The Victims of Martyrs

Ever have a martyr insistently try to be a martyr for you even though you insist that they not be? You repeatedly go to do something and find that they did it for you without consulting you and they want praise for it? You keep finding that you are deadended in your goals because they head you off to “make it easier”. After time, however, the martyrs eventually become beligerent because you don’t really understand how much they have done and have been doing for you.

I have been ruminating lately on the subject of martyrs, what it really means in various arenas, including psychology. I have come to the conclusion for myself that these types of martyrs use it for control. The martyr psychology is similar to the victim psychology except that in the martyr psychology, the person’s victim identity is self-imposed and can be used as a tool to control others while being “out of control” of oneself. I wonder if they realize that they are making others their victims by imposing their martyr psychology on those who never asked or wanted it?

At one time or another we have all been on the giving and the receiving end of the martyr psychology. Martyr actually comes from a Greek root word that means “to witness”. In later terms, it became associated with “to suffer for a cause.” So which definition do we choose to have in our lives?

For the first, do we witness and move on? How long do we witness?

If we have chosen the second, then why do we feel the suffering necessary? And the biggest question of all, what is the cause? Is it a firm conviction or a compulsion?

mar•tyr (märtr)


1. One who chooses to suffer death rather than renounce religious principles.
2. One who makes great sacrifices or suffers much in order to further a belief, cause, or principle.
3. One who endures great suffering: a martyr to arthritis.
4. One who makes a great show of suffering in order to arouse sympathy.

Middle English, from Old English, from Late Latin, from Late Greek martur, from Greek martus, martur-, witness

In its original meaning, the word martyr, meaning witness, was used in the secular sphere as well as in both the Old Testament and the New Testament of the Bible.[1] The process of bearing witness was not intended to lead to the death of the witness, although it is known from ancient writers (e.g. Josephus) that witnesses, especially of the lower classes, were tortured routinely before being interrogated as a means of forcing them to disclose the truth.

During the early Christian centuries, the term acquired the extended meaning of a believer who is called to witness for their religious belief, and on account of this witness, endures suffering and/or death. The term, in this later sense, entered the English language as a loanword. The death of a martyr or the value attributed to it is called martyrdom.

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 feeds a psychological need.

Published in: on November 24, 2009 at 1:21 pm  Leave a Comment  
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