Another thing we value in our culture is self-sacrifice, or the willingness to put others and their needs before our own. When you really think about it, self-sacrifice is the bedrock of our societal norms. For two people to be in love, they are expected to give away aspects of themselves to create better synergy as a couple. When a baby is in the picture, mothers give up their bodies for 9 months to then take care of a child thus giving up aspects of their lives as well. We perceive firefighters as heroes because they are willing to risk their lives to save others, whether it be a burning building or the World Trade Center on September 11th. These types of sacrifices are vast and when it comes to motherhood, necessary. But at this point, I wouldn’t call this sacrifice. If we feel the desire to help someone selflessly, it’s no longer a sacrifice because we want to do it.
What is Self-Sacrifice?
We might have to define self-sacrifice differently. The type of sacrifice I am referring to is feeling the need to sacrifice who we are and what we do to meet the expectations of others. This is the sacrifice the young artsy student has to make because her parents are telling her to get a real job. This is the immigrant businessman who tries to hide his accent to be more “professional.” We move further and further away from our authentic selves just to fit in a bubble of expectations and obligations. It almost feels like self-sacrifice is no longer a thing we do to be selfless towards the people we love, but an identity that we are obligated to live out every day if we are to survive in this world.
If I were to be totally truthful, it’s easier to see an identity of self-sacrifice from women than from women. As a society, we expect women to be more passive while men are perceived to be more assertive. This is why motherhood is such a prevalent example when it comes to sacrifice. More so than the husband, wives in a hetero-normative relationship, are expected to be the ones to sacrifice any interests or desires for the sake of the family. Is there any alternative?
It’s hard to write about this particular example because we don’t really have an example of a mother prioritizing themselves over their children. If we do, they are to be labeled as selfish and a bad mother. There is nothing wrong if a mother decides to give herself away to her kids if that’s her choice. It wouldn’t necessarily be a sacrifice if she wanted to be dedicated to raising her little ones. It does become a problem when the sacrifice is an obligation and each action taken as a result of the child is forced.
Pleasing Through Pain
The person who forces sacrifice to please another person might be succumbing to masochism, or believing to derive pleasure from what appears to be painful or tiresome. Even though we do these things with a smile on our faces, there is resentment brewing from an underlying sense of powerlessness. The firefighter heading into danger will probably not be resentful for his decision, but the middle-aged person who has to take care of their aging parents might. If you are willing and genuinely happy with taking care of your parents, this section isn’t for you. It’s for those who feel the need to because that is what is expected of them. We participate in what we call a sacrifice because we don’t feel like we have a choice in the matter. Imagine calling this love.
The parent/child dynamic is a perfect example of someone expected to self-sacrifice. I’m not talking about the parent in this scenario. The child has their own beliefs. Sure, they not be formulated with much experience, but in this authoritarian relationship, the child is to value the beliefs of the parents more than their own. This is where I think parenting gets it wrong. With this sacrifice, children are also repressing their emotions and feelings because they could get into trouble if they remotely disagree. It comes at the expense of the child’s well-being. Not being able to express oneself causes constant stress that leads to anxiety and depression. The same feeling continues as they progress through life.
Sacrificing for Self-Esteem
It’s one to sacrifice oneself for loved ones or a noble cause. It’s another thing to sacrifice oneself because our perceived self-worth is lower than the people around us. When we stop paying attention to our needs because we’ve put ourselves lower on our made-up hierarchy something is definitely wrong. But how does something so wrong, feel so right? A person who has low self-esteem has a fear of being selfish. Others may feel like they’d be rejected if they weren’t benefiting others. Self-sacrifice typically becomes the solution so that the sense of anxiety subsides at least for a little bit. It’s almost like getting high off effort. Effort shouldn’t make you feel like a better person because you already are perfect.
I get it. Saying no is risky. What if that person doesn’t love you anymore? It isn’t true love if your relationship is built on the condition that you sacrifice yourself for that person. Yet, this is the exact definition of a people pleaser. We do what we are asked because we are afraid that saying “no” will bring on confrontation. If you are sure that this will happen, there is no love in this relationship. Any sense of disappointment should be forgiven.