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  • T-Kea Blackman

Are You The Martyr, Savior or People-Pleaser?

Updated: Feb 28, 2022

Boundaries prevent burn-out and promote healthy relationships with yourself and others. If boundaries aren’t in place, many of us fall into codependent roles. During my time in a partial hospitalization program, I learned how these roles and the problems they cause in relationships.

The Martyr

Do you put the needs and wants of others ahead of your own? You are likely the first person at work and the last person to leave. You are paying for dinner when you’re financially unstable and barely have enough money to put gas in your car.

The Problem

When sacrificing yourself becomes a way of being, you neglect your own need to receive love and care. On the other hand, you give to your demise because you are trying to obtain appreciation for what you’ve done for others. This approach backfires because you begin to resent those you’ve helped (who never seem to return the favor), but your so-called beneficiaries either take your suffering for granted or resent you back.

A Healthier Choice

Understand the difference between selfishness and self-care. It’s not selfish to leave work on time or to split the bill at the restaurant. It’s the same concept of the oxygen in the airplane. If you don’t put your emotional mask on first, you can’t help anyone. You’ll be passed out in the aisle.

The Savior

If your child has a conflict or faces a consequence at school, you are in the principal's office first thing the next morning to negotiate a solution. When your friend is short of rent (again), you give them money (again) so she can make ends meet.

The Problem

You think you’re being helpful by constantly coming to rescue your friend but you’re not. People who feel compelled to perpetually advise and control others are equally insecure. This is called borrowed functioning. The one who’s taking charge or telling someone what to do --- that person is just as needy. They need someone who will let them be in charge to artificially boost their self-esteem.

A Healthier Choice

What if you let your friend figure out how to pay their own rent? What if you let your partner decide how to handle the argument with his parents? If someone comes to you with a problem, consider listening instead of giving advice.

The People-Pleaser

You enjoy volunteering at the soup kitchen and don’t mind making the daily coffee run for your colleagues. It’s nice to feel loved and bask in the appreciation and praise people give you. But does being nice have a dark side?

The Problem

You’ve found the dark side when you feel that your gifts aren’t adequately appreciated or when the thought of hosting another dinner party feels more like a chore than joy. You use your people-pleasing skills to control others, believing they will like you for the favors you do rather than who you are. “People-pleasing is a passive form of manipulation,” says St. Paul, a Minnesota-based consultant in addiction and recovery field. “We often do things for others to get what we want from them.”

A Healthier Choice

Understand why you are seeking praise or the need to be liked. Susan Baili of says "Notice when in your heart you genuinely want to do something for someone versus when you're doing something just because someone else wants you to, or you want to manipulate the situation, or you fear consequences if you don't do it." "Learning the difference will help you make better choices for yourself."

You may see yourself in one or all three roles, and realize how damaging it has been to your mental health and relationships. If you are having a difficult time understanding why you fall into these roles, consider speaking with a therapist to get to the root of it and develop boundaries.


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