Have you ever felt like it was your role in life to suffer?
Just about everywhere you go you’ll hear people sharing stories of their pain and suffering; ‘I can’t believe he cheated on me’, ‘My arthritis is acting up horribly today’, ‘I wish someone would just shoot me and put me out of my misery’ and ‘This has been the worst day of my life’.
Suffering is a common outcome of the human condition. As souls here in physical bodies learning about how to come back to our true Loving nature of peace and ease, pain can be a very useful tool to let us know where something in our life is out of alignment so that we can course-correct. However, it can become difficult to detach from the pain if we identify it as our lot in life. This is what happens when we take on the role of The Martyr.
I was raised to believe that suffering was expected of me, that it was my job to not only suffer but to suffer deeply, horribly, terribly and endlessly. Now, it is true that nobody ever sat me down and said, ‘Cynthia, your job in life is to suffer’, but they may as well have, because that’s the message I received every day.
My grandmother suffered in seething anger and thin-lipped coldness. My great aunts suffered vocally, complaining incessantly about dozens of physical ailments. My father suffered in a silence numbed by alcohol. My mother suffered loudly and bitterly. My Uncle suffered in an angry, broody depression. My Aunt suffered with an air of quiet dignity and sadness. My older siblings suffered sullenly with dry-eyed resignation. My baby brother suffered anxiously.
Only a couple of extended family members ever actually demonstrated any level of peace; my dad’s stepmother, my Mom-mom was the practical, no-nonsense type who suffered stoically, having lost her own children when her 6-year old twin boys drowned after chasing a hoop onto thin ice. She scolded me and my siblings repeatedly every time we visited for putting our hands on her walls (which were covered with wallpaper with some sort of raised, fuzzy velvet design, not exactly a child-friendly atmosphere), but her words lacked anger which made her home felt like a safe, shame-free environment.
Less frequent but best of all treats were visits to my Great-Auntie Anne; Auntie Anne would always smile gently and kindly as she served us ginger ale and cookies. Out of my entire family, Auntie Anne was the only person who didn’t radiate pain, although she sometimes told sad stories of her sister, my Grandma Sarah who had died when my father was 10. I recall visits to her home feeling like the warmth of the sun coming out from behind the clouds on a cold, dreary day.
When I was exploring all of my various sub-personalities, I had the awareness that, like a sponge, I had taken on the role of The Martyr in every way that had been modeled for me. My Inner Critic had my grandmother’s dirty looks and cold shoulder down pat. My Sarcastic Cyn had my mother’s bitterness and biting tongue. My Avoider had a combo of my father’s numb silence, my Uncle’s depression and my Aunt’s sadness. My Perfectionist had a combo of my mother’s and Grandmother’s critical anger. My Drama Queen had my Great-Aunts’ flair for vocal, dramatic complaining. My Scaredy-Cat shared my little brother’s anxiety. Every one of these aspects took their suffering as their due. In each of these roles, I seriously thought that I deserved whatever pain and misery I was experiencing.
Once I was able to view these parts of myself with a level of neutrality, I came to see that I had bought into a belief that I needed to be perpetually punished, and that in some twisted way I was somehow measuring my worth by how much I suffered. In other words, the harsher the suffering, the better I felt about myself.
I can remember my sophomore year in art school; there I was, working three jobs before, between, and after classes, struggling to pay my rent and purchase art supplies. I can recall initially feeling so jealous of my classmates, most of whom didn’t have to work because they received financial support from their parents. It felt so bad and so unfair that I convinced myself that I was a better person because I earned my own way. I began to view my struggle as a badge of courage, thinking that the harder it was for me to get by the more proof I had to show other people how hard I was working, how much pain and suffering I could endure.
I carried this attitude through the next decade until I ended up twice-divorced, sick, broke and practically homeless with three small children. The Martyr inside of me was having a field day at this point, dramatically complaining to anyone who would listen, ‘See? Look at how hard my life is. Do you see how much I’m suffering?’ As if there was some special award, like an Oscar that would go to the Hardest Working Mother in a Real Life Drama. There was this unspoken question, ‘Have I proved how much I can suffer yet?’ The minute I recognized the role I’d been unconsciously playing I decided to drop the suffering and choose peace instead.
Is there any aspect of your own personality that is playing the role of The Martyr? Do you have any patterns of suffering or a need to prove how much pain you’ve endured?
The truth is that peace is your birthright. You were born to live in joy, light and laughter – not in pain, misery and darkness. The moment you recognize any Martyr patterning, you have the power to have mercy on yourself, drop the role of perpetual sufferer and move into the peace and joy of the Loving. Say, “I now drop any old patterns of suffering and move into peace.”
Many Blessings of Joy and Vibrant Freedom
Action Step ~ Identify old patterns of suffering and choose to let these go in favor of healthier, more supportive behaviors.
Declaration: “I am now dropping the role of The Martyr. I now view my pain as a learning opportunity rather than my lot in life, and I joyfully move out of suffering into the peace of the Loving.”