The martyr personality may seem similar to the victim personality but they are different. The victim just wants constant attention. The martyr is willing to “take one for the team” whenever things go wrong even if it wasn’t his fault. The martyr is not someone who does this one time. That can be anyone. The martyr is the person who does this almost any chance he can. You may think, wow, that’s a great guy.
The thing is the martyr doesn’t care why a situation went wrong or what to do to fix it. His main concern is the need for high regard. He doesn’t want to be just liked. He wants everyone to pity him or by sympathetic towards him and to think he is wonderful at the same time. He soaks up those emotions the way the victim soaks up pity. He loves when people are saying, “poor Ralph, he took the blame for the team not doing well. He’s such a great guy. He didn’t say a word about John and Sara not doing their fair share”. “He’s such a team player”. “He looks out for everyone”.
In his mind he is the hero and he reaps the benefits of having people’s emotions pouring all over him, pity, sympathy, gratefulness… Those emotions just prove to him what a wonderful person and worker he is. The reality is, he didn’t do anything. He did nothing to prove he’s a great worker. In fact, his actions actually mask the real problem, John and Sara not doing their fair share, a problem that will continue to be an issue for the rest of the team.
Lots of times people miss what the martyr is doing. This person can easily get promoted into a position beyond his capabilities. It’s easy to get caught up in his take one for the team attitude and totally miss that, that is the only thing he had to offer. He didn’t do a good job. He wasn’t the driving force although it can seem like he is because he does step up when something goes wrong. But he’s not the one with the ideas, the know how. He’s not the organizer or the natural leader. His boss will admire that he was honest, that he accepted responsibility. But those things don’t replace ability and one of the main reasons this personality needs to fall back on martyrdom is because he lacks ability.
I aim my posts at regular workers but if there are any bosses reading this I strongly urge you not to promote your martyrs into supervisory positions. Don’t get caught up in how much of a team player they are. Pay close attention to the work they actually do to decide if they should be promoted. The martyr will accept a promotion because in his mind he’s wonderful, a hero, but his lack of ability will be a huge problem for you. And because so many of the regular workers won’t see past his martyrdom, when you finally have to do something about him it will cause resentment among your staff members who haven’t seen through his façade.
Façade – an outward appearance that is maintained to conceal a less pleasant or creditable reality