Martyr Complex, Motherhood, Covert Narcissism

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Mindful routines for snapping out of a vicious cycle and thrive.

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A night not too long ago, I rummaged through the refrigerator for two containers of blueberries that I bought for my toddler son. I washed them and put the contents neatly on a large plate. I sat at my desk and devoured all of the blueberries. I didn’t even look up. I was a hungry single mother who hasn’t slept much for the last few days. I was a beast with a mouthful of blueberries.

Not too long ago, my son turned 18 months old. He had texture issues with food. Blueberries were his preferred food. He was more than a picky eater. Later, I found out that trying for 6 months to get him to eat bread was just the beginning. It would take him 2 years to start eating rice. Even then, oatmeals and soups were still out of the question.

On this night, after he went to sleep, I felt I had to eat the blueberries. Otherwise, I would simply go into meltdown mode as my anxiety multiplied, triggered by my son’s picky eating behavior. No amount of yoga was going to fix me on this night.

This was the turning point of my own Martyr Complex.

Martyr Complex is present when a person routinely emphasizes, exaggerates, and creates a negative experience in order to place blame, guilt, and sorrow on another person. It is the source of passive-aggressive behavior. It is also considered a form of masochism.

Finding the source

All throughout my childhood, my mother was the martyr of our household. She became a martyr simply because my father was a narcissistic abuser. My mother had no self-care routine. She was always over-worked. She never bought herself anything. She never set boundaries with my father or her own family. Then, she complained about everyone. When she wasn’t complaining, she had this silence about her. You can feel that she was seething inside.

When I told her of my sufferings or the abuses, she simply told me that she suffered more. Unfortunately, as a woman, she set an example of a woman who was smart, over-achieving on the inside and demure to her husband on the outside. This woman sacrificed everything for her children and became a martyr in the process.

A classic example of this revolves around food. When I was little, we were poor. Eating meat was a great luxury. Like all other Chinese mothers, my mother saved all the meat for her children to eat. Even around holidays, my mother would refuse to eat meat at banquets. It wasn’t natural. At holiday banquets, everyone ate meat. There was plenty to go around. In my adulthood, my mother continued to save the best foods for her children. Even though we were not children anymore, when we ate dinner, we often asked her what she wanted to eat. She never gave us her preferences. It was frustrating asking her a simple question: Do you want pork chops or chicken?

Understanding the relationship between Martyr Complex and Covert Narcissism

A covert narcissist is someone who gets attention by playing the victim. He or She is self-absorbed, lack empathy and exhibits passive-aggressive or manipulative behavior. He or She may also use self-pity to control others. By playing the martyr role, it’s easier for a covert narcissist to assume the role of the victim. The covert narcissist may seek out harm by playing the martyr. For instance, a covert narcissist mother may agree to do too many caretaking tasks. Then, she may neglect her own self-care. As days go by, she assumes the martyr role: the victim who has no time because everyone else “did this” to her. Finally, she becomes resentful of everyone around her. At the slightest criticism, she explodes with anger.

Understanding the family conditions that creates Martyr Complex

Motherhood is hard. Every mother will tell you that there is simply no time in the day to finish everything. A mother deserves care and attention. But, there are households where the mother simply does not receive help, care or the attention that she deserves. In these households, it’s difficult for the mother to ask for help, ask for care or ask for attention. Often, it seems that the only way to receive care and attention is by passive-aggressive means or by playing the victim.

Don’t do it! It seems easy. But, it’s a vicious cycle.

In this case, rather than looking outside for attention, try looking inside. In many paternalistic cultures, women are expected to tend to the house, the children and work a full-time job. It is overwhelming. But, it is the reality.

To deal with this reality, it’s critical to have a mindful practice of a self-nourishment routine.

The mindful practice of a self-nourishment routine

Self-nourishment routine is more than a self-care routine. It contains both a self-care routine and a soul-care routine. Self-nourishment implies both care for the body and care for the soul.

Self-care consists of taking a shower, brushing your teeth and cleaning your environment.

Self-care points to the series actions that you perform to tend to your physical well-being and the physical well-being of your environment.

As a busy single mother of a newborn baby, I often neglected self-care. The result was my anxiety and resentment that resulted in the night that I ate all my son’s blueberries. After that night, I started to stagger my self-care routine all throughout my day.

  • I took a shower in the morning before my son woke up.
  • I cleaned my environment room by room, 15 minutes at a time, while my son played.
  • I cooked quick meals only in my instant pot or my oven.
  • I prioritized my own self-care as the top three items I must do every day.
  • I exercised by having dance parties with my son.

Soul-care consists of introspection, meditation, and balance.

Soul-care sets you up for success with your self-care routine. It also shifts your own mindset toward balance in your everyday life. Soul-care is different for every individual. It is based entirely on your own needs and wants.

If you had an uninterrupted hour of your day, what would you do to fill your soul up?

For me, I have a soul-care routine that I have incorporated into my work from home job — writing. This soul-care routine also incorporates “moving meditation” and a mindset change.

  • I start my day by writing even before I have my cup of coffee. I write about anything that’s important to me at the moment. Fortunately, I also earn a living doing this.
  • Writing also helps me with self-reflection. I often self-reflect on my day while I am driving in an effort to come up with new ideas for writing my essays for the next day.
  • Writing also motivates me to read. I love reading. It’s my preferred way to spend my free time. I often read when my son’s absorbed in his activities for 5 to 10 minutes at a time. I also read before I go to bed.
  • For me, meditation is almost always “moving meditation”. I love when I quiet my mind to accomplish a cleaning task. I love when I quiet my mind when I take a nature walk with my son. During those times, I try to do staggered 5 minute intervals of meditation and self-reflection.
  • For me, the hardest part is mindset change. In order to seek balance in my days, my martyr instincts often take over to put myself last. Lately, I find that when I start to put myself first a little more with each success I have at my job, my mindset shift becomes easier.

It’s a snowball effect of increasing soul-care begets more soul-care.

Before, our days revolved solely around my son. But, now, I am able to balance our days out by giving myself a 30-minute break to recharge, an hour break for work or a 15-minute break for self-care. I’ve also adjusted our days so that out of 7 days of the week, 4 days are dedicated to my son and 3 days are dedicated to my work. On my “work” days, I occupy my son with indoor activities. On my “son’s” days, we go out on adventures.

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