opened my eyes a little bit.
    She could of started her own business (she was on a British TV programme and received a lot of attention for her skills that she only uses at home) but she made excuses : I’ve gotta look after my family, I’m the underdog, i be for a mortgage to pat etc etc BTW my father in law has a good job and can retire now but he is working another 5 years to get a bigger payout. He has a good job and could support them both and then some, but she turned it this great opportunity down and I’m thinking is scared of being happy so she hides behind all these excuses as a martyr to justify her being miserable and not fulfilling her potential

  48. Barbara

    I was a martyr in a relationship and it was a huge waste of time. When I see others playing the martyr role it appears that they do so much because they don’t think anyone can do what they do as well as they do and also it keeps them so busy they don’t have time to take any inventory of themselves and what changes they need to make.

  49. Jess

    Ramit, you make me laugh.
    Reading your post I was thinking to myself I don’t think like a martyr… and it’s deceptive, I don’t think I’m being a Martyr, not in the big picture things anyway. I fundamentally love where I live, what I do for work and my relationships and none of them are close to sacrifices. However on the day to day, that project I’m working on, the state of my house, the state of my current fitness, all of these things are mini sacrifices I’m making and being a martyr everyday! Mind- blowing to think that in the end, it’s the little things that make up the quality of our lives and it’s this daily martyrdom that’s holding me back, Thanks for bringing it to my attention.
    Keep on doing what you do and keep making me laugh. Brilliant stuff ramit!
    Happy new year!

  50. Alia Robert Kenneth

    I’ve been a martyr for quite too long! 2017 going forward I’ll become a “renegade martyr”. Everything I’ve been doing right from studies,work, networking… I’ve always thought I’m making “sacrifices”. Truly these are not sacrifices at all. Great stuff on 365th day of the year, and just hours ahead to brilliant 2017. Thanks Ramit,Happy New Year from Uganda!

  51. Noelyne

    I downloaded all or mostly any video on website design, computer networking and programing. I have about 1 tera byte of these materials and I couldn’t start watching any of them. Don’t know which to start. All looks important. Until after listening to your talk on how to focus and being specific, I decided to start with programming videos and watch the website designing videos from time to time.

  52. Julia

    I CAN’T, so I just WON’T. But would like to, truly.
    Or how about, “I’d like to pay someone to get my shit in order, but can’t find anyone who could do it.” Says, sort of amicably divorced (from verbally abusive man), mom of 2, with serious ADD, credit card debt, haven’t done taxes yet in 3 years- awesome accountant verified would be refunds. Dont’t pretend you’re not saying “loser”. Read the book, but would like to pay someone to do the details.

  53. Marc Andrew

    I justify not working toward a new career in something I really love doing but don’t have enough experience in by being so busy. 2017 going forward I’ll become a “renegade martyr

  54. Shannon E Agens

    I didn’t realize it but I’ve totally been making myself into a martyr. I’ve been wanting to work on my online business for a long time, but I wasn’t getting to it. I kept thinking I didn’t have time if my spouse wasn’t working on something too. That we’d be missing out on quality time together. Or that if he was at work, then I should be home making dinner, taking the dog to the dog park, or making the house really clean before he comes back – and never did I try to make these things quicker or more efficient. While those things are important to me, I’ve been pretending to myself that I’m sacrificing my career advancements to get the “more important than me” tasks done. In all actuality, dinner doesn’t have to take 90 min each time; it could be 40 min. The dog park can be shorted and maybe if I wasn’t spending so much time dancing to cleaning music, cleaning would also be shorted. And why on earth isn’t it quality time to work on my laptop while my spouse watches tv? If for only 30 minutes, that’d be 15 hours a month invested.

  55. Mike Burke

    I’ve seen Tony’s interview where he covers this and it definitely hits close to home. What’s most interesting to me is that I often seem to perceive happiness as a zero sum game, similar to how many look at money. This is the most insidious invisible script for me to break (and why I own 3 programs I haven’t put work into yet).

    It’s taking a lot of work to realize my happiness rarely requires making someone else unhappy and that the converse is also a fallacy: my unhappiness is rarely necessary to make someone else happy .

  56. Stuart

    I used to think I wasn’t the kind of person that could do triathlons until I joined a team & started getting coaching. However, I still struggle with making myself a martyr relative to weight loss. “I’m just not a skinny person” “My metabolism won’t let me lose weight” “Getting skinny means giving up everything that tastes good and never hanging out with my friends.”

  57. Sarah

    I am guilty of martyr thinking, and I think I know why. Partially, it’ what you said – the identity after a while becomes habitual, comfortable, even though you rarely feel comfort.

    The question is, why does it become comfortable? And what I’ve learned, for me, is that it becomes comfortable because, in this way, one avoids taking responsibility for themselves.

    To live a rich life, you need to know what you want. I mean, that sounds simple, right? And yet, it has been easier at times to focus on the articulated wants of others (or, what I assumed those wants to be, I often didn’t ask) than to do the work to be able to articulate for myself.

    These last years have been a story of transformation for me, and it was learning this – that I was so out of touch with what I actually wanted that figuring it out became really scary. Because, if I figured it out, then I would have some degree of responsibility to make it happen. And in trying to make it happen, I might fail.

    So, in remainig a martyr, well, I abdicated that responsibility and simultaneously had an excuse – I had somewhere to put the blame other than on myself. I’ve done this in relationships, in my career, and in starting my business (my copy of ZTL stares at me, beckoning me back, asking why I’ve not followed through yet).

    Thank you for this post – well timed and thought provoking.

  58. Victor

    Yes….I’ve turned myself into a martyr and I believe I still am a martyr. I feel I could never be happy as long as I live with my parents because of my father to be specific. He always tells me what to do without even listening to me when I try to talk. And that really frustrates me to death. Why on earth would someone give an advice to someone else if he’s not to willing to listen to him and to his pains, fears, hopes, and dreams in the first place? And I feel I should always be miserable by allowing him to continue doing that because I’m not supposed to argue with him or try to change his way of thinking if I want to be a good son to his father. I’m really confused of what I need to do to overcome this frustration that is really killing me and my sanity.

  59. Arwen Rogers

    What a juicy topic! I definitely do this because it has been taught and practiced by every member of my family for years. It is sometimes so subtle you don’t realize you’re caught up in it! Hard work and sacrifice has been the mantra of every member of my family. It works, because nobody is entitled to anything they haven’t worked for. However, I am trying to start an online business and I get questioned constantly and criticized for not having a full-time job. I’m not above getting one if that’s what’s necessary, but the conversation I had with my family last night was chilling. I watch people I love do jobs that have wreaked havoc on their mental and physical health and yet these are the people who are telling me to stop following my route of expertise and get a generic, full-time benefits job. For me that would mean entry-level call centers or data entry since my 2 degrees were in Modern Dance (which I worked happily in for 7 years before major surgery). Surely I can still use the creativity for entrepreneuer-ship! It was easy to spot the martyr mentality in them, but this conversation actually pointed out the bigger martyr mentality in myself! I’m spinning my wheels a lot. I signed up for ZTL last year and I still have trouble just getting basic set-up. I’ve looked to local people and even signed up for Accelerator and then squandered this year working alone trying to get to a point where I was worthy of help. I was too embarrassed to admit that I couldn’t figure out how to link MailChimp because I learned through hours of searching in the Help section that you couldn’t use Gmail accounts, etc. I got so overwhelmed that I stopped working on the site and worked a lot of low paying part-time jobs related to generating material for the website. Now I look back on that behavior and cringe. I found someone who set up the MailChimp in 30 minutes and I’m still scared and procrastinating the actual website. Not anymore! This post really hammered the point home for me and I’m going to tackle the thing I’m scared of . Thanks, Ramit!

  60. JS

    “I don’t really suffer from martyr behaviour but I do suffer from low self esteem and feel trapped by my own poor choices in the past as well as other invisible scripts that I tell myself (I’m not skilled enough. I can’t get a better job.” What XJ wrote is close to my situation. Have tried to get back on track, after a health related job experience. Re-applied to my previous employer. Previous supervisor, assured me he would get me back in, and then was turned down anyhow.

  61. Yoamny Feliz

    Being a martyr helped me feel like I was good or holy. I kept acting that was because I knew no other way to behave. Pain and fear also kept me from changing until I couldn’t anymore and ended up seeking help. Good topic! Thanks for sharing 😉

  62. Akash

    I’d say I made myself a martyr when I volunteered for a research position that slowly became something I didn’t enjoy. At first it was cool and new, but after learning how science actually works, I learned that its mostly tedious. Basically I kept doing it because I kept telling myself that I would be a failure and not get into any graduate school if I stopped. I eventually stopped right before I graduated (even after I got rejected from all the grad schools I applied to) because I wanted to keep going the entire year.

    At any rate, I do hope that I learn my lesson and not become a martyr in the future!

  63. James

    I have yet to rewrite the script I’ve been living the past 15 years of being a martyr due to debt, mainly because I have not managed to pay down debt (student loan) and have accrued more debt along the way, which does limit me in many ways. That being said, I have become aware of the negative power that script exerts on my life and have therefore made concerted efforts to change the way I view this predicament in a way that is empowering me to take the necessary steps to turn the situation around. My current goal is to cut total debt in half over the course of 2017 and eliminate it by sometime in 2018.

  64. Christen

    I think I’m currently a martyr about parenting. What I tell myself: woe is me, the only time I have to unwind at home is when the kids have gone to sleep. I *should* go to sleep in order to be rested but I just can’t help unwinding with a movie or book at that time. I’ve imprisoned myself in my own home as if I can’t get alone time due to my kids. Now, they are young but the way I tell this story to myself is full of martyrdom. I could say, well, I choose to be present with them and therefore have to give up “unwinding” time, or do it some other time, or I could set some boundaries with them so I get that time while they’re awake…but have I done any of that or tell that story? No. I whine.

  65. Sean

    My father used to tell me and my sister, “You come from me… we never win.” That’s been a hard one to do battle with.

  66. Richard

    Dear Ramit,

    Thank you for writing this post. Definitely it has helped to awaken some people. However, please only say such things in blog posts or on stage where there is sufficient distance between you and the audience. This is so that it will do more good than harm. (I will explain this further in this post, but I need to give you some background first.) Do not say such potentially accusatory concepts (martyr) in person conversations unless you know that the person listening sees you as exotic. (Therefore, definitely do not say it to your own family or your children in the future.)

    The reason why people still continue to do what they do despite labelling it negatively (a sacrifice) is because at least while they are doing the task, their mind is absorbed. The task that they are doing is familiar to them. They have done it repeatedly. Therefore the neural pathways are already formed. Since the neural pathways are already formed and the person pretty much can visualize the task very well, there are less opportunities for negative emotions like fear to intercept their thinking in the midst of performing the task.

    Therefore this state of absorption can actually be very pleasant because while we are absorbed we are shielded from negative emotions.

    You realize that these “martyrs” somehow manage to find excuses for not trying out NEW things. (Things that potentially need them to form new neural pathways.) This is because whenever they consider the prospect of something new, the emotion of fear creeps in and attracts thoughts that support the fear. Now, why is it that fear creeps in so readily for them? For some people it may be because they are suffering from some kind of chronic physical pain. For others it may be because something very important in their life not going well. Maybe their children are experiencing some difficulty. Basically, this thing is important enough to them such that they keep on getting reminded of it and therefore they also keep on being reminded of the emotion of fear.

    For these people, fear is like their shadow, always following them around. And whenever the opportunity arises, fear comes in and intercept their thought process.

    For you and I, when we consider failures or potential setbacks, they seem more like textbook material to us. That means we do not feel them much. We merely understand them, maybe we feel a bit and would say things like “that is not the best thing that could happen”. But, by and large, the thoughts of such things do not raise our heart rate too much, they do not cause us to have sweaty palms or send chills down our spine. Therefore our mind is clear enough to see that good solutions exist.

    For those people with the martyr attitude, when they consider the potentially bad scenario, they literally feel the fear. It is very embarrassing, I know. Because I was one of them in the past. We don’t know why “silly things” stir such strong physiological changes in us but it just does. And we cannot make them go away with a snap of our fingers similar to how we cannot control our stomach’s digestion with the snap of our fingers.

    For these martyrs, either the cause for the underlying background fear needs to be resolved. Or they need to introduce more positive emotions into their lives (simply saying “don’t think negatively” is pretty useless, a deliberate effort is needed to introduce positivity). Or they go on a trip to somewhere new or meet someone exotic so their brain snaps out of automatic thinking.

    This is why I cautioned you only to say this to people if they find you exotic. Because exoticism can snap a person out of their usual subconscious thinking habits. If you are not exotic, their usual subconscious thinking habits prevail and they will think that you are very mean for not understanding their predicament.

    So if the cause of their fear is that they are not able to find a husband and their family is pressurizing them to find one, then the background fear may be solved when they finally find one. However, depending on the scenario, solving the problem may or may not be possible.

    Another method is to introduce positivity into their lives. One method is to help out at a children’s home. Or to do acts of kindness for people. (doing acts of kindness for random strangers also helps!) Or if they find a group that shares their interest. (Think Photography groups, sightseeing buddies etc.)

  67. divp

    Thanks for sharing nice video…keep it up