Martyr complex

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In psychology a person who has a martyr complex, sometimes associated with the term victim complex, desires the feeling of being a martyr for his/her own sake, seeking out suffering or persecution because it either feeds a psychological need, or a desire to avoid responsibility.

In some cases, this results from the belief that the martyr has been singled out for persecution because of exceptional ability or integrity.[1] Theologian Paul Johnson considers such beliefs a topic of concern for the mental health of clergy.[2] Other martyr complexes involve willful suffering in the name of love or duty. This has been observed in women, especially in poor families, as well as in codependent or abusive relationships.[3][4]

The desire for martyrdom is sometimes considered a form of masochism.[5] Allan Berger, however, described it as one of several patterns of "pain/suffering seeking behavior", including asceticism and penance.[6]


  1. ^ Davis, Sheldon E. (September 1945). "What Are Modern Martyrs Worth?". Peabody Journal of Education 23 (2): 67–68. doi:10.1080/01619564509535934. 
  2. ^ Johnson, Paul E. (January 1970). "The emotional health of the clergy". Journal of Religion and Health 9 (1): 50–50. doi:10.1007/BF01533165. 
  3. ^ Lewis, Oscar (Oct–December 1949). "Husbands and Wives in a Mexican Village: A Study of Role Conflict". American Anthropologist 51 (4): 602–610. doi:10.1525/aa.1949.51.4.02a00050.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  4. ^ Kutner, Nancy G. (March 1975). "The Poor Vs. the Non-poor: an Ethnic and Metropolitan-Nonmetropolitan Comparison". The Sociological Quarterly 16 (2): 250–263. doi:10.1111/j.1533-8525.1975.tb00943.x. 
  5. ^ Seligman, David B. (May 1970). "Masochism". Australasian Journal of Philosophy 48 (1): 67–75. doi:10.1080/00048407012341471. 
  6. ^ Berger, Allen S. (September 2003). "Choosing to Suffer: Reflections on an Enigma". Journal of Religion and Health 42 (3): 251–255. doi:10.1023/A:1024843702805.