Posted by: Judy | August 17, 2015

Schema 13…

13. SELF-SACRIFICE – Excessive focus on voluntarily meeting the needs of others in daily situations, at the expense of one’s own gratification. The most common reasons are: to prevent causing pain to others; to avoid guilt from feeling selfish; or to maintain the connection with others perceived as needy. Often results from an acute sensitivity to the pain of others. Yes. I’m improving.

In and of itself, self-sacrifice is not a bad thing. However, this schema states “excessive focus.” Excessive anything isn’t healthy.

The trouble with this one is “who” decides what is excessive?

Many considered Mother Theresa’s self-sacrifice excessive, but was it?

Sometimes, sacrificing one’s own gratification for the needs of another is healthy. Healthy parents do it for their children all the time. The Bible talks about no greater love than giving one’s life for a friend.

I’ve read numerous stories of soldiers sacrificing their lives. I think it’s shameful to suggest there’s something wrong with their choice. It is who they are. For them, doing anything less would be to violate their personal honor.

This one needs considerably more clarification.

In truth, I think self-sacrifice, to an extent, is healthy. The trick is finding a balance.

There is the self-sacrifice demanded of the scapegoat, sacrificed on the altar of the abuser’s desire. The abuser willingly, expertly uses guilt and shame to manipulate the victim. How often does a predator use phrases like “Don’t be selfish” and “You’re hurting your mother/father/family”?

The problem with this schema is that it doesn’t address the real issue here: The Lies.

The victim is not being selfish. It isn’t the victim hurting the mother/father/family.

The truth is that many victims actually develop a much deeper, broader sense of compassion than most people. They know what it is to be hurt, ignored, devalued, belittled, misjudged, etc. They work to learn how to not treat others the same way. Yes, sometimes, they go overboard. This is one of those things one only learns with lots and lots of practice.

Again, this trait is one that is learned and unlearned by observation, self-analysis, and practice.

What would qualify as excessive?

Completely dismissing one’s own safety. Even in the military, they train extensively to ensure they learn how to reduce the risk to others and to themselves. They make a decision based on hours, months, and even years of training. They work to ensure they give themselves and others the best possible chance of surviving.

Excessive is running into the firefight without training, protection, or weapons. It’s suicidal, which endangers everyone.

Excessive is giving to the point where resentment and martyrdom are the result as opposed to satisfaction and love. Not the kind of love abusers pretend to exhibit to manipulate but honest, genuine love. The feeling of yes, I gave up this for them, but it was worth it. I sacrificed my gratification because it was worth seeing theirs.

This is one where finding balance is critical. Becoming too focused on self-gratification leads you down the road of the predator. Becoming too focused on self-sacrfice leads you down the road of remaining a victim.

Predators teach their victims self-sacrifice to an extreme. A victim spends the rest of their life learning the value of self-sacrifice…

This one is about boundaries.

Excessive self-sacrifice isn’t really about doing so at the expense of self-gratification. In fact, a predator would use that quite neatly as a weapon. “It’s important to make sacrifices. It’s selfish to focus on your own gratification.”

Healthy self-sacrifice does not require violating healthy boundaries.

In order to set healthy boundaries and determine what one is willing to sacrifice, we’re back to Rule #1: Stop Lying, especially to yourself.

I have to be willing to search my heart and ask myself why I’m willing to give up something I want in order to give someone else something they want. If my reason is because I feel guilty, then I have to ask myself why I feel guilty…

It’s a real struggle for me to maintain a healthy distance from NM. Sometimes I feel guilty because I know she’s hurt. I had to learn that giving her what she wanted at my expense wasn’t actually self-sacrifice. I was hoping that if I gave her what she wanted, she would be happy. Except she wasn’t. I could never give her enough. It didn’t matter how much I gave her; it was never enough. She always wanted a little bit more and a little bit more.

It was insanity masquerading as self-sacrifice.

Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. ~ Albert Einstein.

Excessive self-sacrifice is really insanity.

I’m working to learn how to recognize when I’m slipping into insane behavior and working to learn how to still be self-sacrificing in healthy ways.

Truth, boundaries, and practice.


  1. “You’re hurting your mother/father/family”?

    Ugh to this one. My dad would use this on me, and it made me feel guilty for a long time until I finally started to get mad. He said something like, “Your mother’s been crying over you and saying how having kids wasn’t worth it.” I replied, “How do you think it makes me feel that she’s been saying we kids weren’t worth it all my life?” My dad looked simultaneously stunned and distressed. He didn’t change anything, though.

    I’m of the mind that some self-sacrifice, like that of Mother Theresa, pays back the sacrificer in some way, like gives them a sense of accomplishment, etc. Victims, on the other hand, don’t really get much out of their sacrifice. It’s more like taking some sort of lesser evil, like not having something taken away or “getting in trouble” in some sense. A rather astute comment in, of all things, a sitcom (“The Unbreakable Kimmie Schmidt”) by Matt Lauer (I think) was, “It’s amazing the extent that women will go in order to not be perceived as rude.” Paraphrasing. I believe the line was written by Tina Fey. It was referring to some kidnapping victims not feeling they could speak out against their captor.

    • Regarding what your dad said: It always amazes me how surprised they are when the obvious correlation is pointed out.

      Yes, the difference between a sense of satisfaction or being used. The difference between feeling like I’m giving, while on the other hand I feel used.

      An apt quote. Victims are taught is it more valuable to be polite than it is to have healthy boundaries. True healthy boundaries include being polite. True healthy boundaries differentiate between being polite and being victimized.

      • I don’t know if you have access to Netflix, but the show The Unbreakable Kimmie Schmidt is worth checking out. It can be a little… raucous? But it’s got a certain charm especially in the lead Kimmie, who is an optimist despite the terrible thing that happened to her.

        • Alas, no, I don’t have Netflix.

          • Bummer

            • 🙂 Actually, I have trouble watching television for much more than 10 or 15 minutes.

  2. Great post Judy. I’m still thinking about it but I like how you clarify the differences. Excessive self-sacrifice could be someone with unhealthy boundaries, unable to communicate assertively, gets used and feels worn out because they get no sense of fulfillment from what is being given, and little or no sense of self so their own needs are not being met. Great example is when like with NM, when we deal with toxic people, and we keep hoping and expecting them to be be happy, finally, this time, and so we give to them as we do to everyone else in our lives. But giving to an N only drains us, no fulfillment there either. In an abusive relationship, the victim has no choice, the self-sacrifice is not given but taken and is entirely different to me. Good people give to others and both parties feel good. I have no idea if Mother Theresa had her own needs met, but I do think we need to adapt these models to fit different lifestyles. I noticed the schemas definitely had an American, or at least a wealthy commercial feel underlying them. I’m guessing not many third world countries develop children with issues with entitlement, for example. Also it is so true what you said about being polite. I still have trouble interrupting conversations even when I am part of them as an equal, arriving even minutes late and many more good girl qualities deeply ingrained in me that paralyze me in what should be healthy frienships. I am becoming aware of all of this, the first step to making changes. I have so much further to go on this path, but I am no longer stuck.

    • Actually, I think third world has a different kind of entitlement. I watched boys believe they had the right to do what they wanted while girls were property.

      • I’d forgotten a huge a trigger that is.

        Glad to hear you aren’t stuck!

        I’m less uncomfortable interrupting in groups where I feel accepted. Interestingly enough, in these groups I’ve established and held healthy boundaries.

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