Are you the caring, responsible one in your relationships? Maybe you’re hoping for a man or woman who is stable, trustworthy, no-drama because so many of your relationships have gone up in flames despite your efforts. Maybe you are tired of being the “grown up” and just want a peaceful, lasting romance.
While you are acting upon your best intentions to help your flawed girlfriend/ boyfriend, you are cultivating a savior complex.
Let’s face it – we all like to feel like heroes in our own lives. Helping others feels good, and makes us feel loved and needed. But the flip side of this in romantic relationships is that this dynamic between two people is toxic. If one is trying to save or rescue the other, rest assured it’s never going to work. Even if the other person WANTS you to rescue her.
This seems counter-intuitive, that someone you love who needs help will actually resent you for helping, but it’s true. Instead of a mutual, loving and equal relationship, you and your partner are in different places, much like a parent-child relationship. And what happens when the parent tries to tell the child what to do, how to behave? The child rebels, even if his rebellion is unhealthy. He is desperate to make his way in the world, to make his own mistakes.
If you have a savior complex, you are creating a parent-child emotional dynamic.
This doesn’t serve any romantic relationship and won’t “fix” your partner.
Let me give you an example. Sarah has been dating John for a year and is in love with him. John loves her too, but acknowledges they are in different places in their lives. Sarah is a rising star at a tech company, working long hours and on track for a promotion. She loves her job, and is incredibly focused and detail-oriented. She knows what she wants, including John.
John hasn’t quite found his passion in life, and floats from job to job never quite staying long enough for a promotion. He’s an extrovert with a lot of friends, and he likes to party. He often stays out late, neglecting to text Sarah or going days without checking in. He loves her, but hates it when she nags him about being more responsible. She’s looking to settle down and have a family, and John is anything but settled.
John loves Sarah and thinks she’s a good influence on him. When they first started dating, he was launching his own business and Sarah had inspired him, but it failed six months later. It drove him to a deep depression, and he hated being jealous of Sarah as her career took off. He wanted to be happy for her, but he couldn’t.
Sarah wanted John to be happy, but no amount of encouragement persuaded him that he was good enough, that he deserved more. She wanted to be treated with more respect in the relationship. They fought all the time, with John feeling more resentful when Sarah offered her unsolicited advice.
As you can see, Sarah became the parent to John’s rebellious child. Unless Sarah is able to let go and let John figure things out for himself, this relationship can’t survive. It is hard to do, because our inclination is to help those we love.
But if you have a savior complex, your biggest hurdle is letting go.
Your relationship might be loving in many ways, but if there is an imbalance – if one of you is trying to help or save or “fix” the other – it won’t work. The savior complex is a dysfunctional behavior, but often one we aren’t willing to admit is unhealthy.
If you find this particular dynamic – savior and victim – to be a pattern in your love life, you’re not alone.
There are many savior/ victim relationships, but in order to create healthier dynamics, we have to create healthier boundaries. Nobody can fix someone else, or improve their self-worth. This has to come from within. No matter how much you love someone, you can’t give them self-esteem, motivation, a sense of well-being. It is up to each of us to cultivate these traits.
Remember: you are NOT responsible for anyone else’s baggage.
If you feel yourself carrying your partner’s burdens, or trying to jump to the rescue, it’s time to pull back. Instead of feeding your savior complex, allow your partner to make his own choices, even if they aren’t good ones.
If you step back, you might find the dynamics of your relationships change. You might feel less of a burden. You might even see the drama and fighting dramatically decrease. Maybe you’ll stay together, and maybe you won’t – but at least the relationship is between two people, on an equal playing field.
Your need to be the hero won’t seem so important when you learn to let go. Your love will feel lighter.