Is It Worth Sacrificing Yourself For Others?

Have you ever sacrificed yourself for someone? It's often said that self-sacrifice for love demands that we leave something behind. However, surely loving should never be synonymous with loss, but with gain. We take a closer look here.
Is It Worth Sacrificing Yourself For Others?
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by the psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 02 December, 2021

We tend to hold in high esteem those who are capable of giving up what’s important to them for something that, at a certain moment, has greater value for them. Giving up work to bring up their children, leaving their country and family for a new partner, abandoning their comfortable lifestyle to carry out humanitarian work… There are multiple examples.

These situations all have one thing in common: loss. Above all, it involves making a choice between two courses of action. The one that’s ultimately chosen is selected because it appears to be more relevant, important, or even satisfying at the time.

From a psychological point of view, we know that self-sacrifice is something that’s always been a part of being human. However, it doesn’t always result in feelings of well-being or satisfaction. In fact, while it’s quite possible that at a given moment you might see meaning and a purpose in your actions, there’ll always come a time when you experience a certain sense of loss, lack, and even regret.

Let’s take a closer look. 

Girl with head down wondering if it is worth sacrificing for others

Sacrificing yourself for others: is it always justified?

When you hear of people sacrificing themselves for others it tends to attract your attention. That’s because, generally, as a human being, you have a somewhat pessimistic view of other humans. In fact, you tend to conceive of them as more prone to selfishness than altruism, more inclined to personal interest than compassion. However, the reality is different. As a matter of fact, the reason that we’ve survived as a species is thanks to our sense of being a group and the associated feelings of cooperation.

Dr. Mary McGrath of Yale University conducted a  study that indicated that this kind of collaboration experienced in our evolutionary past means that, in a certain way, we continue to feel that giving something up for someone makes sense and is useful. In fact, sacrificing ourselves for others is something we’ve actually always done.

Parents do it for their children. We sacrifice ourselves for our work and also for the people we love. There are even some who exhibit martyr complexes and spend most of their lives sacrificing themselves. On the other hand, others won’t even take the first step towards these kinds of acts of assistance and even submission.

The field of psychology has been studying self-sacrifice for decades. It’s interested in learning for what dimensions, circumstances, and people we, as humans, tend to make sacrifices. Because not all situations are conducive to taking this step. Consequently, not everyone who’s part of your life deserves that you make sacrifices for them. Let’s find out more.

Only make a sacrifice for something that’s meaningful

A sacrifice mustn’t ever make you a victim or leave you suspended in mid-air. For example, you don’t have to sacrifice your life for someone but you might give up something specific to gain something bigger that’s meaningful to you. For instance, you might leave your city and even your country for someone you love because you envisage the arrival of happier times by doing so.

Sacrificing yourself for others makes sense if it means your reality improves or you find greater meaning in your existence. The latter is relevant because it can often happen that this sacrifice is imposed and not chosen.

The University of Ontario (Canada) conducted an interesting study. It states that, culturally and socially, in the field of affective relationships, it’s the woman who’s always been forced to make the greatest sacrifices. This is usually by way of taking care of children, the elderly, and other dependents. Somehow, the weight of gender roles has been affected by this reality.

It’s not just about you, it’s also about me

Sacrificing oneself for others is sometimes a necessity. This is especially the case in the white knight syndrome. These are men and women who feel the need to save other people and make big sacrifices for the good of others. The Cambridge Institute of Brain and Cognition Sciences conducted a study in which they proposed an interesting theory.

The study claims that figures who need to overturn and sacrifice for others are driven by almost painful and even selfish altruism. In fact, they’re aspiring to reduce their own anguish with their actions. For instance, if they feel dissatisfied or bad about themselves for something specific, they choose to give up everything. This is actually a cathartic exercise for them.

As you can see, there are different types of self-sacrifice. However, the extremes would be those imposed by society and those imposed by oneself as a penance.

couple holding hands via train thinking of sacrificing for others

Sacrificing yourself for others: a journey of mistakes and successes

In the journey of life, you have to gamble and sometimes even take great leaps of faith without knowing what’s going to happen. Indeed, everyone’s sacrificed themselves for something or someone at some time or other. Sometimes, it goes wrong. For example, perhaps you jumped without a parachute and that risky decision you took went wrong. However, it was what you believed at the time, you were convinced of it, and you lacked the experience that you have now.

Therefore it wasn’t actually a mistake, it was just one more stage of life from which you learned. Making sacrifices is something that’s completely usual in your daily routine. In fact, you carry them out most for those you love. You give up things for your partner, children, family, and others who are important to you. Furthermore, sometimes, you’re rewarded for your acts

Finally, try and reflect and achieve a little more balance in your life concerning who and for what you carry out these small or large acts of sacrifice. Remember that people are guided more by altruism than selfishness. This is a dimension that’ll always concern you and that you’ll always have to face.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • FeldmanHall, O., Dalgleish, T., Evans, D., & Mobbs, D. (2015). Empathic concern drives costly altruism. NeuroImage105, 347–356.
  • Mary C. McGrath, Alan S. Gerber. Evidencia experimental de un efecto de colaboración. Nature Human Behavior , 2019; DOI: 10.1038 / s41562-019-0530-9
  • Impett, E. A., & Gordon, A. M. (2008). For the good of others: Toward a positive psychology of sacrifice. In S. J. Lopez (Ed.), Praeger perspectives. Positive psychology: Exploring the best in people, Vol. 2. Capitalizing on emotional experiences (p. 79–100). Praeger Publishers/Greenwood Publishing Group.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.