Satyr Magos has an interesting story about a bartender that took the pain if an injury from a patron:

“Give it to me,” I said.  “I’m a professional.”  (Perhaps a slight exaggeration.)

“No,” he said.  “I took it.  It’s my responsibility.”

I respected that, so I let it go.


As I work down on my third bourbon, though, the whole thing starts to weigh on me.  He’s nourishing the pain, taking it on as some sort of martyrdom, and it’s making it so he can’t work.  I’m reluctant to push the issue, but Aradia argues that it’s just as idiotically macho to let him suffer as it is for him to insist on suffering, and that if I won’t take the pain off of him, she’ll do it.

We all finish our drinks, and its time to go.  Aradia and one of my friends go to the ladies’ room, while my other friend and I go in search of the bartender to say goodbye and (again) offer to take the woman’s pain from him, and to tip him a little more before we leave.  He refuses both my offer and the tip, but then he gets all weird about it, twisting my friend’s arm rather than taking the tip, and patting me on the heart with the wounded arm.

While his hand is resting on my heart something goes off in the back of my brain, and I just breathe the pain into my lungs, and exhale it as fire into the air above us.

He looks at me in shock and says, “You took it.”

“I did.”

“But you know we have to give it back.”

“No, we don’t.”

[…]I feel a little bad about it, now.  He took the burden so seriously.  But the whole martyr angle just grated on me, and the way he touched me with the wounded hand … it just seemed to be the thing to do a the time.

There’s a lot going on here, including some assumptions about healing that I’m very happy to see Satyr defy. But the martyr aspect stands out the most.

I see this on occasion from healers and empaths. They seem to want to think that it is their lot to suffer so that others don’t have to.

I know. I’ve been that guy. Taking the pain from others. Feeling guilty when others had pain I couldn’t take. Wondering why they had to feel it and I didn’t.

I really wish someone like Satyr could have come along and said those simple words to me.

“No, we don’t.”

But I was certainly a martyr. Taking their pain made me special. It gave me power and status, even if only temporarily. I was like the, waving his hurt arm around to attract attention, then lamenting what he had done. Wearing the pain as a badge. Look at my sacrifice! Acknowledge it!

But it didn’t have to be.

I think that one of the assumptions we make is that pain is something that has to be endured. That it is meant to be. That someone has to feel it. And that in taking it from someone who feels it, you take that obligation. But it’s kind of crap. It’s a sensation like any other. It is significant, and signals a problem with the body. But if that problem is acknowledged and kept in mind, the pain can be reduced. Like any other sensation, it has an energy to it, and that energy can be drawn off. And instead of taking it into yourself, it can be released.

But people feel their pain so intimately. I wonder if perhaps we feel it cheapens our pain to have other people dismiss it so easily. I wonder if the bartender felt that by releasing that woman’s pain, he was being dismissing of her suffering.

He wasn’t.

And despite the bartender’s cries of woe, he was celebrating his experience of her pain, of his ability to take it. Let’s be honest: he was showing off. And when he was acting so flagrantly, Satyr was well within his rights to take the pain away.

Bartender was misusing the pain. For status. Status that could have been earned just as easily through more legitimate means. I’ll stop short of accusing the bartender of exploiting the woman he took the pain from, but I’ll stop close enough to affirm that I believe such a thing to be possible.

If you truly want to take someone’s pain to allow them to heal, take it and release it on. Don’t flaunt it in front of them. Guilt heals nothing. Showboating heals nothing. Show your command of your empathic abilities by being able to actually deal with what you take upon yourself.

Quit being a martyr.


2 responses to “Martyrdom

  1. The most extreme version of this martyrdom I’ve ever seen was exhibited by a woman I spoke with on the train to Chicago: she was a professional exorcist and “house cleaner”, and bragged about her cancer that doctors could neither identify nor cure, and about the spirits who pursued her and her chronically ill son, but scoffed dismissively when I asked about her personal banishing/cleansing pratices–she didn’t bother.

    • That would make a great example for the banish/don’t banish debate that occurs every so often.

      Christianity has left a lot of rather toxic memes in our collective psyche. I would argue that the whole “I must suffer to show how good I am” is one of the worst.

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