Emotional Martyrdom


A few years I fractured my left foot. I dropped a five pound dumbbell on it from about nose height. Don’t ask.

If you don’t understand how a teeny-tiny little dumbbell could do much harm you I dare you to drop one on your bare foot. Needless to explain, the pain was so intense I could no longer stand.

Fetal position, big tears like I was five-years-old, and there was cursing. Oh, was there was cursing. And then I called my husband.

“Drive yourself to the ER,” he told me.

“I can’t actually stand right now,” I said. “When you come home from work I’ll go to the urgent care.”

I hung up and shoved my foot in a bucket of ice.

That whole day I hobbled around in wild pain. I did end up going to the Urgent Care later that night. It wasn’t fractured badly enough for anything more than a “boot” but I wasn’t able to put any weight on it for a week without pain.

I didn’t say,

Oh no big deal. I’m a martyr. I can handle it.

Because we usually don’t do that with physical injuries. My husband said to go to the doctor. He was right and I listened to him. I got my injury looked at and cared for. I got help for my pain.

But we do that so easily with emotional pain. We say that it’s no big deal. It doesn’t hurt that bad. I can heal on my own. I don’t need help.

I can speak from personal experience when I say, what-a-load-of-crap.

We do need help. Whether we actually need professional help or simply help from friends and people who support us, we do need help. Gone should be the martyr mentality for emotional and spiritual struggle. Yet so many of us neglect this part of our lives.

When I wrote about our house loss a few weeks ago I talked about the idea of the disparity between what I felt and what I thought I should feel. A part of me really didn’t think my house loss was that big of a loss so I really shouldn’t need help.

It’s like my foot. I hurt my foot but I could still drive the kids to school and I got by on some 2 or 3 or 4 extra strength Tylenol. When I consider someone down the road who might be recovering from a broken leg, the rational part of me says that my pain is no big deal.

Not only can she not go to work but she can’t drive or exercise or vacuum her floors. She is seriously handicapped by her injury, way more than me, and it takes a lot longer than me to heal. We are both in pain but maybe hers is more than mine.

But, does her injury negate mine? Not at all. My foot still must heal and there is legitimate pain involved with an injury, even like that.

Does her injury make mine any less important? No. Not at all.

Our injuries, whether physical or emotional, are not connected beyond the fact that we are asked to bear one another’s burdens and help carry the loads of others in our life. 

But here’s what I’m learning. We must care for our injuries, however small, because when we don’t we cannot carry the burdens of others. And further, when we neglect our emotional or spiritual pain, we are legitimately neglecting a part of us that needs real types of care and real healing.

Go to a therapist.

Get your girls around you to talk.

Ask your spouse or mother for support.

But do something. Be honest with someone about your emotional or spiritual pain and then move toward healing. We only hurt ourselves more when we don’t get help.

What do you think? Do you neglect or care for yourself spiritually or emotionally? What kind of help have you gotten in this area? Why are we prone to care for ourselves physically but not emotionally?



  1. says

    This is a hard one for me too. A balancing act. The bible is clear about bearing one another’s burdens but somewhere along the way we’ve believed ours are less than. In particular, the emotional burdens. It’s easy to help by visiting the sick, taking food, helping paint a house, etc. but the other? It costs a lot on both sides. I find I can publicly say how hard it is for me with my mom’s alzheimer’s but when people come to me privately to say something I don’t know how to respond. You’ve got me thinking more about this. Thank you.

    • Sarah Markley says

      so true! it is so much more tangible to help in physical ways – emotional ones are much harder. i’m so sorry about your mother’s illness. thank you so much for sharing.

  2. Mark Allman says

    I have never really wanted any help. I have always wanted to take care of my stuff myself. That was until my taking care of my stuff failed and I ending up failing others. It is hard to admit one needs help with anything other that physical things. I think I believe there is a stigma attached to one that asks for help… that I am less worthy when I do so, that I will appear weak which is in fact the truth but who wants anyone to know that. There are some people who also do not want to know I am weak because I think it scares them. They want me to be bullet proof and when they find out I am not and I let myself be shot they are so disappointed in me. I think too often we teach each other to “fight through the pain” instead of lets deal with the pain and hurt in a correct manner to not let it be handing around in the background where it will always affect us.

    • Sarah Markley says

      that’s such a good point – asking for help is hard. and i agree about the weakness as well. others would rather go on thinking we have it all together. its safer for them. thank you!

  3. says

    A physical injury is out there…no one can deny that it is there. An emotional injury is not as apparent…at least, that is what one thinks until it rears it’s head in a bad reaction, showing that perhaps there is more baggage than one would like to admit. I have gotten help when I needed it. The vulnerability factor is something that I think holds me back from getting help when I need it. Instead of caring about getting well, I care MORE about what people will think or what they will do. (Have you ever seen Brene Brown’s talk on vulnerability on TED? Interesting stuff.) At the core I think we are made to relate but we shut that down in fear.

    • Sarah Markley says

      no i haven’t, but people keep telling me i need to listen to it. i will! and i agree – it’s vulnerability. thanks for your insightful thoughts =)

    • Jenna says

      Haha Let’s keep reminding her until she does, Lisa. Heck, until the whole world watches it. 😉 I think I mentioned “Daring Greatly” here at least once or twice last week, but then I’ve been telling everyone I know about it so it may have been another blog.

      On that note: You mean we can’t just ignore pain and hope it goes away?! Goodness, Markley, staaahp it…. toes hurting! (just kidding. I love it when you do that.) Once again, it’s like you’re writing my life. And I am ever so grateful for your lil blog here. :)

    • says

      Lisa, I think you’re right about vulnerability being a big factor. Maybe the cost of asking for help seems too high if it means becoming vulnerable or exposed.

  4. says

    Thank you for writing such beautiful truth. I believe that so much of “emotional martyrdom” is attached to self-worth. Throughout my life, my greatest inner battle … one that still resurfaces time and time again even though I know better … is an intrinsic feeling of being “less than” others. I often have even let that translate to my pain … even great pain I’ve labeled as “not as serious” as someone else’s because I believed that not just the situation was less than someone elses pain … but that I mattered less. Yet if someone came to me with an issue greater than a hangnail, I would treat that person with a tenderness that I wouldn’t give to myself. I could easily see how valuable and loved and cherished that individual was in the eyes of God. I do not think I am alone in this. In fact, your lovely and encouraging words remind me that I am not. When I started to open up about that deeply rooted pain about feeling so unworthy, I was better able to deal with other issues in my life as well and experience a path toward true healing.

    • says

      You’ve touched on a really important point. I think most of us could learn to love ourselves more. If God deemed us worth giving his life for, we must be precious. So obvious, but so hard to internalize. I’ve been praying God will increase my capacity to receive his love.

  5. says

    I think part of why we don’t seek help for emotional and spiritual issues is kind of two-fold:
    1) Unlike physical pain, emotional pain is something that we can tend to ignore if we stay busy enough. Work longer hours, spend more time going out, watching TV…medicating. Physical pain stops us and literally says “If you don’t fix this, you can’t function.”
    2) I think it’s harder for other people to understand emotional/spiritual pain. I mean, on Friday morning I read a blog post that was literally soul devastating. I felt like I was walking around like a zombie. But, I couldn’t go to my boss and say “Hey, I just read something that’s gonna make me pretty much useless today. So, I’m gonna head home and try to work through this.” He’d look at me like I was crazy. Granted, emotions can be crazy to understand at times, but that doesn’t make them less real.

  6. says

    I love this, Sarah! I generally don’t open up when I’m having a rough time, simply because it kind of exhausts me to go there with people. However, with someone like my mom or my husband, I need to just do it and accept the support. I appreciate the honesty here :) Hope you have a lovely week!

  7. says

    sometimes i confuse forgiveness and denial. if i have to work through the pain, it hurts even worse at first. i can sweep it under the rug and get .temporary relief

  8. says

    I am studying Nehemiah right now. I like his full response to the news that his people are suffering and the wall is still destroyed. First, he sat down (physical response), then he wept and mourned (emotional response), then he fasted and prayed (spiritual response.) Such balance, Mr. Nehemiah.


  9. says

    Sarah thank you!!!
    I needed this. I never would have thought of it as martyrdom. I tend to hide my pain, to not draw attention to it because so many I know are in pain – and their pain may be worse or even less than mine, but I won’t bring up mine because they’re dealing with their own and don’t need mine added. And isn’t that pride? And it eventually leads to a breakdown & anger in ourselves because we’ve allowed no one to carry it with us.

  10. says

    Sarah, I think there’s a common thread (or several?) in all the issues you’ve been raising. Maybe, as a couple of people are suggesting with Brene Brown (whom I have not read), it’s shame. So much food for thought here. I’ll have to check out Brene Brown. Would you want to consider doing a book discussion?

  11. Britt says

    I’m currently seeing a great Christian therapist in Orange County, and even still have a hard time being real and honest about my pain! For me I’m just so terrified to be left alone in it because of past experiences. I can definitely relate to this. It’s so hard to let others see your pain.

  12. James R says

    So I’ve debated with myself for a couple of days about posting this comment, because I also don’t want to come across as an emotional martyr, but I think I offer a slightly different perspective.

    Amongst the many conclusions that I’ve arrived at since my marriage ended is that, frankly, I HAVE to take of myself first, because nobody else will. Prior to the last year and a half, I was a part of a circle of people that made relationally affirming statements like “we love each other like family”, “we’ll be there for each other through the highs and the lows”, “when once of us hurts, we all hurt”, et cetera, et cetera. But when the bad times rolled and I found myself actually needing that brotherhood to stand by me and show some emotional solidarity, it was nowhere to be found. In fact, worse, it was actively removed and focused to one side.

    Now, understand that I’m not bitter about it – I’m actually quite thankful that my eyes were opened to the charade – but it was nonetheless a significant let down that added further injury to emotional wounds. The “brotherhood” turned out to be nothing short of elitism and grandstanding, and the pain was caused by the double-edged sword of realizing that I had been fooled for so long and that I had been ostentatiously lied to.

    Today, I’m stronger for it, because I’ve learned to exist without the illusion of a safety net. And herein lies my point.

    We, collectively, have become so reliant on the promise of support from others that we have failed to learn how to take care of ourselves. It comes with a sense of entitlement (“I can’t believe it! He/She/They/You weren’t there for me!”), when in fact we aren’t entitled to anything from anyone. It shouldn’t be expected. I’d even go as far as to say that the one thing that we should expect is to be let down. Thus, I encourage everybody to learn how to take care of themselves emotionally before they even think about offering emotional support to others, and I also encourage people to really think twice about making standing promises like “I’ll be there for you” if it’s being said because that’s what we’re ‘supposed’ to say. If it is, then it’s without foundation or meaning, and won’t materialize in to action when the other party is up against the wall.

  13. Diane Taylor says

    Hey Sarah – wow this post hit home for me. Both the emotional piece and the phyiscal piece. You see – I was visitng at my parents house in Rhode Island Christmas Day, 2012 – a day that wil be engrained in my mind. My first trip home in more than 20 years. My family wanted to rally around me this year as it would be my first without my son here. After church that morning, I stepped out of the car and slipped on snow covered grass and WHAM, heard a crack, and looked down to see my left foot facing the wrong direction. Needless to say – it was broken in 3 places. I weeped and gulped down my tears of pain while in the emergency room – the break was confirmed and I was given cds to take back to Maryland with me. I had ruined Christmas. In my head, I said something like “Well, at least my physical pain now matches the emotional pain in my heart” – people understand more when you cry because of physical pain – they can see it and rationalize why you are tearful. It’s harder to rationalize emotional pain like the loss of a child. I had surgery two days later and spent many lonely days trapped in a cast inside the 4 walls of my house while my husband was working 12-14 hours days. It was definitely a low point for me. Really low. But now that I am more mobile in a walking boot, I look back on it and realize it was a lesson in being humble……accepting help when I REALLY needed it (and believe me I did!). When my son died, people tried to do things for me and would ask if I needed anything. I had no idea what I needed. But breaking my ankle gave people the chance to help me with specific things: rides to the doctor, food for my freezer that I could prepare from my wheelchair, magazines and movies to occupy my time, cleaning my dirty house, and lots of visits that raised my spirits when I was really down. God put these lessons in my path and as hard as it was (and still is) to accept help, I finally got it. Thankfully I am driving again after 3 months and getting ready to start rehab!!!

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