On martyrdom and knowing my role

I’ve been thinking a lot about the part I play in my relationships, and how my attitude affects my mood and productivity.  I am specifically interested in taking responsibility so that I feel more empowered about where I’ve been and where I’m going.

Being faced with sharing space with my mother has obviously made me reflect on our incredibly dysfunctional relationship.  I’ve spent years trying to distill her behavior and her attitude into a single truism, and I think I’ve finally succeeded.

Her identity is tied to her martyrdom.

She is always the victim, and as such, she can never fully appreciate her blessings, her gifts or the people in her life.  Every time someone prospers or sets a standard for how they want to be treated by her, it is a personal affront to her worthiness.

Now, I definitely don’t want to make this post a long-winded investigation into her neuroses, but I do want to make sure to apply the lesson that her life has taught me.  Being raised by narcissists means being indoctrinated into some truly faulty thinking.  I decipher her issues in order to identify when I’ve adopted them, so I can change them.  Thankfully, my character is much more altruistic and accepting of others, but I have unknowingly picked up some bad habits.  I will probably spend the rest of my life unpacking them.  (Sigh.)

I am beginning to understand my own tendency to martyr myself, which saddens me because I think it is the ultimate disregard for my strength and my blessings.  It’s false humility used to hide the fact that I don’t feel capable of making, or sticking to, the right decision.  While I was raised to not trust myself, I can choose another path.  Not trusting myself shows up as the clutter that I am always grappling with, as well as the inertia that I have been mired in, to some degree, my entire life.

I don’t want to be the Martyred Mom, who puts her family first, to the exclusion of her own sanity, esteem and autonomy.  And while she thought of herself as a martyr, in actuality she was a really lazy wife and mother most of the time.  I can easily see myself going that way as well.

For instance, one of the biggest symptoms of growing up in a narcissistic family is an unease with self-care.  I’ve become the mom who is so wrapped up in her duties that even showering is an indulgence.  What?!  I am, at heart, a 2 shower-a-day kind of person.  Candlelit showers are my jam.  So I took on more responsibility when I became a mother, yet lost touch with one of my core coping mechanisms.  An unshowered Niki is a cranky Niki.  Just, nope.

I pride myself on being good company at (almost) all times.  Sticky, cranky Niki can’t live up to the hype.

The other side of the martyrdom coin is that my attitude about what I do manage to do is warped.  I’ve labored under the false belief that I hate cooking or washing dishes, only to realize in the last couple of months how relaxed I feel when I do so.  I can add those to the list of things that will stop a tension headache/migraine in its tracks, along with painting and pottery.  And the best part is, I get to cook and do dishes every day.  Why wouldn’t I strive to look at them differently, just for that reason alone?

I began to realize that what I do for myself, my family and my loved ones is  a role I was created for, not a job.  My job isn’t to be a stay-at-home mom with a never-ending list of chores and duties; my role is to provide a safe, welcoming space where we can create memories and relax in each other’s presence.  As such, I’m not tidying the living room in vain several times a day, but providing a space where my toddler can play, build and make-believe without being impeded.  I’m not cooking and cleaning to earn my keep as a wife, but I’m making (really good) food that makes us all smile, and preparing the kitchen for the next day’s meals.  I don’t sit down to write or collage because I’m supposed to, or to validate my identity as a creative person; I do so because it is interesting and relaxing.

I feel much more fulfilled looking at my activities and duties as a natural expression of my personality, as opposed to tasks that prove my competence or worthiness.  For once, I feel like I am already where I am supposed to be, like my place in my world is secured.  Spending my childhood and teen years being lied about and bullied, at both home and school, has left me with a deep sense of rejection that is only beginning to dissolve.  It’s crazy that taking responsibility for my life would make me feel more at home in my own skin, but there it is.

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