Why Loving Someone Doesn't Mean You Have To Be A Martyr

Written by Jamie Perry

Recently I wrote an article about questions you can use for reflection to help heal through a heartbreak. Heartbreaks are juicy, aren’t they? Love makes us act in wild, uncontained ways that bear no explanation. I would bet that everyone reading this has a treasure chest in her heart, full of stories with the good, bad, and the downright ugly of being in love.

Luckily, our intimate relationships provide us with the ultimate springboard for growth — if we're willing to use it. It's nice when we finally heal to a point that we can look back on our actions and not just laugh, but also begin to reflect and learn about the patterns that are holding us back. After all, we're given the same lesson to learn until we finally get it, right?

One of the lessons that seems to have been on repeat for me during the last, ehhh, 10-ish years has been my pursuit to save all the broken men who walk into my life. There's an actual term for this (hint: "savior complex"), but I prefer to believe that this is an affliction that many women battle.

Because I found it easy to look past flaws, to forgive easily, and to give second (and third … and fourth) chances, I also naturally attracted the kind of men who needed to be “saved.” Alcoholic? Let’s go to AA. Mommy issues? I’ll cook for you and do your laundry and nourish you in ways your mother never did. Pathological liar? OK, I can forgive a few white lies; after all, you mean well.

While I consider it one of my best qualities that I am so nonjudgmental, it also became my greatest saboteur as I learned about boundaries, self-worth, and healthy relationships. While I was so busy patching up the holes in these guys’ lives, I didn't realize the void I was creating in my own. Cleaning up everyone else’s mess left me totally drained, completely exhausted, and heartbroken each time the person relapsed. This led to a bigger mess to fix in my own life. Vicious cycle, right?

OK, we identified the issue. Now, what the heck do we do about it? Luckily for me, I've embraced the idea of surrender, taken from my yoga and spiritual practices. OK, “embraced” may be a slight exaggeration. It’s more like: I’ve heard every yoga teacher ever talk about the importance of letting go and surrendering (myself, included).

Conversely, I've also championed my identity as a “fighter,” and thus created quite the paradox in my own life. A surrendering fighter translates into a knockdown, drag-out match between life and pride. My surrender has actually looked like nearly a year of daily ebb and flow — staying single, forgiving myself, and seeking the courage to let go of my familiar (read: comfortable) patterns, in this instance, trying to save men.

It's always so funny to me that all of this practice, time, and energy usually lead to an “aha” that's fairly simple. This go-round, the “aha” is: Loving someone does not mean saving them. It means the opposite. It means letting them go … and, letting them be who they are, completely.

When we try to save someone, we selfishly impose our perspective onto the reality that belongs to that person’s unique progression and growth. We attach ourselves to an outcome that we believe would make us happier, and this attachment controls us. We surrender, but we surrender to the mercy of that person. They control us. When they're up, we are up. But when they fall (and yes, they will fall — everyone falls), we fall, too. We become so invested in that person’s well-being that we betray our own well-being.

This isn't helpful to anyone involved; actually, it's counterproductive. The truth, hard to accept as it may be, is that people who try to save others desperately need to save themselves (me, included). The truth is that the very people who we're trying to save simply may not be ready to be loved in the way that we want to offer to them. The truth is that we need to let them go, so that they can heal, which frees us to do the same.

The happy part about this is that we can let go of people without eliminating them from our lives. You don’t have to go file for divorce after reading this. You don’t have to unfriend anyone on Facebook, make an announcement that you’re leaving, or give him back his sweats that he left at your place last weekend. Letting go doesn't necessarily translate to abandonment. It just means detaching from your selfish expectation for that person. It looks like allowance and letting people uncover, discover, and recover versions of themselves that are buried underneath the baggage that life events bring. It's good to know that we can still love people who mean the most to us, without trying to control their actions, isn’t it?

It takes daily forgiveness, a whole lot of courage, and a strong connection to the deepest love you can find in yourself. But it’s doable. And when you do it, you'll find that you've saved yourself.

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