Martyr Complex

Martyr Complex – The Victim Complex

~Manjima N

Kindness is the greatest virtue. We all know that. In the present times, when violence, destruction, dishonesty are ravaging the society and poisoning everyone’s minds, being caring and helpful is always appreciated.

Healing and helping others while hurting yourself can be a noble behaviour, but only sometimes. If this behaviour turns into a regular occurrence, a way of life, not only is this harmful but is also self detrimental.

Martyring your beliefs and happiness to satisfy others, make them feel good does more harm than good to your mental and social health. In psychology, this is termed as the Martyr Complex or the Victim Complex.

What is the Martyr Complex?

The Martyr Complex is a pattern of behaviour that can be identified in a person who has the psychological urge to go out of their way to fulfill the needs of others.

Such people prefer attracting suffering and discomfort onto themselves to gain the approval of others. 

These sacrificial acts are pursued to achieve a certain level of satisfaction about themselves. Eventually, the person nurses a feeling that it is solely their responsibility to render services to other people and make them happy. 

Martyr Complex - The Vicitm Complex

This constant need to volunteer themselves to the need of others might feel like an act of love to others. But is reality, it is done with expectations. When such acts become non-transactional, it takes a toll on the persons’ mental health and they end up feeling underappreciated.

The person disregards his/her own needs and preferences to please other people. A simple example is that one might try to cheer someone else up by belittling themselves, no matter how bad it feels like.

History and Psychology behind the Martyr Complex

Traditionally, a martyr is someone who is willing to relinquish their life or endure pain and suffer for a cause. Martyrdom can be traced back to the era of Catholicism where Romans executed Catholics because of their faith. 

However, in today’s context, ‘martyr’ is associated with something less dramatic and doesn’t necessarily involve death. But it is safe to mention that if the situation worsens it is possible that it could lead to it.

A person with the Martyr Syndrome chooses to suffer than solve a problem. They feel bound to obey the ‘inner voice’, that tells them to put others before themselves, for recognition.

He/she is always found gloomy or depressed because most of the times, their actions are not duly appreciated. Truth be told, such actions are performed not out of kindness or generosity but a mere obligation and the inability to say no to others. 

Causes of the Martyr Complex 

Individuals suffering from the Martyr Complex can be found in families, relationships, at work and in all spheres of life. Their relentless need to belong, to be appreciated, and to seek attention is often the root of the situation. 

So where does this come from?

  • Primarily, self- esteem plays a great role in this. People who develop the martyr complex often have doubts about their worth, making it important for them to have the approval from others.

    Thus, they go lengths, even manipulate, to achieve it. 
  • Victim complex is nearly synonymous to the martyr complex. Martyrs here succumb to the need to be significant to others.

    They play the victim and apportion blame onto others for their miseries and the way their life has turned out.
What is depression, meaning, causes, treatment
  • Upbringing has the most significant impact on our lives. Thus martyr complexes are often developed due to the behavioural pattern the child internalizes unconsciously from their parents.

    The way parents react to certain situations and live their life affects the child even if they don’t want it to. 
  • The society we live in and the culture that we are brought up in says a lot about ourselves. Our perspectives and reactions are very much linked to it.

    Religious values and societal norms that people adhere to also have a hand in the development of such complexes. 
  • Researchers argue how physical and social pain is identical. For someone who has the martyr complex, they would do absolutely anything to attain external validation.

    When they feel alienated or marginalized, they would do anything to restore it. 
  • Lack of purpose also leads to the emergence of the martyr complex. Nevertheless, how generous these actions might be, it is detrimental to self-growth as well as relationships.

Signs You/Someone You Know Has it

There are some noticeable characteristics in a person with the martyr complex. For someone who is disposed to endure a great deal by putting someone else’s needs before them has a very problematic relationship with oneself and others as well.

A martyr perceives themselves to be worthless. It is utterly important for them to suffer or punish themselves for the betterment of others, to feel good about themselves. They do it to receive some kind of affection as well. 

Consequence of the Spotlight Effect

One way or the other the person feels even more down in the dump which is why it is important to address it.

  • They would often complain about the lack of reciprocation they receive despite their kind acts. They would never admit to expecting some level of acknowledgment or reward for their deeds but are confounded when they do not.
  • They are found to have role models who have made a lot of selfless sacrifices.
  • Inability to say NO to others. They can never make themselves say no to other people even if it comes at a great cost. 
  • Never solves a problem but engages in self-deprecation.
  • Tends to manipulate others and exaggerate facts for sympathy.
  • They might have a traumatic past.
  • Never owns up to their mistakes and blame others for it. 

Help the ‘Martyr’ in You and Others

It is important to understand that a person with the martyr complex do not have any wrong intentions behind their actions.

They are behaving the way they do, because of something they have been through, be it lack of confidence or fear of being abandoned.

It is necessary to be tolerant and patient with people possessing the martyr complex even though it can be exhausting.

Most of the time, the person isn’t aware of this behaviour and is alien to the reasons behind their actions. It is crucial not to judge them for it.

It is always advisable to seek help from a therapist. Someone dealing with this complex always struggles to have a healthy relationship with others and most importantly themselves. Therefore, they become mentally fragile.

The constant negligence of one’s own needs is the first thing to deal with. The typical behaviour of the ‘martyr’, i.e. always prioritizing other people first while giving little to no regard to him/herself, is highly detrimental to their mental as well as physical health.

One cannot keep others happy and satisfied by ignoring their own needs and happiness.

Understand that by making another person dependent on you because of your selfless sacrifices will do no good in an extended period. Everyone needs to be self-sufficient.

Self-love and self-care should be the mantra of every individual in life. Take time and create healthy selfishness in life.

Try to establish a strong communication skill where you can easily express your needs and thoughts to the world.

Anupam Kundu
A professional blogger and an IT freak. The atypical combo of a Civil Service aspirant and a Tech enthusiast.