Your friends need help and you sacrifice your weekend for them. A co-worker gets sick and you give up your lunch breaks to compensate for their absence. You cook dinner every night and sacrifice your only free time so that your family has a home-cooked meal.
Our life is full of sacrifice. We are raised in the spirit of helping others and being compassionate. Indeed, compassion and sacrifice are virtues desirable to cultivate. When we lovingly give up something for the benefit of somebody else, we feel good, fulfilled and even touched by grace. But why so often do we feel like victims when we sacrifice for others?
There are two types of sacrifice: unhealthy sacrifice and healthy sacrifice. They are different as night and day. One is based on fear and the other one on love.
Healthy sacrifice feels great. For example, as a young professional, I have volunteered to work on weekends. I sacrificed my free time, but I felt energized and good about the work I did. Or a friend was leaving for a vacation and I offered to water her plants. It cost me a bit of time and driving in busy downtown, but it was un uplifting experience to keep the plants nourished. Healthy sacrifice feels natural and usually doesn’t feel like a big effort.
I have also experienced unhealthy sacrifice. Once, I was asked to put up a guest from abroad in my home. As a very busy person, I wasn’t thrilled to have a guest I didn’t even know for several days. But I felt under pressure to be helpful, so instead of saying “no” or at least requesting help to take care of this guest, I went into unhealthy sacrifice. The guest turned out to be a lovely person, however the burden was too big for me and I felt a lot of resentment. I gave up my privacy and free time because I was scared to say “no” and face potential consequences of being labelled as “unhelpful”.
We are likely to sacrifice in an unhealthy way when:
- We are not true to ourselves;
- We don’t speak up or we don’t say what we want;
- We do not listen to ourselves;
- We are not open to receive offered help.
Unhealthy sacrifice is often well intentioned, but it doesn’t work because it eats out our happiness. The good news is that whatever we are trying to achieve with unhealthy sacrifice can be also achieved without it.
Listening to your inner voice, articulating what you feel and what you need
to be able to give out of love instead of fear
is the most important step on the journey from unhealthy to healthy sacrifice.