It is important to remember that all archetypes are neutral. They are not good or bad. They are patterns of behavior and when we are unaware of them, they fall into shadow. The shadow is not bad, it simply hides the behavior from our awareness. When it is hidden in the shadow behaviors run amok. Archetypes are a means to understanding motives. When you understand your motives you are in a position to make choices. When you are unaware of your behavior you don’t have any choice but to keep behaving in the way you have been behaving. Becoming conscious is recognizing your power to choose.
Manipulation and Control
The Shadow Martyr uses sacrifices as a way to control and manipulate others. They use it to induce guilt, (children are especially vulnerable to this) to dominate others, such as making the sacrifice the focus of everyone’s lives whether they agree or not and to position themselves as superior. Much of their suffering is self-induced. For example, a Martyr will give up their dreams, i.e. getting a degree, having children, owning a business, etc. for the other person or people for which the sacrifice is being made. But giving up their dreams causes bitterness, resentment and anger that other people are forced to deal with. It is a form of self betrayal that punishes everyone.
The Martyr is easily stuck in a negative pattern because the Martyr really believes they are doing the right thing even at the expense of their own creativity, health and well being. The Martyr uses sacrifice and suffering for others to hide their unwillingness to develop their own lives and cultivate their own creativity. Martyrs spend their lives rescuing, fixing, supporting and giving up what they want for others all the while expecting others to do the same for them. Martyrs will sometimes allow themselves to be the scapegoat for situations-taking the blame for others, feeling responsible for others’ actions, and allowing the finger to be pointed at them, never defending themselves. Martyrs seem unusually eager to be at fault, requiring them to even greater degrees of self sacrifice and suffering entrenching the Martyr in the shadow.
Martyrs have a crippling need for validation, appreciation, sometimes sympathy, acknowledgement, reciprocation and support. There is a strong belief that if you give enough, sacrifice your desires in a big enough way, if you suffer only for the good of others, then you will be appreciated and given the recognition you crave. The irony is that the Martyr has difficulty receiving even the praise and appreciation they long for. The Martyr feels they must take care of everything and everyone, yet they refuse to receive in return. Their constant sacrifice and giving permits them to manipulate and feel superior to those they are helping, even as they complain about how deprived they are. They are impossible to satisfy. If the Shadow Martyr feels that you are unappreciative of them, (and they always will) they can become distant, cold and resentful.
Far beneath the surface of the long-suffering Martyr is a deeply dysfunctional relationship with the Self. They often feel unworthy of happiness, joy and opportunities and will routinely sabotage. They give and give and find it very difficult to receive and sometimes they believe that receiving is of no value. The desire to sacrifice usually stems from a poor self image and lack of control. While they are quick to take responsibility for this they simultaneously feel powerless to change it. Only suffering and sacrifice make them worthy of anything although it is never quite enough. Suffering can be a way for the Martyr to feel special. Because of this Martyrs often find themselves in co-dependent relationships where the other partner may use flattery and guilt to keep the martyr giving. If you find yourself in this kind of a relationship transforming the Martyr will be particularly difficult. At its worst, the Martyr is fanatical, self-righteous, self-centered and controlling.
The Enlightened Martyr
Doing What’s Right
The core of the Martyr archetype is about doing the right thing. Sometimes that means doing the right thing when the whole world is against it. The enlightened Martyr asks the question: What is right for me? What is right for me to do for others? What would be of benefit for everyone? The enlightened Martyr can see what needs to be done to benefit the whole and is excellent at recognizing the opportunity to give. The Martyr is also aware that receiving graciously allows them to continue to serve and sacrifice. They know that giving and receiving go hand in hand. When the Martyr sees what needs to happen they can make the CHOICE to sacrifice without expectation of others or feeling obligated themselves. Sacrifice by choice is the mantra of the enlightened Martyr.
Strength to Sacrifice
The Martyr knows they have the strength to endure, where others may not. They willingly step into that role with humility and integrity. They realize that part of their life’s journey involves sacrificing for others and doing so brings them a sense of purpose and joy. The Martyr does not, however, sacrifice their own values, their personal dreams and aspirations, their creativity or self care. They have healthy boundaries and they know that they can only truly serve and sacrifice for others when they have their individuality and sense of Self intact.
The enlightened Martyr knows how or has learned to validate themselves. They do not seek it from others and are not needy of praise and approval. The Martyr recognizes the value they bring to their families, businesses and those people for whom the sacrifice is being made. They are often the rock upon whom so many others rely. The Martyr knows that their sacrifice matters and that they can be a source of redemption for others as well as for themselves. They know instinctively that they are a source of strength for others and they see their ability to stand at the center, even to be invisible at times, while supporting others. That is not to say that they don’t enjoy being acknowledged and appreciated by others, (no one will enjoy it more) they just don’t NEED it.
The Martyr can use their great strengths for personal empowerment. One example would be to sacrifice the ego and to resurrect the true Self. Another would be to sacrifice approval and acknowledgement to do what they believe is best for their own self- respect. The Martyr at its very best is noble, selfless, reliable and strong, able to endure great suffering without becoming embittered by it.
Examples of Martyrs
Nelson Mandela and Apartheid
History is full of examples of individuals or groups of individuals who made great sacrifices for the good of the whole. Nelson Mandela is one example. He stood out publicly against apartheid in South Africa between the 1940’s and the 1960’s and was sentenced to life in prison. He was imprisoned for twenty seven years before his release during which time his reputation grew. He consistently refused to compromise himself and his political position to obtain his freedom. After his release he was elected President of South Africa and he helped bring freedom and democracy to the country.
Susan B. Anthony and Alice Paul Women’s Suffrage Movement
Another example is the women of the suffrage movement. There are dozens of examples of Martyrs in the movement. Women like Susan B. Anthony. She gave up everything traditional for a woman of her day, including children, in her quest to bring rights and freedom to women. She died shortly before seeing her lifelong efforts rewarded.
Alice Paul was another leader of the women’s movement for equality. She spent time in prison on a hunger strike and was force-fed through a tube. She was an incredibly strong woman and held the movement together when it threatened to fall apart. Both women represent the enlightened Martyr archetype. They were self realized, uncompromising individuals that changed the world for women everywhere.
Ghandi, Joan of Arc, and many others sacrificed and suffered for the good of others and for the good of humanity.
Questions for understanding the Martyr Archetype
- Do you think that is it better to give than to receive?
- Are others more worthy to receive good things than you?
- Do you feel that you don’t deserve happiness unless it is earned?
- Is it necessary to sacrifice in order to have the good things in life?
- Do you find yourself feeling resentful about a sacrifice you have made?
- Have you willingly sacrificed in an attempt to win love or approval?
- Do have many unfulfilled expectations of others?
If you answered yes to most or all of these question it is highly likely that you have a Martyr archetype.
You may not have the Martyr if you:
- Just like sympathy or pity or need lots of attention from others. (Child)
- If doing more makes you feel more valuable and doing less makes you feel less valuable. (Prostitute)
- You give and sacrifice in order to avoid trouble and/or criticism. (Victim)
- Willingly to do anything for acceptance, even if it means compromising yourself. (Prostitute)
- Suffering or sacrifice as penance or punishment. (Victim)
Resources and further reading:
Carolyn Myss– CMED Institute and Sacred Contracts
Ambika Wauters- Chakras and their Archetypes