I’ve always been a fan of the self-sacrificing trope throughout fictional media, especially when it comes to anime and manga. My favorite example of this is Escanor from the popular series “Seven deadly sins” who (spoilers) is known as one of if not the most powerful being in the series and yet his best feat in the entire series for me is when he loses his powers and becomes helpless, he still decides to do the right thing:
Known as the lion’s sin of pride, Escanor was literally the embodiment of pride in the series, he saw and had no equals. Even though he was known most for his pride and ego it’s remarkable how what made him so amazing was the addition of the exact opposite.
From his multiple moments of self-sacrifice where he cast aside his pride for those he loved, even when he was at his weakest he always did the right thing.
Even other moments of “weakness” like when he confesses his unrequited love before his death and yet has no regrets for any of his actions and feelings, in fact, he is happy to have experienced it makes me understand why I love him as a character so much.
Even now I feel my body starting to chill as soon as I think about those moments. If there is a character with a moment such as this, I am instantly drawn to them. So much so that I’ve started to notice a theme that many of the characters I start to resonate with characters who end up dying at some point in the series.
This has led me down a rabbit hole that I have decided to talk about today.
While self-sacrifice in media is often associated with traditional masculinity and heroism, the trope can also be problematic as it may promote the idea that people must prove their worth by sacrificing themselves for others.
In fictional media, self-sacrificing heroes are often portrayed as strong, brave, and willing to put themselves in harm’s way for the greater good by doing something that the regular person can not, thus proving themselves worthy both in their eyes and in the eyes of those around them.
But even in real life, we can see that this is being taken to an extreme extent:
Because obviously, nothing says “masculinity” quite like the glorification of dangerous and unregulated manual labor jobs from the past (sadly present times in my country too) that ignores the systemic issues that continue to plague many industries today.
The race to the bottom for wages and benefits, often driven by a desire for increased profits, can leave workers vulnerable to exploitation and abuse. (the best part is these types of posts are being shared by people whose only job is to post on twitter)
This type of heroism is often associated with traditional notions of masculinity, including traits such as courage, strength, and self-sacrifice. So, logically, it can be seen as a self-reflection of societal expectations and ideals surrounding the traditional view of masculinity, something for which one can easily make a case that it is harmful in itself.
In our society, traditional masculinity is often equated with traits like strength, dominance, and emotional neglect. And of course, most of these traits by themselves are not bad, I myself chase strength on a daily in the gym, but a combination of them, and a misinterpretation of what true strength is, leads to a deadly combination.
Men are expected to be tough, unemotional, and willing to put their own needs aside for the greater good. This pressure to conform to these expectations can be incredibly damaging for men, leading to a sense of alienation, depression, and even suicide.
Men who don’t conform to traditional masculine norms are often shamed and ridiculed, which can lead to feelings of worthlessness and isolation. It’s time for us to recognize that there is no one way to be a man and that men should be allowed to express their emotions, ask for help when they need it, and prioritize their own well-being without fear of judgment.
The idea that men should be putting themselves in danger for the sake of others and going out in a blaze of glory is nothing new and we see it everywhere. And as I’ve said before, I do enjoy seeing it throughout fiction. But…there seems to be an underlying issue with this trope.
Of course, the obvious one is that this portrayal of heroism as an exclusively masculine trait also minimizes the contributions of women and non-binary individuals who have exhibited heroic traits throughout history. By limiting heroism to a specific gender, we ignore the bravery and courage demonstrated by people of all genders in various contexts, from frontline healthcare workers to social justice activists and both in fiction and in real life.
Still…I wanted to know why exactly it drew me and many others in so much and if there was something that can be learned from it. Maybe I saw it as an easy way to get to the step in my self-improvement journey that would have taken me much longer to reach.
The belief in self-sacrifice can have implications for masculinity, as it may suggest that a man’s value is measured solely by his ability to provide for others, rather than his inherent worth as a person.
Furthermore, this mindset can place unrealistic expectations on men, who may feel compelled to always prioritize the needs of others over their own, potentially neglecting their own well-being in the process.
This paints an (albeit vague) picture that you need to prove yourself by putting your own needs aside for the sake of others. Many people find themselves feeling as if their needs and wants as well as themselves are not worthy of attention and affection so they want to prove themselves in a different way in order to be worthy.
The belief that individuals need to prove their worth by sacrificing their own needs for others can create an unhealthy dynamic where a person’s self-worth is tied to their ability to sacrifice for others.
This can lead to neglecting one’s own needs and desires, leading to feelings of resentment and burnout. The pressure to constantly put others first can be especially damaging for individuals who are already marginalized or oppressed, as it can reinforce the idea that their needs and desires are unimportant or secondary to those of the dominant group.
As we delve deeper into the belief in self-sacrifice and its impact on masculinity, it is crucial to examine the motivations behind such behavior. Was it all due to societal pressure and expectation or was there more than meets the eye?
Are men willingly subscribing to this belief or is it societal pressure that compels them to do so? Moreover, we must also explore the possibility of personal benefits for men who prioritize the needs of others over their own.
Could it be that they derive some sense of satisfaction or fulfillment from their actions? Or are they completely disregarding their own goals and ideals? Questions like these can allow us to gain a more comprehensive understanding of the implications of the concept of self-sacrifice.
The altruism center of the brain is considered a “deep brain structure,” part of the primitive brain. We know when we see a child in trouble, our instincts kick in and we spring into action before we can even think.
As this article from Psychology Today states, there is a connection between altruism and the release of the Happiness Trifecta, which includes dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin. It literally stimulates dopamine. And studies such as the one I will link below show that genetics may influence people’s behavior when it comes to being kind to others.
Findings from twin studies yield heritability estimates of 0.50 for prosocial behaviours like empathy, cooperativeness…academic.oup.com
But, herein lies the dilemma. Is that by itself a reason to call it a selfish thing? Because it puts us in a rough place where we have to argue that there truly is no such thing as a selfless act. We can easily make a case for either side which makes it a never-ending debate that boils down to personal perspective.
I would rather focus on things that are far more easily proven to be selfish and showcase the negative aspect of self-sacrifice and selflessness.
A very comical yet valid interpretation is a video I recently watched about the “annoying sidekick” reminded me of this very thing:
The video also touches upon one dangerous byproduct of putting such a trope on a pedestal which is the fact that as with everything, even self-sacrifice can be used as a tool in order to get what you want. After all, how likely is someone to deny you what you sought after taking a bullet for them?
Although childish, this gives us a glimpse into what the negatives of the self-sacrificial trope can be. Where we see that there is no better choice for us to make and it is the choice that gives us the best result. The act in itself is selfless but the reasons for doing so may not be. We sacrifice because we feel that the alternative is not one that we would want to be in, or because we think that the potential pros outweigh the cons.
On top of that, self-sacrifice gives us the perfect excuse for any negative side of ours that we have. There is no need for improvement or self-reflection when you have convinced yourself that your one-time self-sacrificing event was the thing that showed you and everyone that you are in fact a good person.
It also represents a form of emotional manipulation. Once you have shown that you have sacrificed for someone or some cause then you can easily hold that over their head in order to get what you want, taking away from the authenticity of the act itself.
Overall, self-sacrifice can have its downsides, but that doesn’t mean we should stop trying to be good people. It is important to recognize that even actions that appear selfless on the surface may be motivated by less virtuous intentions. Therefore, it is crucial to be mindful of the potential negative consequences of our actions. By doing so, we can make sure that our behavior is genuinely altruistic, and not inadvertently causing harm.
Furthermore, while the belief in self-sacrifice may have negative implications for masculinity, it is important to acknowledge that this mindset is not exclusive to men.
Women and individuals of all genders may also feel pressure to prioritize the needs of others over their own well-being. So…it is crucial that we approach the issue of self-sacrifice from an intersectional perspective that considers how different identities intersect with societal expectations.
Striving to be kind and helpful is a noble pursuit, but it is essential to do so in a way that is authentic and mindful of potential negative consequences. It is not about abandoning self-sacrifice altogether, but rather approaching it with intention, compassion, and a deep understanding of its potential impact on ourselves and others.
At the end of the day, I am just playing devil’s advocate for something that overall is a good thing, but it is essential to look deep into things like these and dissect them from an unbiased perspective in order to be able to self reflect and dissect our psyche better in order to be a better overall person and make the world a better place.
Previously Published on Medium
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