Are You a Martyr? Stuck in a Cycle of Toxic Relationships?


Are you sacrificing things that you want and know deep down that you deserve, but for some reason it feels like you don’t? Do you have difficulty receiving compliments? Do you sometimes feel a strong sense of loyalty who doesn’t deserve it? Do you often think, “I don’t know why I put up with so much bull$#!t.” Have you ever met someone who seems to be nice, but not too nice (well adjusted) and you become uncomfortable and suspicious even while secretly admiring them? Are you drawn to emotionally unavailable people who treat you badly, even though you know that you want and deserve, “the nice guy/girl,” and at the same time feel unlucky in love? Or maybe you meet someone who is “broken,” and you can empathize with them and feel compelled to “fix,” them. Are you guilty of over giving and bending over backwards trying to please others in relationships and friendships?

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Well children of trauma, and or manipulative/emotionally abusive parents are highly prone to becoming over givers and people pleasers. We become martyrs.

Stephen Karpman explains how toxic relationships persist with the Drama Triangle.

When this toxicity occurs in the family, it can be incredibly damaging to children. Because of the built in power dynamic, parental figures can move between all three but tend to move mainly between the persecutor and victim roles, while children often end up in the victim, and rescuer roles.

As children raised in a toxic/unstable home environment, we become conditioned to believe that we are not safe to express negative emotions, or even to assert ourselves. We learn to walk through life on eggshells. We are afraid to stand up for ourselves even when someone has taken advantage of, manipulated, or has betrayed us. We can become, “too nice”, timid, nervous, shy or quiet. We avoid confrontation and refuse to form or express opinions on controversial topics.

We will go to great lengths to try to earn love and acceptance from others when we are not emotionally stable. We forgive people who don’t deserve our forgiveness. And we make excuses for people we admire to no end, as long as they seem remotely apologetic for their behavior. We can even learn to have empathy and forgive those who have no remorse. Does any of this sound familiar? It seems altruistic and so kind, and while it’s important to be kind, we also need healthy boundaries.

You see, toxic relationships and home environments are devoid of unconditional love.

You see, toxic relationships and home environments are devoid of unconditional love. I went through hell and back after making the realization that I have never been loved. Never fully anyway. I was a complete mess for about a year as I sorted through the pieces trying to make sense of it all. About a year prior to this epiphany, I had received formal diagnoses of PTSD, depression and anxiety. I felt relief to have finally felt like I had a fighting chance at overcoming this (now that I knew what the problem was), and at the same time was devastated. I had to re-examine the behavior and dynamics of every single relationship that I ever had. Family, friends, acquaintances, coworkers, ex-boyfriends, my ex-husband, guys that had ghosted me and left me feeling like an emotional wreck.

Sure, I’d heard the words, “I love you,” and I had even said them back. And I thought I meant it. But none of them truly loved me. How could they? Because they didn’t know me. Not the real me anyway. Hell, I didn’t even know me. They knew the version of a damaged little girl who walked through life on eggshells. I was argumentative, but not over justifiable things. I was seething with anger inside because I would overwork myself to the point of exhaustion to do something nice for someone, and would become frustrated and furious when they didn’t give me the level of praise and gratitude that I so desperately sought after and thought I deserved. They couldn’t respect me because I didn’t respect myself. They couldn’t see my value because I didn’t value myself. They couldn’t love me because I didn’t love myself. And I couldn’t love them in the truest sense, because I didn’t know what love was. What I thought was love, was actually codependency.

I couldn’t love them in the truest sense, because I didn’t know what love was.

That’s what abuse does to children. It doesn’t make them hate their abusers, it makes them hate themselves, and view themselves as less worthy than other people. And abuse and trauma doesn’t have to involve physical or sexual abuse, it can be a lack of a stable home environment. For example moving frequently, and having to change schools constantly can cause children to develop maladaptive behaviors and stunts their ability to develop deep bonds. Another form of abuse, less often talked about, is the child of a parent who has not healed their own trauma, and regularly engages in behaviors of the victim role. Children are then “forced” to become the martyrs and rescue their parents.

This can carry well into adulthood, and makes us excellent targets for more abuse. We can find ourselves repeating cycles of abuse (because there’s something comfortable about what we know), and are more likely to become victims of abuse, domestic violence, sexual assault, workplace harassment…you name it. Because even a person who is generally considered nice, will unconsciously place themselves in a position power and control over you, because you don’t know how to stand up for yourself. A person with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (about 1% of the population), will target a person like this consciously however, and find immense enjoyment from it.

So what jolted me into this realization of having never been loved? Well counseling had never really worked well for me, because I ended up spending most of my time in counseling sessions crying and complaining. Counseling did help in some ways, but it never got me fully to the point of having major breakthroughs. I had to do that on my own. So I became a student of psychology. Not in the formal education sense, but self taught. I took a job as a Recovery Coach and received quite a bit of clinical supervision and training, and later became a CRSS. I had become fascinated with the brain, psychology, and sociology. And then I would become a victim one last time…

Just as I had been making the devastating realizations that I was struggling with mental illness, I found myself in a toxic work environment. And rather than recognize that I needed support, they criticized and pushed me down harder with every attempt I made to prove that I deserved to be treated equally. They became persecutors and I became the victim and target of systemic bullying. To make matters worse, I had developed a crush on a coworker and they figured this out pretty quickly too. He and I dated briefly and then he decided it would be better if we were just friends. That was a tough pill to swallow, and it took me longer to get over him than I care to admit. But the really effed up part? They started to tease me and call me a stalker. They questioned my every move at work regarding my clients, and I would receive public mockery and ridicule on a regular basis. It was demeaning to say the least. It was almost as if they knew that my anxiety would render me incapable of defending myself and it disgusted them. I think they found it amusing that I showed up with a fake smile everyday to hide my depression and thoughts of suicide. I would be mocked anytime I displayed any sign of real happiness. My night tremors stopped being centered around my sexual assault that had occurred roughly ten years prior while serving in the Air Force, and started being centered around my new coworkers. I was in a very, very dark place despite my every attempt to make my outward appearance happy and remain positive. Probably not unlike Robin Williams except that everyone loved him, or the version of him that he allowed us to see anyway. I don’t know what he was going through in the time leading up to his death, but I can attest that someone who feels suicidal, doesn’t always show signs.

So why in the hell did I put up with that!!!??? Fear, and a lack of feeling worthy of fair and equal treatment. I was a single mom, struggling to pay the bills and needed that paycheck, and didn’t think I was going to find another job that paid well enough. I felt trapped. Finally one day, I had resolved that I wasn’t going to let them win, and I got angry. Really angry. Not in the, “I’m going to get revenge,” sense, but more like in the, “that’s it, I’ve had it! I am going to start conducting myself in a way that commands (and deserves) respect!” I refused to let them have control over me or, “let them win.” I vowed that this would be the absolute last time I would consider suicide as an option. I reported their behavior, and received no real response and no real effort for change. So I got the hell out of there and it was the best decision I ever made.

If I can offer any words of encouragement when you feel stuck in a hopeless cycle, it would be this: Once you break the cycle, no matter how scary, positive growth will happen. And it can happen fast. Like really fast. It’s not easy to break the cycle, and sometimes you have to toe the edge and flirt with death before you can really make the decision to fight for your life. Literally.

I’ve finally reached that stage in life where I can comfortably say, I will not try harder for love and acceptance. Not from family, not from friends and not from lovers. I will not settle for less than I deserve. I deserve relationships with people who can see my value and appreciate me fully. I’ve found my authentic self. Do I still have symptoms of mental illness? Yep. But they’re more manageable now that I’m cutting out all the bull$#!t people from my life.

It took a lot of introspective work to get to this point. And was it ever humbling to realize that it was my own actions that resulted in being treated the way I had been. But then also realizing that developing those behaviors weren’t my fault. They were a result of learned maladaptive behaviors due to my childhood, which served me well at that time. But damn it feels good to have finally found self respect, realize my value, and develop unconditional love for myself which is all I ever needed anyway. Once you get a taste of this feeling, you can never go back.

But damn it feels good to have finally found self respect, realize my value, and develop unconditional love for myself which is all I ever needed anyway.

I no longer seek advice from others or need external validation because I finally feel confident in making my own decisions. I’ve finally learned how to assert myself and express my feelings. And I still have a heart of gold, but now have an EXTREMELY LOW TOLERANCE for disrespect or signs that someone might try to take advantage of my kindness. I wouldn’t say I’ve built walls, nor have I let any of this cause me to become jaded. But that I have established boundaries that will I will not allow anyone to push, under any circumstances. And never again will I give more than I’m given, because I deserve love.

If you can resonate with my story and still feel like you’re not free from the cycle, scroll down and book your free consultation. I’d be happy to share with you the various ways that you can improve your life and learn how you can stop the toxic cycle in your relationships.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Great read, wow Charity, I sure can relate. I felt like I was reading my story!

    We have very similar challenges with respect to our upbringing and childhood.

    Thank you for sharing your story.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! I’m so glad that it resonated for you.


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