Thursday, September 1, 2011

The Savior/Martyr False Self

There are things about me that are fake; there are those that are here as a result of conditioning; there are those I developed as my rebellion against the conditioning.

Many of them are relatively harmless. Some are kind of dear to me, and, as long as I acknowledge that this is not uncompromisingly my innermost self, I can let myself indulge in them (like sometimes wanting to be one of the boys, drinking beer out of the bottle in the park, having a little general rebellious streak).

But one thing that really stood out to me in the story, the unhealthy thing, the thing that forever connects my false self with the tyrant, necessitating their joint death as the only way out, is the savior/martyr complex. The main character in my story so obviously has it that it hurts me to realize it. She's thrilled to have someone to protect. Her life has meaning. Then she's ready to suffer torture and death for him at the hands of the man who wants him dead. And not only that. In the process, in the first version of the ending which disgusted me, she never objects. She never raises her voice. She never tries to defend herself. Not because she's really compliant. Far from it. No, it's because doing any of that would be like weakness or immorality. 

In other versions, I let her get raving mad, kick him in the balls, take his gun, all sorts of stuff. But it feels wrong to her to do anything violent to him, or even speak up against him to the cops, and then survive, it's unlike her, makes her somehow unclean. The last time she does it, they both die. He shoots her straight through the heart, which just goes all numb (like in my dream - I'm choosing to reinterpret it as the voluntary death of my false self now), and the young man hidden behind the heavy bookcase manages to tip it over and it crashes on the killer's head.

She has sometimes done good for others, when I was a student representative and fought the good fight. Stuff like that. But she does bad stuff, too.

She exists, it seems, only to be a savior and a martyr, and without a tyrant, she doesn't feel alive, she's just depressed and cynical. She invents tyrants where there are none. She finds the same dynamic everywhere, even where it doesn't exist, and then the savior becomes the sanctimonious judge of those with power who's overly lenient to those without it, and the martyr becomes the whiner.

She's not evil. But she keeps me seeking out abuse from my father or anyone else and interpreting it as this big battle against evil in which she will be the moral victor by silently enduring everything and never even being impolite. And the abuser will just tire of the abuse because he's not getting the desired result, the expected reaction. And he'll move on, frustrated. He's physically stronger and has all the power, so all she can do is shut off and endure it all sullenly and not give him the satisfaction of witnessing any reaction in her.

This may have been a decent survival strategy when I was a child, but now it no longer serves its purpose.

Christians here, please answer this: have you identified with Christ and the martyrs when feeling good & strong by taking stuff silently? Better and stronger than the abusers? I know feeling better and stronger than others is not exactly a Christian sentiment, but, well, maybe some of you know what I mean.

I don't, on the other hand, really identify with all that love and forgiveness for one's tormentors. Just the idea of being stronger by silently enduring and never showing you're suffering. That's not Christian at all, I fully realize.

But somehow, for me, it got blended with my general ideology.

How does one get rid of that? And what does one do instead and still feel good about oneself?


  1. "She exists, it seems, only to be a savior and a martyr, and without a tyrant, she doesn't feel alive, she's just depressed and cynical. She invents tyrants where there are none. She finds the same dynamic everywhere, even where it doesn't exist, and then the savior becomes the sanctimonious judge of those with power who's overly lenient to those without it, and the martyr becomes the whiner. "

    Shit. That is me. That is exactly how I have lived my life; subconsciously creating new tyrants when the old ones were gone or out of sight. And now I have so "brilliantly" engineered the last tyrant, that it will stick around for the rest of my life.

    These realizations must have been so powerful to you. My question is, what steps are you taking from here? Do you think that this is something you can change? Now that you have realized this, what do you do next?

    The martyr/righteous victim role is perhaps a way to accept powerlessness, and even to justify abuse done onto you, but it also leaves space for finding worth in that very same self, because it can stand up for and protect others. This is very messed up. These chains are worth breaking. The question is how.


  2. PA, I am a Christian and I didn't much feel the martyr connection. I suffered in silence but I didn't feel good about it. When I started to take back my life my thoughts ran a little more a long the lines of making the whip to drive out the money changers from my life. I just needed guidance on how to claim back my life without the violence I dislike so much. I learned a bunch about boundaries and assertive behavior. Just another thought David didn't throw feathers at Goliath. Today I hit a major mile stone in taking back my life to my True self. It feels awesome. You can do this too. Ruth

  3. I really did take as practical advice the New Testament instruction to sit at the foot of the table and wait to be called up to the head of it by the benevolent patron. The notion that patient virtue will be noticed and rewarded sank in far too deeply.

    Ever see the cartoon with picket signs that say "The Meek Are Getting Ready"?

    - GKA

  4. Oh, yes, GKA, the patient virtue rewarded thing! I got that a lot from NF, mixed with expectig me to always shine and perform in front of others. Confusing.

    Haven't seen the cartoon, but I'll look for it. Sounds brilliant.

  5. I'm glad to learn it's a Holly Near song too:

    - GKA

  6. Yes, this tension between the pressure to perform and the pressure to wait patiently to be noticed. It's so hard to explain without sounding foolish or dishonest. ("Well, which was it?") Maybe we could describe it as a family version of what the 1950s Hollywood studio system did to actors?

    There's this contradiction between, on one hand, the attention-hungry parent's wish to create a Golden Child as a tool for erasing aspects of his/her own past by reliving them "better" through the child, and, on the other hand, the controlling parent's idea that the child should perform only on a stage of the parent's making, on the parent's terms. Then Pinocchio starts aspiring to become a real live boy and all hell breaks loose.

    Via Upsi, I was reading this just now, about the pattern of Golden Child boys growing up with contempt for their admiring narcissistic mothers and by extension for women in general:

    But that's the kind of Golden Child who remains one into adulthood. Not the only kind I think.

    Is it possible that the people who *stay* Golden Children are the ones who become disillusioned or cynical first with respect to the narcissistic parent -- the ones who learn early to regard the parent merely as foolish or meddling or manipulative or manipulable, not as the central authority in their lives?

    It does seem there's another hybrid pattern -- maybe more common with girls, I don't know -- where an engulfing narcissist parent, at first generous and admiring toward the child, is the one who becomes disillusioned first, out of jealousy regarding the formerly 'golden' child's achievements, or rather the attention the child gets. The child still respects and believes the parent, and doesn't understand there are alternatives to being an actor on the parent's stage, and continues to believe the terms of the deal are the same as earlier -- that there will be love in exchange for achievement. But now it's the parent who has changed the deal. Achievement gets praise perhaps, but also punishment through criticism, and an absence of the former warmth. So the ex-Golden Child, missing that warmth, begins to rebel and falter.

    Familiar at all?

    - GKA

  7. Wow, Eerily familiar. My Golden Boy father certainly grew to despise his mother and was the first to ...suspect (?) me.


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