Have you ever met anyone that was genuinely interested in and concerned about your welfare? Is this person caring, respectful and often worried about everyone else’s needs as opposed to their own?
We use the term self-sacrifice to describe some of the individuals who exhibit these characteristics. When the self-sacrificer is pleasing others, they feel good about themselves. When they focus on their own needs, they often feel selfish, guilty and self-centered. In one sense, individuals with this profile are quite remarkable and, in some cases, they can be quite inspirational. However, there can be significant costs associated with being a self-sacrificer.
One of the things we see is that self-sacrificers often pursue caring occupations or choose vocations where they are serving other people’s needs for significant proportions of the day. It makes the self-sacrificer feel good when their efforts result in a positive effect on the lives of others.
One of the main problems with this profile is that the self-sacrificer can be taken advantage of and this can breed resentment, anger and even hostility. Often the anger is directed inwards which can lead to anxiety or depressed mood. Just think about it for a moment. If you have a self-sacrificer in your life – these are the people who seem most happy when they are serving others and possibly even yourself! But the issue is, if their focus is too reliant on serving others, then people in their lives can become accustomed to the way they operate and there is potential to be taken advantage of, disrespected or both. Often, we hear of family members or friends who are being supported by the self-sacrificer (emotionally and/or financially). Like any relationship, it will come to a head if the balance between give and take is out of kilter.
For the self-sacrificer, one of the most difficult concepts to grasp is that of assertiveness. That is, being confidently able to assert what they need and the reasons for that. Putting their needs forward becomes anxiety provoking and they grapple with what they need and want versus what they should be “seen” to be needing and wanting.
We often see these traits among people with other characteristics such as high trait anxiety, those that tend to “people please”, perfectionists and the worried well. It seems to be linked with anxiety which could be associated with the fear of being viewed as selfish, being worried about putting their needs first or fears about being rejected when they are not serving. Often the self-sacrificer needs to feel their efforts are valued and appreciated.
At Headway, we believe that there are aspects of the self-sacrificer’s profile that should be appreciated and reinforced – they often want to bring about happiness in others and they tend to want the world to be a better place to live in. However, we need to help the self-sacrificer develop assertiveness so they are not taken advantage of, which will also prevent them becoming resentful.
Psychological therapy can be extremely helpful for the self-sacrificer. Often their early experiences are linked to their strong need to please and serve others. With a little help, the self-sacrificer can learn to become more assertive and to put their needs first. If the self-sacrificer can learn to be more assertive, they will be even better at serving others and doing the things they find most fulfilling.
If you or someone you know is grappling with anxiety, stress worry or self-sacrifice, feel free to give us a call on (08) 9226 4489 or visit our website at headwaypsych.com.au for more information.