One trend I have been noticing lately is the Victim/Martyr Complex. I had known of each of these separately but was surprised to see that folks can have both. Many years ago, I had a session with a mom of a 5 year old boy with autism. I had not been trained in this realm and knew nothing of it. When he broke out in a rage, the mother began to fluctuate between wanting me to feel sorry for her and being indignant at the fact that I didn’t know what to do. “See?” She asked. “See what I have to deal with? No one seems to want to help me or know how.”
When someone suffers from a Victim Complex, it’s all about shifting the blame. They feel as though they are never in control and the world happens TO them. If this person is late to work, it’s because of traffic. If s/he gets into arguments frequently, it’s because the other people in her/his life are mean and unmanageable. Nothing is ever the victim’s fault and the world tends to mercilessly beat them up.
A Martyr is someone who chooses to be in situations of extreme suffering and/or persecution. S/he tends to take on these situations and then want attention, acknowledgement, and sympathy from others for doing so. Having this type of recognition provides feelings of worth and meaning.
How do you know if you are dealing with someone with a Victim/Martyr mentality? Ask yourself the following questions: Is the suffering something that could be avoided? Is the person in an abusive relationship (or several abusive relationships)? Does the person typically complain about others not noticing or appreciating the sacrifices he/she makes? Do they have an exaggerated idea of their importance and how nothing and no one can function without them? Is their goal co-dependency?
If you are dealing with someone who suffers from this (a mother-in-law, a boss, a partner, etc…), what do you do? Manage expectations, don’t take it personally, and understand that the person most likely does not see what’s going on and, therefore, doesn’t want “help”. Depending on how well you know the person, you might gently suggest therapy. If you do not know her/him well, you will want to disengage helps in potential arguments and manage your feelings and thoughts about the situation.
Hope this helps!