Strength & Weakness: Nurture.

“Yesterday, we established self-sacrifice as a strength, but identified the same characteristic as a weakness. Natural self-sacrifice is truly a strength which furthers humanity. Self-sacrifice as a weakness is not an instinct, but instead, is learned behavior.”

In a blog post, a continuing series about strength vs. weakness, Ann Marie Dwyer hits the nail on the head when it comes to self-sacrifice and how it can be a strength or a weakness.  She puts into words something I have struggled with my entire life.

Self-sacrifice is good.   Right?

As I read this post, my mind was immediately taken back to my childhood.  I love my sister very much, but she is and was a very strong-willed person.  She often took more than her share in many ways.  My baby brother, hyperactive and adorable, often took most of what was left.  Angie sacrificed in order to keep peace (only part of the reason).

Example:  The car

We lived about 10 hours away from my grandparents, so a trip to see them often involved my dad driving us all at night, hoping the kids would sleep through it all.   The put stuff on the floor in the back seat to make it more bed-like and covered it with blankets.  The sister got in and got comfortable.  The brother found a way to get comfortable.  Angie sat in a corner and stayed awake – uncomfortable.  Self-sacrifice.

It’s called enabling

When a person sacrifices to this extent, it is called enabling.  When the quiet wheel lets the squeaky wheel get away with drawing all the attention, this leads to the wheel learning to squeak to get attention and the non-squeaky wheel to just keep rolling along, pondering these things in her heart.

Personality vs. invisibility

Part of the tendency to do this had to do with personality.  Some people are naturally less aggressive and quieter.  However.  when a person takes it to the extent that they become invisible, it has gone too far.  This writer had a major struggle in adulthood because she believed she really was invisible (figuratively).  She didn’t think she deserved to squeak or have attention.  She still struggles with this.

Whose fault is it

While my parents should have intervened, and my sister could have been a little more generous in that area (she is very generous in other areas), the problem became mine when I continued in it even to adulthood.

Self-sacrifice as a weakness

I won’t go into the struggle to overcome this in this post, but the above was to point out that self-sacrifice is not always a strength.  Sometimes, it’s a big stinky weakness!  Taken to an extreme, it becomes enabling, teaching others to take advantage and feeding their own issues.


Many times when self-sacrifice steps over the boundaries in this way, the other people are totally unaware of the struggle going on inside the self-sacrificer.  The person may have resentment and more fermenting inside, but since they don’t express it or set boundaries, the other person has no real way of knowing.  Often, especially with this type of self-sacrifice, we want others to ‘know’, but we want them to do it instinctively; we don’t want to have to tell them.

Becoming aware

There came a point in my adult life where I realized I had to take back my own power and stop sacrificing myself to the point where I became an invisible mass of unmet needs, holding resentment for the boundary violations but never letting others know.  I remember the moment well when I told my sister NO!  and started telling others NO!  and learning how to actually set boundaries.

Boundaries boundaries boundaries

If we do not set boundaries (make them known to others) we cannot blame them for stumbling past them.  Self-sacrifice is not about becoming an invisible no-one.  It is about being very confident in oneself, setting boundaries and protecting them, letting others know where those boundaries are and when they have crossed them, and then choosing at times to give place to others.   When self-sacrifice crosses the line into enabling, it definately becomes a weakness.

As Ann Marie says in her post, women tend to be more likely to go there than men, and it has a lot to do with the nurture aspect of society’s and other’s expectations about what it means to be a woman.  Rather than taking this to the other extreme and sacrificing nothing, we need to move to the point where we are self-nurturing, giving us the strength we need to sacrifice when it is called for.

Have you ever self-sacrificed in a way that was a weakness?  Do you think others should just know when you have a need or when your boundaries have been crossed without your permission?  Where would you take this post from here?  Ann Marie sparked this post, and I hope this one (or her original one:  Read here) can spark your imagination and we’ll see a post (writing, blog, facebook) from you.  Please share.