Sometimes associated with the term victim complex, persons diagnosed with a “martyr complex” actually desire the feelings of repeatedly being the victim. They sometimes seek out, even encourage, their own victimization in order to either satisfy a psychological need or as an excuse to avoid personal responsibility. Persons diagnosed with a martyr complex often knowingly place themselves in situations or relationships most likely to result in their suffering.
Outside of the theological context, which holds that martyrs are persecuted as punishment for their refusal to reject a religious doctrine or deity, persons with a martyr complex seek to suffer in the name of love or duty.
The martyr complex is sometimes associated with the personality disorder called “masochism,” regarded as a preference for and the pursuit of suffering.
In this sense, psychologists often observe the martyr complex in persons involved in abusive or codependent relationships.
Fed by their perceived misery, persons with a martyr complex will often reject advice or offers to help them.