Why (Some) Martyrs Make Monsters

In my life, I have come across two kinds of angry people, the ones who are angry until you cry and the ones who get angry when you cry. Stay away from the former if you can, they are the ones who have to dominate you, your tears and fear appease them only temporarily. As soon as you stand up for yourself, they will attack again. But the ones who get angry when you cry, I have found, are the ones that care.

I was twelve when my older mentally challenged cousin got angry at me for putting my hand in his pie. He had been chasing me all over the house, while our extended family gathered to mourn my uncle’s death. No one would help. Finally when he chased me into a dark bedroom, I was scared and shoved him, trying to get away. My hand landed in the piece of pie he’d been carrying. He got all upset about it and talked like I had done something terrible. My hope that it would at least get him to leave me alone died as he again followed me everywhere, angrily telling me, I owed him an apology.

Eventually, I gave up and sat a careful distance from him, in a room with two exits. As we sat I became aware he was telling me something important. “You don’t know what it is like to have everybody treat you like a monster,” he began. He went on to tell a very sad story of how he tried to be helpful and tried to make friends, but people were afraid of him. People misunderstood him. Listening to him I realized we had something in common. We both felt misunderstood because we had such a strong passionate need to love and feel loved.

That speech helped me to see that the outbursts of one of my brothers, and the tantrums of my children were connected to my own tears. These were the people who loved me and they couldn’t stand to see me give up. In my fear, I did not even think to give them a way to help me. I just broke down and cried. Now I know when someone gets angry at me for being sad, what they really want is to know how to help.

I was accused of being a martyr when I wanted to devote myself to working with my sons, that social worker was wrong, she didn’t see how happy it made me. I wanted to work with my son because I knew it was my destiny. But when I ended up being the one to take care of my mother, alone, for almost ten years, that was my true mistake of martyrdom. Trying to care for both my autistic children and my elderly mother alone was too much.

My severely autistic son knew it and that was why he became violent when I broke down and cried. I’m sorry to say it took me awhile to see it, but once I did, the knowledge gave me the power to stop the violence. He was angry because he saw me tearing myself apart.

I’ve learned that taking care of myself isn’t selfish. It’s how I repay the people who care about me. Being a person who is passionate about causes and ideas is fine as long as it makes you happy, when it makes you sad, it’s time to take a step back and ask for help.

In my life, I have come across two kinds of martyrs, the joyful kind who follow their path, showing us that suffering is an illusion and the miserable kind who suffer, spreading sorrow and frustration. But it’s no wonder the word causes confusion, just look at the definition.

martyr |ˈmärtər|
a person who is killed because of their religious or other beliefs: saints, martyrs, and witnesses to the faith.
• a person who displays or exaggerates their discomfort or distress in order to obtain sympathy or admiration: she wanted to play the martyr.
• (martyr to) a constant sufferer from (an ailment): I’m a martyr to migraines! -New Oxford American Dictionary 

Which are the real martyrs? I prefer the first kind, passionate people following their strongly held religious or moral convictions not by purposely hurting themselves but by clearly helping others and enjoying it. These are the people I call saints and angels.  As for the latter, I will not let them make me a monster, instead I remember that we all make cages of our own design. It is up to them to free themselves. I can only be responsible for my own happiness.


2 Comments Add yours

  1. Siew says:

    Taking of ourselves is probably the best gift we can give to our family. Happy that you are standing up strong for yourself.

    Liked by 1 person

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