“I’m sorry” is one of the most powerful phrases we use. Accepting ownership of a problem and shouldering the blame is huge in a world full of passing the buck. While some may see apologizing as weakness, in reality it takes a lot of strength to stand up and own the situation when things go wrong.
There is a flip side to this, though – accepting blame for things that are not your fault, or you can’t control, doesn’t actually help you or the other person. In fact, it often makes things worse in the long run. When you own a failure that isn’t yours, you can set yourself up for more (unearned) blame down the road.
By accepting blame too freely, you become a target for manipulators. People pleasers, with a tendency to put others first and not stand up for themselves, often find themselves pushed into roles that can carry obesity and poor health with them.
Side note: there is a big difference between being sorry that your friend is having to deal with something, and owning that issue as your fault. Empathy is a good thing – martyrdom is not.
When The Line Gets Crossed
One party playing the martyr is a recipe for danger in any relationship, business or personal. By putting yourself into a victim position, then broadcasting that victimhood to show how giving and put upon you are, you hit a high bar of manipulation. Insisting on too much responsibility at work or at home, refusing to let others help – these things take a toll on you and everyone around you. That kind of passive aggressive guilt can crush someone’s spirit.
Often, martyrdom can be a marker for covert narcissism. What is that, you ask? (I did, anyway…):
This may sound like someone in your life; parts may even sound like you. Don’t freak out too much; the article goes on to state, “We all have a little bit of martyr in us.” I would agree with this; I have taken on too much at work and then been irritated when I didn’t get “my due” – the proper level of praise in my mind, a raise, whatever it may be. I think that’s a part of human nature.
There’s a difference between nice and people-pleaser; empathy and taking the blame for everything aren’t the same. By that same standard, you can want recognition and praise without being a martyr and a narcissist. In my mind, it’s when you put yourself over everything and everyone, with no care or recognition of the effect, that you cross the line.
So, What The Hell Do I Do About It??
You can take back control of your life by saying no. No to being the project dump at work. Nein to accepting the blame for other people. Nyet to doing things because you think someone else wants you to. Nej to giving the narcissist what they most want – praise or pity. Instead, focus on the parts of life that matter to you and your loved ones.
Putting yourself first is essential to protecting your health, both physical and mental. Only you (and hopefully your loved ones) can put the focus where it belongs. Make the time (yes, you make time for what matters to you) to do things for you, and do them ALL IN. No half measures – and no apologies either!