Here’s a fairytale gone badly, as it sometimes happens in real life: There was once a little girl who believed that all good things will come to her if she is really nice and always helps other people.
She was always there for her aging parents; she even refused a dream job because it was in another town and she didn’t want to move too far from her parents. She would always help her friends, lend them money, give them advice and get them out of trouble.
Her colleagues at work could always rely on her and she would often get behind on her projects to give them a hand with theirs. She also had this affinity towards guys with serious problems (jobless, alcohol abusing, emotionally imbalanced), the kind of guys that desperately needed help.
After about ten years of doing this, she felt miserably. She wasn’t getting the love, appreciation and recognition she wanted, most people had started taking all her help for granted, her life did not look the way she’d hoped it would.
When I discussed with her in our first communication coaching session, focused on identifying the key social skills to improve, after about 15 minutes of conversation, bells started ringing in my head going: “Savior complex full throttle!”
What Is The Savior Complex?
The savior complex is a psychological construct which makes a person feel the need to save other people. This person has a strong tendency to seek people who desperately need help and to assist them, often sacrificing their own needs for these people.
There are many sides to a savior complex and it has many roots. One of its fundamental roots, in my experience, consists in a limiting belief the savior person has that goes something like this:
“If I always help people in need, I will get their love and approval, and have a happy life.”
This is of course, a nice sounding fairytale.
Houston We Have a Problem
Often, in real life, a savior will have such an unassertive way of helping others that instead of becoming grateful, they get used to it and they expect it. They feel entitled to receive help from this person, simply because they need it and they’ve always got it.
On top of this, always putting other people’s needs first makes a savior not take care of their own needs. So while they may feel happy because they are helping others, at some level, they feel bitter and frustrated at the same time.
Here’s where things get worse: many people with a savior complex I’ve met, although they realize at some point that they have a savior complex and it is not worth it for them, they will not try to combat it.
They’re not masochistic; they have another belief that even if being a savior will not get them the recognition they want and will not make them happy, it is the noble thing to do. They believe they are somehow better then others because they help people all the time without getting anything back.
Do you have any idea how dim-witted this is? There is nothing noble in sacrificing yourself for others while you are starving at a psychological level. If our ancestors would have willingly done so 50.000 years ago, our species would be extinct.
If you think you have a savior complex or at least something close to it, I believe the best thing you can do is to face up to the practical consequences in has in your life. Being a savior is neither noble nor practical.
Learn to give and to ask for what you want, to help and to be helped. This is the healthy way to use your people skills and to interact with others.
Image courtesy of Eneas