I like to do meme busters but I also recognize when a meme hits a hard truth and puts into words what I did not want to say. Someone posted that this was obvious but for me before counseling it wasn’t
You don’t need to set yourself on fire to keep someone else warm.
Actually for an abuse survivor that was exactly what was expected/demanded of them. Part of the abuse is to convince the victim that they have no value or worth unless it meets the needs of the abuser. Setting their victims on fire and running around frantically to meet their needs is part of the abuse. My mother in her 80’s pointed out to me with great contempt how stupid she thought I was because as a teenager I believed her threats of suicide. My high school years were focused on trying to please my mother and she would have no problem asking me to set myself on fire to meet whatever imagined need she had. In my adult years I treated myself brutally trying to meet other people’s expectations. Years of counseling and I still catch myself doing the same things. It is a pattern I need to break. Just not sure how to do it when I want to please other people. I want to be thought of as a kind caring person. It is another continuum thing. It is not what they ask but how much and for how long.
My counselor tried to get me to see that I did not have to do everything that was asked of me. I struggled with “I have to……..blah, blah, blah.” He would point out that no one was holding a gun to my head. I slowly realized that what they held over my head was “If you loved me you would……” , “If you were a good daughter you would………”, what they held over my head was acceptance, love, value, the constant undertone of “If you do this or that then I will value you.” Which only applied until the next thing they wanted me to do. What to do?
I actually got my answer from the Bible. During Jesus’s time, Roman soldiers could ask any Jew to carry their armor for a mile. One the armor was heavy, two they were now a mile out of their way. Jesus told them don’t just carry it one mile carry it 2 miles. The concept of doing more than expected started thousands of years ago… not new like the work gurus says it is. But here is where I learned something very important. Christ said carry it two miles not 10, not 20 and certainly not for a life time. Christ encouraged doing more than expected in serving others but also let them know that there is a limit. Abusers expect you to turn your life over to them to do with what they want. Parents expecting children to care for them long into their adult years.
Another story often used to guilt a person into doing things for an abuser is the good Samaritan story. Basically a man was robbed and beaten unconscious on the road between two cities, the road was notorious for robbers and muggings. The Rabbi and the Levite, people considered ‘good’ by Jewish standards, walked by on the other side of the road. However, the Samaritan, a group of people considered less than by their Jewish neighbors, stopped and helped the man to an Inn then left him in the inn keepers care. He promised to come back and make sure the funds he gave was sufficient. I learned several important things from this. One the person he helped was unconscious and unable to do anything for themselves. I noticed that abusers asked me to do things that they were perfectly able to do for themselves. The other very important point is the Samaritan went on his way after making sure the basics were met. He didn’t take home the mugged person, he didn’t stay at the inn with him, he covered the basics then went on his way.
I needed a counselor to point out to me that the unreasonable demands placed on me by my abusers were not my responsibility to do. Unreasonable demands from my boss at work were documented and kept for later discussions with his boss on what was appropriate expectations and which were not. Unreasonable demands by coworkers were not a project I needed or should take on. I need to get the “I have to’s” out of my life. I can still want to do somethings. I will choose to serve and help others but my value and worth are not based in what I can do for others. My value and worth is something inside of me. Any slave can tell you that you can set yourself on fire to keep their abuser warm, they will still not be valued. Value, worth, self-esteem is not about what you do but who you are. You are an amazing person. I learned the valuable lesson that my abusers do not define who or what I am, I do that. I value myself. I enjoy helping others, if they do not appreciate my assistance and help that I am able to give the problem is theirs not mine. Took a lot of counseling to help me understand that harming myself does not help others no matter what my abusers tell me. Hard part on more than one occasion was recognizing people with abusive behaviors. I am used to being treated as less so if I feel comfortable with someone, it is most likely they do not value me because that is what I am used to happening. New friends that help me and I help them. Changing relationships to being mutually helpful takes time and feels uncomfortable. I need to be willing to accept help as well as give it. I like interacting with people that value me as much as I do. I am thankful to my counselor, darling husband, and many others that by example taught me I am worth loving just the way I am and no amount of ‘doing’ will get those others to like me.