On the surface, self-sacrifice doesn’t seem like a bad thing. When you sacrifice yourself, you help others. In addition to this, you’re considered kind, generous, and selfless. For this reason, many people have a hard time understanding why self-sacrifice isn’t a good thing.
While there’s nothing wrong with being generous and coming to the aid of those you love, there’s a limit. You need to ensure you don’t have a case of chronic self-sacrifice. Psychology defines this type of self-sacrifice as denying the satisfaction of one’s needs, goals, and interests for others.
You abandon your personal interests and renounce important aspects of your identity. In a nutshell, you value others more than yourself. Chronic self-sacrifice ends up becoming an extreme case of altruism. Therefore, although self-sacrifice is perceived positively by society, when it becomes dysfunctional, it’s not good for you.
When Can Self-Sacrifice Become Pathological Altruism?
Examples of self-sacrifice are all around us. A mother gives up her career to stay home and take care of her family. A soldier lays his life for his country. Children sacrifice to take care of their parents. The list is endless. However, there’s a difference between these examples and chronic self-sacrifice.
A person in a state of chronic self-sacrifice doesn’t need a reason to sacrifice their needs to prioritize others’ needs. At the foundation of chronic self-sacrifice is the devaluation of one’s ego. Therefore, over time, the person strongly believes that they are not worthy to be a priority.
Over time, this chronic self-sacrificial behavior ends up erasing one’s ego, and they stop paying attention to themselves. This is referred to as pathological altruism. In this state, the person has low self-esteem and continues to prioritize others before themselves, and always feels unsatisfied. They deny their own needs and the things that make them happy and fulfilled.
How Can You Tell If You Are Giving Too Much?
We’re raised to be generous and caring. Therefore, to some degree, we all sacrifice ourselves for others at some point. But when is it too much? How can you tell you have a chronic case of self-sacrifice going into pathological altruism? If you answer yes to the following, you probably have chronic self-sacrifice tendencies.
- Do you feel guilty when you prioritize your needs over others’?
- Do you feel a great emotional void?
- Do you lack the time and resources to take care of yourself because you’re depleting them on others?
- Do you believe your self-sacrifice is more of an obligation and not a voluntary action?
- Do the people around you seem entitled to your self-sacrifice tendencies?
- Do you say “yes” to everything even when the appropriate answer is ”no”?
- Do most of your relationships involve you giving more than you receive?
What Are The Reasons You Sacrifice Your Needs For Others?
If you identify with chronic self-sacrifice and you believe you have this pattern of behavior, you’re probably wondering how you got there. Chances are you’ve also tried to stop this chronic habit without any luck. You’re not alone, and it’s not easy to give up the chronic behavior. That is because you learn these habits over time.
It can happen due to different reasons. Here are some of them.
You Were Forced into the Habit by Circumstances
Some people find themselves in a situation where they develop self-sacrificing behavior inevitably. It may be that you had to take care of an ailing sibling or parent from a young age. Such social conditions lead you to believe you must always take care of others because they are more important. The more conditions like these you’re exposed to, the more you stop prioritizing your needs.
It Makes You Feel Good
Helping others even when you’re sacrificing yourself makes you feel good. You feel like you’ve fulfilled or added to their life. Most importantly, you feel like a “good person.”
Fear of Confrontation or Upsetting Others
You may also have a case of chronic self-sacrifice because no matter how hard you try, you can’t say no. Saying no seems like it will shatter and end your relationships. Therefore, you take the easy way out and sacrifice yourself.
How to Take Care of Yourself and Others Appropriately
Remember you don’t have to give up the things you love to be worthy. Although giving up the need to self-sacrifice is challenging, it’s not impossible. There are several things you can do to ensure you don’t neglect yourself or others when they need you. Consider these tips.
Set Boundaries and Follow Through
Setting boundaries isn’t building walls to keep others out. It’s a way of safeguarding your wellbeing. When you identify your physical and emotional limits, you can tell when you’re being drained. Take some time to monitor your emotions. When do you feel hurt, overwhelmed, resentful, or angry when helping others?
If you’re feeling this way, chances are some boundaries are being crossed. Set some limits and follow through to ensure you’re only helping within your capabilities and not sacrificing yourself.
Prioritize What You Want
It’s not bad to help people you love. However, you should remember that your needs matter too. Figure out what you’d like to achieve and put that at the top of your priority list. If others’ needs also fit in, you can help. But never do it to the detriment of your own happiness.
Stop Enabling Dependency
People will take advantage of your chronic self-sacrifice if you allow them. Learn to say no. If someone has the ability to do what they’re asking you to do for themselves, let them. This is especially important for children. They won’t be independent if they know you’ll always do everything for them.
Ending a cycle of chronic self-sacrifice won’t happen overnight. Some days you’ll be able to put your foot down, and on other days, it will be hard to put your foot down. Nonetheless, don’t give up trying. If it gets too difficult, consider seeing a licensed counselor. An expert will help you navigate through the challenges of chronic self-sacrificing behavior and provide you with tools to find the right solution to the problem.
Kate has a B.S. in Psychology and M.A. in Clinical Psychology from Pepperdine University and has worked in healthcare since 2017. She primarily treated depression, anxiety, eating disorders, trauma, and grief, as well as identity, relationship and adjustment issues. Her clinical experience has focused on individual and group counseling, emergency counseling and outreach.Read more