The Martyr Complex

The last time we talked, the topic was The Know it All. During this series, I want to discuss issues we all deal with due to places of the heart that are not whole, low self-worth, and defensiveness. All of us have issues. When reading this series, you might think of someone in your life who has one of the issues written about, but the main reason for writing about this is so we all can do a heart check. So we can Meditate and ponder whether we may have some of these issues growing in our own hearts. I must warn you from my own experience, this is HARD WORK.

Many times, we need to become more aware of what type of mold, slush, and bacteria are growing inside our hearts. Today we will look at The Martyr and continue this healing journey with other topics such as passive aggression, codependency, triangulation, and the victim mentality. Also, the love me, love me, say that you love me syndrome—the people pleaser.

The martyr syndrome is complex and involves a scalpel to cut away the flesh but also many anointed medicines and strong astringents to get deep into the pours and cleanse away the bloody mess. What is a martyr complex? Medical MD describes it as:

A martyr complex is a recognized psychological pattern. It’s marked by self-sacrifice and service to others at your own expense. Identifying martyr traits and tendencies can prevent burnout and stress on your relationships.[1]

Perpetual Martyr Syndrome is a common and chronic syndrome that causes prideful overworking, reflexive negativity and competitive suffering.” (Uncomplication website)

Psychology today has one of the best descriptions for a martyr that I have ever read:

Somewhere in your life, there’s probably a martyr martyring herself right now. She’s that friend, parent, spouse, co-worker, roommate, etc., who makes sure you know she’s sacrificing—for you and for the good of everyone but her. Those with martyr syndrome suffer out loud, in full display. The martyr is committed to being the one who doesn’t get to be happy, who doesn’t get what everyone else gets. The martyr always has a reason why he can’t let you help him… you’ll do it wrong, and then he’ll have to redo it; it’s just easier if he does it; he’s already started; he doesn’t really mind, blah blah blah. But the point is, it’s not possible, now or really ever, to let you take the burden off of him.[2]


Have you ever experienced a person in your life who was always doing good deeds, giving gifts, or trying to help you, but instead of it feeling good, it felt yucky? This is a sure sign.

Have you ever done a good deed but had to express how horrible it was? We made sure everyone knew the sacrifices we made, the money spent, the hours, and how we did it for them? We are on the right track now to uncovering another layer of why we do and say the things we do, and how to heal from Martyr syndrome.

As martyrs, we often sacrifice our own needs to please others and then feel angry. The more we sacrifice our own needs, the more unloved, unappreciated, and unheard we feel. But martyrs seek suffering. They look for it. No one has ever suffered as much as the martyr. No one has ever sacrificed as much. When we act like the martyr and think like one, we usually sound like this. “I have practically died for my children. I had to work two jobs and overtime to pay for braces and math tutors. I carted them here and there. I enrolled them into dance class and went to every football game. We bought them their first car, redecorated their room, threw the birthday party they wanted, and the list goes on. And the martyr will make sure everyone including their seed knows this and the price they paid.

No one has ever been as sick as the martyr. No one has ever been more betrayed, disrespected, or treated like an outcast, and on it goes. When we play the martyr, we win the trophy. Sadly, what it costs us is our lives and often our relationships.


Most of the time, this syndrome has deep roots in childhood. Were you placed in an adult role as a child? Did you feel fear growing up? Did you assume a role as caregiver? Maybe you had to care for your dying father, sick mother, disabled little brother, or younger siblings? Was your mom or dad a workaholic, an alcoholic or drug addict that placed you in charge while they checked out? This is a sure sign that you might be dealing with a martyr complex.

One critical issue with this particular condition is martyrs need scapegoats. They continue to lie to themselves and tell themselves that they are a good person. A kind person. Nothing would get done without them. They have to carry a considerable burden and do everything, and why? Well, it’s because so and so (scapegoat) did not do it right, was irresponsible, unorganized, not on time, too ignorant, or stupid to figure it out. Etc. The martyr never causes their own destruction in their eyes. It’s always someone else’s fault, and if you try to help a martyr, they won’t let you. Offer advice. They will not ask for advice, nor will they receive it. Helping to remove the load would take away from the prize.

Photo by Ray Aucott on Unsplash

In families, there are birth order effects

, another topic I will try to cover, and even if you are an only child, there are still dynamics to look at. My point is, Martyrs need scapegoats. In most families, there are a few unhealthy things going on that often get passed down to our children if we do not heal from them.

Narcissism is a word that has become very popular, but the truth is, you would have to have some of these traits if you were going to run for office, open a law firm, go to the moon, etc. The problem with all our qualities is we need to be balanced. When a martyr has narcissistic tendencies, they feel superior to others due to all the things they accomplish or the good deeds they do. A martyr is a person that must suffer greater than you. If you get in a car wreck and hurt your neck, the following week, their neck will be worse—so bad indeed, the chiropractor insists they will need a year of adjustments from the trauma. If your spouse is abusive, theirs is worse. Now, at times this is just life and may be accurate, but with the martyr, it is taken to a level that cannot be described.  If you try to correct someone with this type of issue, usually it does not go well. A scoffer (mocker) never wants correction.

A scoffer does not love one who reproves him, He will not go to the wise. (Proverbs 15:12).

A martyr does not want to accept your advice or your help because that would mean, they could not experience the death or explain the bloody experience. The Martyr must be right in their own eyes. When we act this way, we also have trust issues and think we are the only ones who can do the job right or take care of the business. “If I don’t show up the whole project will collapse.” We are the only ones trustworthy and intelligent enough. We have more knowledge in that area. “If someone else teaches the class, they will not be able to teach it as well as me. If it’s going to get done and get done right, we have to do it.” Blah, blah, blah.

Another point to ponder is Martyrs believe people can read their minds. How many of us are guilty of this? If you don’t want to eat at such and such restaurant, say so instead of complaining about it to all your friends. But remember, there is also balance. If it’s a group of friends, we can let them pick their favorite restaurant even if it isn’t ours, and we can be silent about how much we dislike it or how we only came here because Doris picked it. Martyrs love to suffer out loud. It sounds like this: “Linda had to pick the Fish Market to eat. I hate that place. I got sick last time I went there, so I only ordered a small salad. Linda asked what I was going to eat for dinner, and I told her just this salad, I dont like their food and got food poisoning here last time. I was hoping we could go to ___. She said, “Oh, you must try their grilled salmon, here try a bite and she held it out to me but I told her no.” And the martyr suffers.  Yes, and they want everyone to know the cost they had to pay because the person decided to have the party at such and such place in the heat of the day on the night they had plans or how they babysat until midnight and little johnny threw up on their favorite top and how the parents were supposed to pick him up at 11:30 but were out past midnight.  Blah, blah, blah.

Confront a martyr about what they did to you, how they hurt you, or what their children did, and you will get a blasted ear full. “Not my son! Not my daughter! Not me!” If the narcissistic Martyr would ever slow down long enough, meditate, pray about the situation, and weigh their words and actions or the actions of their children, they would possibly see how broken and in need of healing they genuinely are.

At the end of the day, being a martyr is a death sentence.

The sufferer will fight to be noticed, loved, admired, respected, but they end up driving everyone in their life away until no one wants to be around them except those who are just like them—birds of a feather.

Let’s look at some tell-tell signs of what martyr syndrome looks like and see if we have any of those traits in us and also how to get freedom from such a burden and unsatisfying walk. We need a mirror and the mind of Yeshua. He came forth from the grave and brought resurrection glory. He did not stay on the cross, and even while he suffered, he was like a sheep led to the slaughter who did not open his mouth.

A website called “educate, inspire, change” has a wonderful article that lists ten signs or characteristics of a martyr that I feel are spot on:



  1. They show signs of very low self-esteem or cannot accept or receive real, unconditional love. They may be prone to extreme moodiness, be extremely judgmental or have a really negative self-image.
  2. They grew up in an abusive home. Either mentally, physically, or emotionally. Possibly by a parent, sibling, or teacher.
  3. They may often complain that their acts of kindness go unnoticed. Or they don’t receive the acknowledgment they are looking for, so they start to go even more out of their way to get the validation they need.
  4. It is common for someone with martyr syndrome to always give for the purpose of receiving, but strangely enough, never ever believe that they are taking. They feel as though if they have done something for you, ‘the least you could do is involve them in your life.’
  5. Keep an eye out for the constant need to be showered with sympathy. If they are called out on their incessant need to be recognized as noble and selfless, especially if someone attempts to say that their intentions are not honest, then they become very angry or upset. Even to the point where they resort to underhanded tactics such as ‘you don’t know how hard my life has been’ as a way of coping mechanism.
  6. They struggle with personal or social boundaries, and they cannot say NO.
  7. Once their problems are all solved, they seek out new problems to continue the never-ending cycle of martyrdom.
  8. If they are actively helping someone out or in the process of ‘fixing’ someone else, they will deny all help offered to them. They do this as they believe, on some level, if they accept help, they will not receive full gratification for this.
  9. They may refuse to accept responsibility for the pain or suffering that they have endured in their life. It would never be their fault, nor would they have contributed or played any part in whatever has happened to them.
  10. They have an overly obsessed need to always be right![3]

How many of us can clearly see that we have been a martyr at one point in our lives? If you answered no, that’s not me; then I would suggest researching this further.

Each topic of introspection is one that we all can gain from. Why? Because even if you no longer play the role of a martyr or do not believe this is something you need medicine for, we all need tools on how to handle the martyrs in our lives, and it has been my experience that when I am practicing Mussar, I am more aware of how I react to people. Exercise for the soul. What is Mussar? Click the link below to learn more.

(139) Alan Morinis, Dean of the Mussar Institute, on What is Mussar – YouTube

Now that we have a clearer understanding of the Martyr, how do we deal with those in our lives who suffer from this issue?

I have jotted down a few thoughts below:

  1. Notice the people who make you feel guilty or ashamed because of what all they think they have done for you and take a step back. Make a list of when and why you suddenly feel confused, shameful, or guilty after talking with the person.
  2. Notice those who try and hold control and power over you. The people who tell you what to do and how to do it and you better because they did x, y, z. Now you owe them something. Learn to say no. Put up healthy boundaries.
  3. Do not give in when dealing with a martyr seeking accolades and sympathy. Stop feeding the bear.
  4. If a martyr calls and you say, “How are you?” And they proceed with, “I just got out of the shower. I haven’t had time to shower all day because I had to go to the pharmacy, clean the bathroom, and mail 50 packages today for the business, and I still need to buy groceries. My back is killing me. Meanwhile, Bobby was busy reading. I am over it. Then he/she had the audacity to ask me if I wanted to watch a movie”

Do not answer with, “You poor thing—why didn’t Bobby help you. Or my day has been just as busy, and I haven’t bathed in 3 days. Let me “one up you.” No. You want to say something like. “Sounds busy there. You’ve gotten much accomplished. I was at the grocery earlier, and I found this amazing recipe I want to try for a crockpot chicken and dumplings. So easy just dump blah, blah, and blah. I have been using my crockpot more, and it’s helping me have less mess and more time. Do you ever cook in one?”

  1. The Martyr needs to unclench their fist, but holding on to what they do and how they do it best is all they know. If you try to load the dishwasher, they will go behind you and redo it. If something needs to be done and done right, they must do it. Everyone else is incompetent in completing it, uneducated, an idiot, or worse, lazy. Since this is the case, what usually happens is the person dealing with a Martyr gives up and lets them continue. Still, to get a break from the Martyr in your life, one must stop accepting gifts, favors, and all the extras they love to do for you and later hold over your head. A gift for your birthday is fine, but the excess is not needed.
  2. Make sure you are mentally prepared for calls or visits. You don’t have to be available even if the person just bought you a new toaster oven.
  3. Suggest that they pamper themselves, slow down, and stop being busy all the time. When they say, “Oh, I don’t mind,” remind them that they often express how tired or unappreciated they feel afterward.
  4. When they are ranting, listen, but don’t give them pity or accolades. Listen.
  5. Help them work on their self-esteem. Encourage them. Showcase their good points.
  6. Have compassion and empathy, but boundaries. The Martyr wants your devotion and obedience to do what they want. Their egos are fragile and they can shatter at any given moment, but that does not mean you have to give them pity or praise.
  7. Ask questions that cause them to think about why they say and do the things they do.

I hope this has been helpful and that all of the inner work we do becomes healing for the soul. We need the mind of Messiah. We need to know what we do. Yeshua said, “Forgive them for they know not what they do.” This rings true for us when we skip looking inward and stop asking, “Father search me. See what You can find in me and help me remove it.”

It can be hard work, but it usually brings much safety, healing, boundaries, and time management. When we are healthy inside, we have more joy. Take a deep breath. Let it out slowly. Change takes time.

Part I, The Know it All can be found HERE. 

[1] Martyr Complex: Causes, Signs, and More (

[2] When You’re in a Relationship With a Martyr | Psychology Today

[3] 10 Signs On How To Recognise Someone With Martyr Syndrome (

Unsplash– Photo by Ezequiel Garrido on Unsplash

Photo by Dev Asangbam on Unsplash

2 thoughts on “The Martyr Complex

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  1. Another good one sister. Father has me hovering over similar issues regarding my mind, lips, heart and hands….in dealing with myself first then those around me. I pray every day that the Father – “would create in me a clean mind, pure lips, clean heart and clean hands.” Just like King David repented and prayed for often. Doing so brings comfort to my prayers that proceed after, knowing that HE is working on me to come before him with no other matters that would interfere with our conversation from there forward. We have often been guided with the expression, “J.O.Y.” (Jesus, Others, then You), but I have learned the hard way that there is no serving others when you haven’t taken the time to “serve/repent/repair” yourself. Being the first born, from a home where there was much turmoil created a monster in me, a monster that had to have control. (I can’t wait to read your post on birth order issues of which I have done a lot of research and reading about myself to help me realize why I had been who I was most of my life.) Praise YHWH he has and is still doing a great work in me. A work that I hope will lead me to HIS purposed will for my life – an obedient, faithful daughter that can come before HIM – “pure in mind, lips, heart and hands,” -ready to be a true ambassador of HIS kingdom and a light to all those around me. Many blessings to you and all who read this article. I so long for our time together in the Kingdom, may it come to past soon!!!!

    1. Heather you are such a lovely breath of fresh air. Your comment should be a blog all on its own. Thank you for your wisdom and insight into this topic and your vulnerability to share. It’s hard work and I am trying daily to do just what you said because we need to repent, look inside, serve and fill up our cup or we will have no oil to pour out and no light to shine.

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