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4 Stages of an Epic Martyr’s Meltdown

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There will be gifs in this post because gifs make me smile, and we could all use more smiles.

When my kids don’t want to clean up or do something else I’ve asked them to do, they act helpless.

They wait until the last minute, pick up dishes sloppily, load them badly, barely make the bed, and on and on.

It’s part passive-aggressive behavior of course, and (I think) part laziness. A vain hope that somebody will take over for them if they do a bad enough job.

kids hiding from responsibility victim codependent hiding away

I don’t take over for them, or excuse them from their duties. No matter how badly they load the dishwasher, or do any other task, they will repeat that task until it’s done right. Even when I’m exhausted and just don’t feel like dealing with their crap, I hold them to the task. Not perfectly, of course. I might think it’s done until hours later, when I open the cabinet to get a skillet and pull out a greasy skillet with egg pieces still stuck to it.

That is such a pet peeve, by the way. When you can actually see food on a pan, don’t put it in the cabinet. Why are kids like this? Ugh.


If they’re around, they have to come back down and wash the pan. If they’re gone (sometimes I discover these issues days later), I take a picture to discuss it later. The point is, they don’t get out of something because they don’t feel like doing it, or because they did it badly. Nobody is going to “rescue” them from the task.

Most of the time, they understand this. They’ll sigh a little bit and get busy with the chore. They’ve learned that arguing only makes it take longer, and usually adds more chores to the list. I’m a mean mom.

When they go into passive-aggressive-helpless mode, we have issues. They can’t do what they want to do, and they react to that emotion without much thought. That’s what kids do until they learn differently.

This is easy to see in my children. It’s not so easy to see in myself. But when I don’t want to do something, I can do the exact same thing.

This happens in stages for me. The stages may not always happen in the same order, and sometimes they happen all at once, but they’re always there. Sometimes, I don’t recognize them, they happen in the background.

Ultimately, when I try to control or manipulate an outcome, I’m playing God. When I try to avoid responsibility or play the martyr, I act like a child trying to get out of a chore.

Stage 1: Avoidance (Procrastination)


Maybe if I pretend it doesn’t exist, it will go away! I is a genius.

Stage 2: Anxiety (Inadequacy)

Whatever “it” is, it is too much for me. Stress overload.


Stage 3: Helplessness (Manipulation)

This could be something as minor as folding clothes or as major as yet another family court hearing. My dramatic flailing does not discriminate. Just take it away from me, please!


Stage 4: Anger and Excuses (Losin’ My Sh*t)

Alright, I’ve had enough. They should have known that I couldn’t do this, and they should have taken it away from me. If they loved me, they wouldn’t just watch me struggle. I already do too much, I manage too many things, everybody always needs me. Why should I pay the bills or fold the clothes or be the one who manages everybody’s moods and needs? Why can’t somebody else manage me for a change? RAAAAGE!

Anger can look like passive aggressive behaviors, defensiveness, irritability, avoidance, and all of the above stages thrown together.

If I fly into an actual rage like this guy (and I will), this above stages have already happened multiple times, and I’ve hit my point.


But here’s the thing: I’m not a martyr or a victim. I am capable.


Aw, thanks Woody.

I’ve satisfied my monthly gif quota, I think.

The ironic thing about all of this is that the thing that I most hate to do is usually the thing that most needs to be done. Once it’s done, I feel instantly calmer.

I put busywork ahead of important work, and the important work keeps piling up as a result.

The 12 steps help me process through everything that I might be anxious about, or where repentance that might be necessary. The 10th step in particular:

Step 10: Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.

Key word: promptly. Oh man. That feels physically impossible sometimes, but it’s so much better than letting it fester. First, I have to recognize that I’m wrong in the first place, and that’s hard enough. Second, I have to promptly admit it? Oh.

Sometimes my problems aren’t even problems at all. They’re irritations, aggravations, annoyances. They are my own frustration at having to deal with the fact that I can’t make people and situations bend to my will, and that I live in a world that requires my participation.

It’s my annoyance that the world does not revolve around me, and nobody is here to bow down to Queen Ashley.


(Ok, NOW I’m done)

Humility for me means accepting responsibilities and handle my side of the fence no matter what.

Whether I like it or not, a solid recovery involves doing the next right thing, even hard things. It means sucking it up and dealing with whatever is going on, really going on. I have to focus on the reality of every situation, not my own perception or fantasy.

It’s frustrating to be two years sober and feel like I’m back in early sobriety sometimes, at least as far as emotions go. I’ve made a lot of progress, but I’ve also taken a lot of steps back. Thankfully, this is not a program of perfection. God can take it, I just have to keep moving forward.

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Sitting on top of Pike's Peak in Colorado, a little over 2 years sober.

Hi! I'm Ashley, and my sobriety date is May 6, 2015. I write to share my experience, strength, and hope in recovery. On any given day, you can find me developing websites, writing, or chauffeuring kids around.  Read my story...

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