Food, God, and the Martyr

Updated: Feb 29


On a scale of 1-10, 1 being super easy and 10 being excruciating, how would you rank your ability to let other people help you?


Having a secret relationship with food can be a sign of isolation in other areas of life, as well. Accepting help can conjure up a heap of emotions and old narratives. You might: 

  • Feel like you're already burdening those around you so you couldn't possibly ask for anything else

  • Have decided that you are the caregiver in all relationships and any deviation from that would tip the scales in a direction you're wickedly uncomfortable with

  • See yourself as unworthy of help (you got yourself into this mess, now you have to figure out how to get out of it!)

And then, if by some chance, someone is allowed close enough to help you, you feel forever in their debt and struggle to put a cap on the gratitude.


Does any of that sound familiar? It did to me.


Rude God


I'll tell you a funny story.


I took a breathwork class a few years ago, the goal of which was to guide its participants to a plane of consciousness optimal in its meditative powers. It was one of the most intense experiences of my life, for in my meditation, I found my creator.


That was a first.


With invitation from this being's image, I did some powerful work in that space; connecting my younger self with this god-figure, beginning to heal all sorts of wounds.


When our work was done and the figure started to fade, I began to thank it profusely. But almost comedically, like a 90s sit-com featuring poorly-CGI'd ghost images, the god-figure came back into focus and said, before leaving for good, "I don't accept your gratitude."


When I came to, I thought "man, that god character is kind of rude. Who doesn't accept gratitude?" But when I applied a little nuance to my inquiry I realized that message was for me, specifically, with purpose, and not general rudeness.


This being didn't want to accept my gratitude because I wasn't simply being humble, I was acting as though I was unworthy, as I did so often in other areas of my life. I put forth so many thank yous it became evidence of me believing the experience should have belonged to someone else. The thank yous became less about me expressing appreciation and more about me soliciting approval; seeking some kind of confirmation that I wasn't going to spontaneously combust afterward because something good and special happened to me.


And this all-knowing being called me on my shit.


It wouldn't let me feel as though I was in debt to an experience. And it seemed to question if I was even listening at all while being so preoccupied with needing to correct the tides that moved in my favor so that balance could be restored once again. My excessive gratitude implied I knew more about the movements of the Universe than the one who created it.


The Bingeing Martyr  

The martyr archetype shows up often in the binger. She tends to see interactions with others as win/lose; always one winner, always one loser. The binger typically positions herself as the loser because she feels obligated to to the success of others.


She's the one devoting herself to the causes of those around her, even outwardly depriving herself. She'll spend hours baking brownies for the crowd but won't indulge in one herself. At least not with an audience. She'll save a few to sneak in later during a binge, though, when she dims the lights and tries to make up for all she's deprived herself of in the daylight.


The martyr puts herself second to all else and while her motives are a deep sense of unworthiness, she combats that out loud through her behaviors.


She holds a lot of blame which she hides underneath provisions for others. She harbors anger she doesn't feel entitled to which she may only express passive aggressively. She combines service and suffering as a means of controlling the environment around her.


The martyr will not allow her self-care to ever be witnessed. If she tends to her needs, she can only do so in secret, once the others have been put to rest.


This would explain periods of bingeing.


While overdosing on food is certainly not any actual means of self-care, that period of self-focus and intense engagement is the only thing holding her together, keeping her strong enough to continue providing for the world tomorrow. That is all she allows herself; a few hours of dark solitude simultaneously feeding and suffocating her needs and desires.


But interestingly, by disallowing her own needs to be met regularly, she somehow becomes even needier than those she serves.


The Narcissist and The Depressive


The life of a martyr, while the ever-giving soul, is quite self-focused. They tend to take the form of the narcissist or it's polar opposite, the depressive. Most writings on the martyr only take into account the narcissist because it's easier to blame the narcissist and see her for who she truly is. She seems a little more outright dangerous and destructive without making any apologies.


But the depressive martyr carries a lot of force and does so more subtly. This incarnation of martyrdom is more likely to resonate with those of you on this blog; this is the type of martyrdom I have witnessed in myself.


The narcissistic martyr can only witness herself through the eyes of everyone around her and takes performative measures to ensure she's adored, valued, and pitied. She often does this to avoid her own shame which she buries underneath a display of frills and good deeds, leading you to believe she, herself, believes it. The depressive is sure the world has its eyes on her, only instead of avoiding shame by declaring outward excess as marks of success like the narcissist, she feels at fault for every imbalance around her and collects proof of the ways she's trying to right her wrongs.


The narcissist often feels persecuted by criticism of her and she may respond by playing up all of her good deeds with despair in effort to say how could you think so ill of me when I've done such wonderful things? It will never be enough for you, will it?


And because of that, she's both the villain and the victim.


Unlike the narcissist, the shame of a depressive isn't something she avoids, it's what defines her. She gets a certain thrill from feeling bad. Not consciously, of course. Consciously, she's suffering. But the familiarity of tortuously placing herself where she "belongs" is unconsciously satisfying to her; it excites her penchant for self-pity.


She, too, is both the villain and the victim.


The martyr's own internal world is lose/lose - she never gives herself a chance.


The narcissistic martyr tends to demand gratitude from others.


The depressive tends to excessively offer gratitude to others, and then wonders when it will finally be enough for her to feel equal to them.


Somehow, even though she's only just arrived, she is the source of destruction. Rationally the depressive knows she hasn't done anything wrong but because she can't stop seeing herself that way, she won't stop repenting by sacrificing herself to re-creation.


Image from sensitiveevolution.com

The depressive martyr wants to mean well but doesn't understand a lot of things. For one, that she is neither fundamentally worse than nor better than any one else.


She doesn't understand that human relationships aren't win/lose; that the more we connect, lean on each other, and give and receive help, the more we rise together. We can all win because of each other, not in spite of each other. And we certainly don't need one person to fall for the redemption of the rest, or the redemption of herself. 


The depressive martyr doesn't understand that she's worthy of self-care, actual self-care, and not some trickster version of it. She doesn't see that food bingeing isn't care but is, in fact, further destruction; a wolf in sheep's clothing.


She doesn't understand that she's allowed to be angry and express herself; that she's allowed to need; that others can sacrifice for her from time to time and that's the true balance she seeks. She doesn't understand that, while familiar, enacting these dynamics is way less fulfilling than becoming as equally meaningful and meaningless as her fellows.


Abusing Gratitude


In my meditation, my creator didn't reject my gratitude because it wanted to be cruel. My thank yous were discarded because they weren't honest. I mean yes, I was grateful. But more importantly, I was asking for something in return while hiding behind admiration; I was trying to sacrifice myself to the enlightenment I got to experience.


It was manipulative.

It was an act of martyrdom.


In truth, I was asking for my own redemption; redemption from myself. Only I didn't need it from an external source. And neither do you.


That's the first step.

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