One of the common complaints expressed by women when speaking to their therapists and friends concern the “sacrifices” they make (especially in a marriage) for their partner and kids. Expressions such as “I gave up the best years of my life” and “After all I’ve done for you, is this the thanks I get?” are commonplace and familiar, even though a little anachronistic.
Women today may avoid using the term “sacrifice” (influenced by the negative weight that it carries due to the fact that it was used by their own mothers and due to pop psychology that has made it widely known that a good mother and wife needs to satisfy her own needs before those of others). Nonetheless, the message is the same, but the expressions are slightly different: “I always submit in the end”, “I’m always focused on the kids”, “It was wrong to put my career on the shelf” go the long-winded descriptions of deadlocks that make women put their own needs at the bottom.
Modern Greek women may not use the word “sacrifice” but to a great extend (at least in marriage and family life) they feel that they constantly compromise. I have often asked myself what makes women feel that marriage works against them and why it is that they put their own needs in second place so as to satisfy the desires and needs of other people.
For this reason, when I hear the tales of women dripping with rage over their sacrifices and submission as a result of their relationship or families, I try to help them by asking them to carefully consider the reasons for their sacrifice. Why do they submit or sacrifice themselves? What do they hope to achieve?
When a woman decides to start therapy, she may discover that behind the conscious reasons for her “sacrifice” and letting go of desires (usually with excuses such as “it can’t be done otherwise”, “the other is stubborn”, “conflict may be fatal, etc), there are other unconscious reasons and secondary benefits that lead to her behavior.
The most common reason why women submit to the desires of their husband is because they are afraid of conflict and feel weak. Woemn often put their own desires in second place because they don’t feel strong enough to directly demand these. Whining follows and feelings of anger that channels a sense of inability.
In some cases, women use self-sacrifice as a tool that is morally binding. At an unconscious level they may be choosing to use this so as to obligate their partner on a moral level or by creating feeligns of guilt so that their partner can cover other (silent) needs. In such cases, they try to constantly prove their patience and tolerance.
Another reason why women may unconsciously choose to sacrifice herself is as an excuse to not do things that she states she has a right to but doesn’t have the confidence to try. For example, a woman who states she could have had a bright career but chose to dedicate herself to her family may feel afraid that she may not have had the qualities to succeed professionally so she uses child-raising as a cover for her own weakness.
Another reason why a woman may give up on her needs and sacrifice her personal desires and ambitions may be social. Our society tends to reward strength and ambition in men, but is critical on women who don’t back down. A man who constantly submits and is subservient is described as “a little woman”, but a woman who presses forth is often descbribed as a “bitch”. On a psychological level, it is difficult for a woman to fight the social structure and leave her traditional role.
The problem with “resignation” and “sacrifice” aren’t the resignation and sacrifice per se but the fact that they aren’t being done for the right reasons. Sacrifices made for the right reason, such as the success of the family and those we love give joy rather than misery. It is not strange or humbling for a man or woman to put aside their own needs to dedicate themselves for those they love or for reasons greater than passing enjoyment. Problems begin when people “sacrifice” and fail to take personal responsibility for what they give up or sacrifice things for the wrong reasons, while expecting recognition, rewards and exchanges for what they give.
Do you have a problem that concerns you? Our resident psychotherapist Zeta Stravopodi is willing to address any personal matters. E-mail her on firstname.lastname@example.org
Zoe Stravopodi-Gianno works as a psychotherapist and offers advice to individuals, couples and families. She also coordinates groups interested in achieving self-awareness and personal growth. In 2012, she established “Parents School” to give parents advice as to how to navigate the choppy waters of parenthood regarding the healthy emotional growth of their children