Sacrifice and selflessness – how my best quality became toxic

In my life, the epitome of being a good girl or the perfect woman has rested on being selfless, strong and sacrificed.

nusa dua on a cloudy day, Bali
Feeling like you’ve given up everything for someone can leave you feeling as if you’re barefooted on sharp rocks.

 

To be deserving of love and recognition I had to demonstrate I put others’ needs above mine, that I could carry the burden of my demons by myself. To let go of my own desires in favour of somebody else’s happiness.

So you’ve probably figured out that I just got out of a relationship. At the start, he was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. The first time we met it felt as if I’d finally found someone that just… got me. We hit it off and we became that couple people envy at parties. We couldn’t get enough of each other.

We fell in love. He moved in. We supported each other through periods of depression and unemployment. We were invincible together. Until one day it just stopped working.

Now I am able to wade through the grief of losing him and understand that we had a codependent relationship. It just made sense. We needed each other to survive, financially and emotionally, when we stopped tolerating each other’s quirks.

I felt undervalued. I felt forced into the role of partner-mother-sister-best friend that left little space for me. Unconsciously, I started giving up on things that I loved and my ambitions to support his. I felt that if I could manage my life and his, he could and would do the same.

This multiplicity of roles that women (meaning cis-, straight, self-identifying women) often take in relationships is fairly common. We joke with our friends that we already have kids, because aren’t these men our responsibility, somehow? Caring for my ex-partners has always given me a sense of pride and reassurance. It showed me that I could handle anything life threw at me and that I was worthy of good things happening to me.

We needed each other to survive, financially and emotionally, when we stopped tolerating each other’s quirks.

By willingly being dependable and selfless, and by sacrificing myself, I inhabited the position of the victim. When my last relationship didn’t work I felt he was ungrateful for everything I had done and given up for him. I felt that I had done everything right and I deserved to be loved. I was owed that love.

When I finally verbalised this to my therapist, I realised how toxic my last relationship had become. I’m doing everything I mentally and emotionally can to let go of the melancholy and wish him happiness – and mean it. Even if I never tell him in person.

So I wanted to unpack this role for future reference.

welcome home

In relationships, I’ve always yearned for qualities that make my partner feel like “home”.
It’s not news for anyone even remotely familiar with feminism that women and femme individuals tend to be expected to become carers. This can be in a traditional family unit or in a relationship. I’d say that women have internalised this role so much it’s difficult to avoid it.

On the other side of the coin there’s the freedom the role gave me. By feeling obligated to care for somebody else, I was freeing myself of taking care of me. Not only did I understand this, but I boasted about it.

“I’ve been educated on sacrifice” I’d say, and often would think that was my best quality.

But it isn’t my best quality. It is an injustice to my personality and to my ex’s intelligence. We were both grown adults who should have been able to satisfy our own basic needs. I shouldn’t have felt responsible when he didn’t eat. He shouldn’t have felt responsible when my depression worsened.

I’ve been educated on sacrifice

The truth is that love is not about becoming the one person that compensates your partner’s flaws or emotional needs. Love and relationships are all about becoming partners with somebody else and being equals. When one takes on a multiple role, the balance is skewed. I might have felt he had the emotional and social power to survive the break up, but he could have felt I had the financial stability to rebuild my life.

Towards the end, our sense of responsibility to each other was too overwhelming. And, resentment and regret aside, that’s why it couldn’t have worked. At least not like that.

It doesn’t mean we didn’t love each other. We did.

That’s why I find this sense of self-righteousness so toxic. I’ve grown up thinking that sacrificing my needs for somebody else was a demonstration of love, when really it’s a way to build dependencies. So I’m working on it.

In the words of the great Ariana Grande; thank you, next.

Make you a priority, people. You can’t break up with you.

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