Self sacrifice is very hard to escape.

It is so conditioned into us that whether you are an HSP or non-HSP doesn’t matter. You are subject to the expectation.

Self sacrifice carried to an extreme will make you sick, emotionally and physically.

Why is self-sacrifice such a problem?

Self-Sacrifice Solves A Lot Of Problems

Self sacrifice solves so many problems:

  • if there are scarce resources, self-sacrifice ensures that there is “enough”
  • if someone is abusive, expecting self-sacrifice from victims “erases” a problem and injustice
  • if life is unfair, it is because self-sacrifice is your “lot” in life
  • if the system does not work, self-sacrifice enables us to avoid dealing with the problem
  • expectations of self-sacrifice ensure that social inequities remain in place by allocating support only to some
  • expectations of self-sacrifice maintain unequal relationships and relationships that are one-way streets. They maintain power imbalances and the status quo.

How Self-Sacrifice Affects An Individual

Self sacrifice feels devastating to the individual who experiences it. It is more than feeling like you are less than others. It is a way of appropriating the life force of one individual for the benefit of others.

For highly sensitive people for whom emotional vampires are a danger, a life of self-sacrifice can be even crueler since you are being both emotionally and usually physically exploited without any hope for reciprocity and care.

People stuck in self-denying situations often feel angry depleted and robbed of their lives.

They are right!

Self Sacrifice Destroys Relationships

Self sacrifice is culturally conditioned. That means it is expected and is often the basis of social and familial approval.

When such an arrangement is socially supported, change becomes more difficult, because the social support for change is not there. Generally, some people benefit from the arrangement and therefore will not want to end it.

A sacrificing arrangement takes away the power from the person who is sacrificing because it is in the nature of the relationships to deny the validity of any claims from the individual who is being used. That is why many people who have been in self-sacrificing situations will feel rage and powerlessness at the same time: two uncomfortable emotions and even more hurtful together.

An unequal self-sacrificing relationship is set by expectation and social custom, therefore, it is not always possible to negotiate a better arrangement, and if improvements are possible they are often hard won and hard maintained.

Without appearing too gloomy, it is important, to be honest about the deep difficulties faced by those individuals and groups whose lives have been damaged by individual, group and systemic exploitation. When you grasp and feel the intractability of racism and sexism, you can have some compassion for those recovering from those forms of discrimination.

Self-sacrifice may be physically and emotionally devastating to the victim, but it is also spiritually damaging, even more so for the perpetrator than the victim, although both are harmed, nonetheless.

Changing Your Life

Changing your life to one of healthy living and wellbeing is very challenging. It is important to treat oneself with respect during the difficult process of change.

People who seek more equal and more respectful relationships are often considered troublemakers, and misanthropes by those who gain from the inequity.

We see this resistance to change all over as our world gradually evolves to one where individuals share the world more fully. As desirable as equality is, it takes time to make a transition to an equality based life and can take a long time depending on the support that you have and receive.

As individuals recovering from racism can attest, the road to full acceptance can be a long one.

There are steps you can take to make the process easier:

  1. assess your skills and resources
  2. develop skills so that you can survive in the world
  3. determine what your basic necessities are and get them met s that you need as little as possible during the process of creating a self-respecting life for yourself.
  4. find support among people who share your desire and vision for a better way of life
  5. expect the process of change to take time
  6. honor yourself for making the journey

Developing a self-respecting life is a hero’s journey. Those who undertake it deserve compassion and respect.

About Maria Hill

Maria Hill is the founder of Sensitive Evolution. She is the author of The Emerging Sensitive: A Guide For Finding Your Place In The World. In addition, she has created the immersive Emerging Sensitive Program of "sensory processing yoga" using frameworks to help sensitive people master their sensitivity and turn it into the asset it can be. She also offers the Emerging Sensitive Movie Club focused on movies and discussions about living in the world as a sensitive person and navigating the challenging cultural shifts of our times. She is a longtime meditator, reiki master, student of alternative health and Ayurveda. Maria is also an abstract painter whose portfolio can be found at Infinite Shape and also very interested in animal and human rights and the environment.


  1. Elizabeth Scala on April 5, 2013 at 7:32 pm

    This is a good post. In my world of nursing, I see many, many, many self-sacrificers. I used to be one. At times, I find myself slipping back into that role. As a nurse we help people not only at home but at work, in the community, wherever we go. Once people hear we are “nurse” they think we know all about health and have every answer. Since we typically are voted one of the most trusted professions every year, people come to nurses with all of the questions and believe that we can always help.
    This makes taking care of ourselves a challenge. This makes the fact that we often self-sacrifice a common experience.
    Nurses almost always put themselves last. It’s sadly joked that a nurse has a bladder of steel and doesn’t use the rest room for the entire 12 hours of the shift.
    I am sick of this! (And you’re right… it can make us sick!!).
    We’ve got to put ourselves first. We’ve got to ensure we take care of us. We’ve got to leave behind our self-sacrificing ways.
    Thanks for this great post!

    • Maria on April 6, 2013 at 2:31 pm

      Hi Elizabeth,

      Thank you for writing.

      I worked in the health care field for many years, and know how difficult it is for nurses. Although I was not one myself, I was a nurse recruiter at Children’s Hospital in Boston, and also worked as an aide during high school. Essentially you are expected to be a work horse.

      I think the same problem exists in many fields now since in the interest of “productivity” and profits we squeeze people to do more and more with less and less. Our healthcare system is increasingly overburdened with the diseases created by a system that is destructive for people. It seems that we are all being brought down by it.

      It is hard not to feel empathy for those who are suffering, but you can only take on so much. We hurt when we do not take care of ourselves and hurt when we cannot help others. The situation can feel bad no matter what you do.

      I think we all deserve better. I am encouraged to see that more and more people are opting out of the system pursuing saner lives with less stuff and more time for their health. I think we HSPs should join them!

      Take good care of yourself,

  2. ebonapartian on January 31, 2015 at 8:08 am

    Hi Maria,
    A fantastic article and one that hits home. In my own travels, the nursing profession is where I often encounter many Highly Sensitive people and at times can feel how much the give of themselves.
    I am ever grateful for the compassion they show in the constantly stressful environment of the health care field. Thanks for posting.

  3. Stephanie on February 1, 2015 at 4:29 pm

    Dear Maria,

    My name is Stephanie, I’m a French Behavioral Analyst and I blog quite a lot about Social Intelligence. Mainly for parents: and for Narc. victims: I found your article on Facebook and I find it very helpful. Most of the European people who are part of my communities don’t speak English. I offered them to pay for the translation of your post and they seem very interested in that self sacrifice topic. May I get the authorization from you to pay a translator to put it in French (I’ll send the work to you) and also I commit to put a link with the original text and your website address on my blogs. That would really help parents of HSP children (and HSP adults) + Narcissists victims in Europe to understand how they’ve been abused. We lack this type of information here in France/Switzerland.

    Best regards,


    • Maria Hill on February 1, 2015 at 4:46 pm

      Hi Stephanie,

      Sure that would be fine. I hope it helps.


    • Stephanie on February 1, 2015 at 5:37 pm

      Awesome! Thank you very much and if I can get an email address, I’ll send the text translated into French to you so that you can use it too…