Are you a Merry Martyr?

As Christmas approaches it’s the season we’re meant to be being happy, joyous and fun – it’s ‘Merry Christmas’ after all.  But for many of us it can lead to more stress and overwhelm.  I hear from so many women in the Wisdom For Working Mums’ community that get exhausted and sick at this time of year.

It’s kind of ironic that Father Christmas is male, as the Christmas magic tends to be generated by us women.  Research indicates that the additional workload that Christmas brings mainly fall to the woman in a household.  Whether it be:

  • Decorating the house
  • Buying & wrapping Christmas presents
  • Buying, writing & delivering Christmas cards
  • Sorting the school nativity costumes and the school social diary for the million and one festive activities
  • Doing the Christmas food shop
  • Cleaning the house to prepare for festive visitors

Our festive to-do-list can leave us feeling anxious  With many of us finding that the only way to achieve all these expectations, with an already jam-packed diary, is by sacrificing our sleep.

When we’re already busy working mums these additional obligations can tip us into being a ‘Merry Martyr’.  And I speak from experience! I can fall into being a Merry Martyr quite easily if I’m not careful.

The definition of a martyr is ‘someone who is made to suffer because of their beliefs and is admired and respected by people who share those beliefs’.

This time of year many of us sacrifice ourselves (and our sanity) for others, while ignoring our own needs.  It’s a common challenge that many of the Wisdom For Working Mums’ community experience.  We’re used to being over achievers; doing it all and looking like we do it effortlessly without help. Those around us are in awe of how we do it all and think we’re superwoman.  But the sad truth is that for many of us we’re doing it as Merry Martyrs.

Are you at risk of suffering more this festive season due to the beliefs you have about doing it all, and doing it all perfectly?

If you’re not sure if you turn into a Merry Martyr at this time of year then here are three signs that might help you to self-diagnose:

1) Feeling resentful.  Do you find yourself feeling resentful, angry or frustrated towards those around you for your sacrifices and hard work going unacknowledged or unappreciated?

2)  Unable to ask or accept help.  Do you ever say to yourself ‘Christmas wouldn’t happen in our house if it wasn’t for me!’ and feel like only you can make it all happen?

3) Have a hard time saying no and setting appropriate boundaries.  Do you find yourself saying yes when you really want to say no?  Do you find yourself overcommitting, over stretching yourself and over helping?

If you recognise any of these signs then you might slip into being a Merry Martyr.

The trouble with being a Merry Martyr is that it’s not only damaging to you, but also the people around you.  And even if you can see yourself fall into the trap of being a Merry Martyr, it can be difficult to unhook yourself from this role.  So here are my top tips to stop yourself becoming a Merry Martyr:

1. Drop the ball .  In her book ‘Drop The Ball’ Tiffany Dufu urges women to embrace imperfection, to expect less of themselves and more from others – only then can they focus on what they truly care about.  One key concept of dropping the ball is ‘delegating with joy’ rather than resentment.  To learn more about this you can watch this 3 minute video from Tiffany.  So what could you delegate with joy to someone in your life to help ease the Christmas craziness?

2. Do it with joy. If you don’t want to delegate (or find it difficult to) then do the task with joy, not begrudgingly. This moves you from being a victim to being a creator of your experience.  This is an empowering position and helps reduce the feelings of resentment and frustration.  So if it’s wrapping all those presents how could you find a way to do it with joy?  It is putting on your favourite Christmas movie or music? Is it pouring yourself a glass of mulled wine or herbal tea?

3. Recognise and meet your own needs.  When the festive season is all about doing things for others it’s easy to forget our own needs.  When we fall into martyrdom we put others’ needs first at the detriment to our own.  How can you identify and meet your own needs?  By taking responsibility for your needs you free yourself from martyrdom.  What might you need to give yourself permission to do?  Take a bath?  Book a spa day?  Or as one of my school mum friends does – buy four additional days off from work that she calls her ‘mental health days’ on the lead up to Christmas to get organised and avoid the Christmas craziness.

I hope this helps you move from a frazzled and frantic festive season to a more fulfilled one.

As always I love to hear from you.  Do you recognise the role of Merry Martyr?  What do you do to stop yourself falling into this trap?



We’re genuine, like-minded women, just like you!

We’re a community, reinventing how we combine work and motherhood without sacrificing our sanity and wellbeing.


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