What Is a Martyr Complex?

A martyr complex is a term used to describe individuals who often play the victim and blame others for their life's misfortunes. Individuals with a martyr complex tend to deny their own needs to please everyone else. Martyrs are extremely vocal regarding their sacrifices in life and often set themselves up for victimization.

According to Pamela D. Garcy, Ph. D, in an article in Psychology Today, martyrs tend to have a difficult time accepting responsibility for their lives. Martyrs often blame their childhoods for their perceived relationship failures as adults. It is common for a martyr to constantly complain about a negative situation without making any effort to change it for the better. A martyr complex is also referred to as a "victim complex," due to the fact that martyrs often experience a sense of reluctant enjoyment when things go wrong, as this allows them to relish in their victimhood.

Martyrs tend to whine and complain to anyone who will listen, but refuse to listen to helpful advice. For example, if an individual with a martyr complex complains to her friend about her current job situation and her friend suggests she make a change, a typical martyr reaction is to completely reject the idea. Martyrs often give the impression they are completely capable of facing life's challenges on their own, when in reality they are deeply dependent on their friends and partners.