Are You Trapped in the Sacrifice Syndrome?

There’s no denying that you have to make some sacrifices when you’re in School Leadership — it’s just part of the job. But what so often happens is that Heads fall into the “Sacrifice Syndrome”; the practice of giving everything of themselves to everyone else, until there’s nothing left.


A pattern of insanity

Of course, it doesn’t start out this way. It normally starts out as “just this once”. But “just this once” becomes “just this twice” and so on and so on until really crazy, unhealthy behaviour seems totally normal. That is, until you get a wake-up call.
It you’ve read “Staying A Head” then you’ll know mine came, when I decided to do a home visit at the end of one school day, even though I was already feeling frazzled and worn down.
The child in question I believed was a star in the making, his mother thought otherwise and within minutes of me entering their home she hurled a torrent of abuse at me. At that moment something inside of me cracked. On another day, at another time, when I wasn’t so tired, I may have found the inner resolve to stand my ground, but there and then words failed me.
I made my excuses and left abruptly. Within moments of entering my car, I cried and I cried, until I had no more tears left to cry. I was worn out, run down and felt an almost insurmountable sense of loneliness and isolation.

The Sacrifice Syndrome quiz

Heads usually have one of two reactions when I tell that story. One type nods emphatically and thinks, “Yes — I’ve so been there and its time for me to re-think how I do this job! I can’t keep sacrificing my self and my own well-being.”
The other group nods politely and thinks “I’ve been there, but I am never, going to admit my vulnerability to myself or others, because if I do people will think I’m weak. Best to keep a stiff upper lip and carry on.”
If you’re in the second group, let me tell you this: It is far better to face and admit your vulnerabilities, than it is to turn away from them. Sooner or later they will catch up with you and when they do, you may find that you are so tightly within the grip of the Sacrifice Syndrome, that it becomes a long, hard struggle to loosen its grip on you.
So with that in mind, here are some questions to help you reflect on whether you are within the grip of The Sacrifice Syndrome.
Read through these and consider what the answers are they telling you? Are you reacting to life as opposed to responding? Are you constantly giving without receiving?
1. When’s the last time you went out in the evening?
2. Do you catch every bug that’s going around, especially during the school holidays?
3. Do you secretly feel it’s a sign of weakness if you have to ask for help?
4. Can you make it through the week without a little help in the evenings, whether that’s from alcohol, sweets, or something else?
5. Do you look forward to Saturday morning because you can finally get some work done without any interruptions?
6. Do you have any hobbies?
7. Do you have any quality time with your loved ones and friends?
8. Do you rarely follow the advice that you give to others about protecting their own well-being?
9. Do you find it impossible to switch off in the evening and at the week-ends?
10. Do you find it difficult to enjoy holidays?

How to Escape from the Sacrifice Syndrome…

If you find that you’re answering “yes” to many of these questions, it’s possible that you are like many School Leaders today who are caught in the sacrifice syndrome.
Working as a coach with School Leaders I’ve witnessed first-hand the emotional cost for School Leaders who have accepted this as the norm. There is often a cost when their emotional needs are not properly met; anxiety, self-doubt, poor decision making and a diminished sense of personal and professional fulfilment.
This can’t continue. Active steps must be taken. Our profession needs to change and show that it knows how to best support our School Leaders. So that they can not only survive, but also thrive in their attempts to deliver the best outcomes for our children.
Meanwhile, for their part, our leaders must be supported to take care of themselves! One of the key elements of this is learning to ask for help, and realising that this is an act of courage, as much as it is an essential act of kindness and compassion towards oneself.
Whatever our goals, whatever our ambitions, we need help to fulfil them. So that when the going gets tough, as it always does, we don’t fall down and remain on the ground, but are supported, so that we can get back up again and, with renewed focus and energy, carry on towards our dream.
So if you want to take charge of your well-being and be supported to best meet the needs of those in your care, we are now offering free “Coaching for The Soul” calls for School Leaders to enable you to do just this.
This call will provide you with a confidential, safe, non–judgemental space to spend 30 minutes discussing how you can:
– Achieve a greater sense of clarity about your direction as a school leader
– Gain a clearer perspective on any challenges that you may be facing
– Identify positive steps for moving forward

Book Your Call

 If you feel like you’d benefit from a call like this or perhaps know someone who would, please follow the link above!



3 Responses

  1. This is so me right now in the latter stages of this syndrome, my body is reacting so desperately, that I’ve taken time off but feel guilty. I ticked every question in the questionnaire. Real article though. Thank you

    1. Hi Cassie, Thanks for being so honest and sharing where things are with you right now. Don’t feel guilty for taking time off.You need to listen to your body, so that you can rest and hopefully return to work, stronger and more resilient.

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