Martyr syndrome and subconscious programming

Gandhi once said, “Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in agreement.”

When you are living in the martyr syndrome or in victim behavior, what you are thinking, saying, or doing are not in agreement.

In relationships for example, your spouse or partner makes yet another request (or demand) for you to do something or go somewhere with them. You don’t want to do it, you resent doing it, you complain to other people (but never your spouse or partner) that you don’t want to do it and then… YOU DO IT ANYWAY.

What you think, say and do are OUT of agreement.

Now you’re possibly saying to yourself, yeah, that’s exactly what I do, I want to stop it, how do I stop it?

Henny Youngman, the late, stand up comedian known for his one-liners, used to tell a joke:
A man goes to see his doctor. He tells the doctor, “Doc, it hurts when I do this.” The doctor says, “Don’t do that.”

Simple advice but why is it SO, SO, SO hard to do? Drumroll, please…

Your subconscious mind is running your behavior.

Is your subconscious mind some sick, twisted beast determined to sabotage you?

No, your subconscious is there to help you and does a lot of marvelous things to keep you alive and functioning. It controls your breathing, digestion, heart and blood flow, and many other things so you don’t have to consciously think about them.

And it also dictates a lot of your behavior.

The subconscious mind is kind of like software that has acquired and accumulated your ‘programming’ over your lifetime, a majority of which was acquired in childhood. It tries to help you by protecting you, and it does so by running the ‘programs’ or response behaviors you’ve adopted to deal with a variety of situations.

The situations are usually ones that cause some type of fear response and the subconscious protects you against the fear. In the above example, if you’re afraid to say NO to your spouse or partner, it protects you by running the behavior program where you do what was asked even though you don’t want to and resent doing so.

Instead of saying NO and risking disapproval, or an argument, when you stood up for yourself, you avoid the fear of that course of action and settle for one that avoids confrontation and makes you resent the other person AND yourself for not standing up for what you really wanted.

Holding on to suffering: the Martyr Syndrome – Part 2

In Part 1 I related the story of two traders at the Chicago Board Options Exchange on October 19, 1987, the day the market crashed. One made a huge amount of money and the other lost over a million dollars.

About six years later in a conversation I had with a very successful trader, he summarized it succinctly if not elegantly. He said, “Look, when you have to pee, you pee. Period. You don’t hold it in. You get rid of it and you feel better. It’s the same with a bad trade. You get rid of it and move on to the next one.”

Trader B, who lost over a million dollars that day, didn’t consciously set out to be a martyr. He didn’t consciously want to lose, yet he did.

Nobody held a gun to his head and forced him to keep a losing position, yet he did.

What subconscious beliefs led him to hold on to the loss?

Probably a belief ingrained during childhood that he needed to be perfect and that taking the loss would be an admission that he wasn’t perfect, and the fear that if he’s not perfect he must be a total loser and nobody would ever love him ever, ever again. In other words he took it personally. He projected all kinds of irrational fears into the simple act of getting out of a losing trade.

His ego wouldn’t let him admit being wrong

So the question is why do people do what is obviously bad for them, i.e., hold on to their suffering?

No matter what you believe with your conscious mind, your subconscious will always win out over the long run and control your behavior. Your conscious mind works while you’re awake. Your subconscious works around the clock.

Man, does it work around the clock!

If you think you have to be perfect, can never be wrong, will be rewarded for your suffering and self denial; those deeply held beliefs will cause you to hold on to your suffering.

If you have a fear of change or a fear of consequence, you will hold on to your suffering.

If you have low self-esteem and don’t feel competent to face the consequences of change, you will be mired in martyrdom.

If you insist on waiting for the other person to be a mind reader, you are REALLY screwed!

This advice isn’t only for traders. It’s the same with whatever suffering you’ve got. Don’t hold on to it. Get rid of it. You’ll feel better.

Take a leak!

Try another belief instead.

Stop demanding of yourself that you be right. Nobody is perfect. It’s okay to make mistakes. Correct the mistake and move on.

Stop expecting to be rewarded for your suffering. (You won’t be)

Stop being a martyr.

Regardless of the reasons why you’re in the situation you’re in, take responsibility for dealing with it as it is now.

Focus on the solution instead of your misery. You don’t have to wait until you have a forced realization.

Permit yourself to have something better. You have to give yourself permission to have something better before you can let go of your suffering.

If you can’t find it within yourself to give yourself permission, get a friend to help you through it. If you can’t do that, hire a coach who can work with you, guide you, and hold you accountable for taking responsibility.

When you take action and face your challenges, you increase your self-esteem and grow in confidence that you can handle the consequences of change.

Stop holding on to your suffering needlessly. Stop shooting yourself in the foot.

Take the first step. Realize that there are alternatives to living with that pain. Talk to a friend you can trust. Get coaching. Get counseling. See a doctor. See a lawyer. Take a step away from your suffering, dammit!

Take a leak!

Holding on to suffering: the Martyr Syndrome – Part 1

Why is it that the last thing people are willing to give up is their suffering?

I used to be a member of the Chicago Board Options Exchange. I was a market-maker and traded on the floor of the exchange. I was there on October 19, 1987 when the market crashed.

This is the story of two traders, neither of which was me.

Trader A rode the downtrend profitably and made over $700,000. Trader B stubbornly refused to get out of losing trades and lost just over a million dollars that day.

At the market close, two different people had staggeringly different experiences of the same event.


It’s a fairly common problem traders have. Their trade turns against them and instead of getting out of the loss; they hold on and use all kinds of wishful thinking to justify staying in a losing trade. (I’ve done it numerous times)

Sometimes they’re right and the market turns around and the trade becomes profitable. But more often than not, the loss gets bigger and bigger and no amount of rationalization can justify holding the position because it is just too damn painful and the loss has become too damn BIG!

That moment is called a forced realization.

This facet of behavior always intrigued me. Amazed me in fact.

Ashen faced and on the verge of tears, Trader B could only sit in shock after what had happened. While Trader A was all happy and chuckly but had the good sense to keep it to himself or I’m sure the others would have beaten him up if he dared to gloat.

Trader B sabotaged himself by holding on to a losing position and refusing to believe that he could be wrong. Instead of getting out of the trade and stopping the pain, he just held on to it.

You have to ask yourself what was the difference in the psychology of the two traders. What was going on in their subconscious minds? What were their beliefs? What enabled one trader to successfully and profitably trade that day while the other, seeing the same circumstances and data, couldn’t admit being wrong, didn’t have a plan if he was wrong, insisted on holding on to his suffering, and lost a ton of money in the process?

Why is it that the last thing people are willing to give up is their suffering?

To be continued…