I lost my dad 26 years ago. But I have never forgotten his generosity towards everyone. I remember as a child we always had distant relatives or random people just coming to pick up food, clothes that we had outgrown, and sometimes we would drop school items to orphans who my dad had come across. Our house was always full of people who needed help. He was popular for his generosity. I wouldn’t say we were wealthy, but we were comfortable.
My mum is still alive. And she is a giver as well — sometimes to her own detriment. It is not always easy to help people who have come from difficult backgrounds. Sometimes what they need is much more than the human basic needs — food, clothing and shelter. Especially if they are recovering from some sort of emotional trauma, which in my opinion, only a professional can help. This has led to a few occasions where my mum has ended up suffering in the hands of the people she is trying to “save”.
When my mum shares her frustrations with me, I would be quick to tell her — mum you’ve tried enough, just let them go, you can’t fix everything and everyone.
The only problem is this, it took me a while to realize that I was actually living the same way my parents had been living. An apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.
A few months ago, I was going through a stressful period. I met up with a friend to share my problems. When I finished venting to her, she was like… wait a minute, all the problems you have just listed… none of them is actually yours… why don’t you drop them for a while?
My problem was that I didn’t know where/how to draw the line without disappointing a few people. And to be honest, deep down I felt I would rather disappoint myself than others.
This is a problem. We are not supposed to do this to ourselves.
When we reach a point where we are sacrificing our physical or mental health, our self-respect, or our financial well-being, it becomes self-harm. Psychologists refer to this as the Savior complex:
“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.”
We need to save ourselves first. We cannot save others hoping that someone else will save us.
And here is something I have learnt; once people know you as the “strong one”, the “fixer”, or the “generous one”, it makes it difficult for you to see yourself in a different light.
As a result, asking for help becomes difficult for you. You won’t even see it as an option. In your mind, you have convinced yourself for so long that other people cannot solve their own problems without you.
Sarah Benton, a psychologist says that people who suffer from this complex are usually drawn to those who need “saving”. And it is usually difficult for them to define their boundaries. As a result, they end up being resentful or enabling the person receiving help.
Some behaviors portrayed by people with the “Savior Complex” include:
- Believing that people are incapable of taking care of themselves.
- Attempting to convince others what to think, do, or feel.
- Freely offering advice and direction without being asked.
- Strong desire to feel needed in order to have a relationship with others.
We all want to be good citizens. We all want to help. And certainly, generosity and selflessness are qualities that many of us continue to preach to our young ones to emulate, but we should not forget to teach them how to define their boundaries and self-care.
This has been my problem both in my professional and personal life.
My friend helped me realize that most of my worries and problems were actually caused by my need to “save” people. People who were actually capable enough to save themselves. People who did not ask for my help, but out of habit I went digging for these problems and took it upon myself to fix those problems.
Helping sometimes just requires us to let people figure out their own problems. We cannot save everyone from themselves.
I prided myself in being known as the fixer. At work and at home. Until burnout struck.
I had to let go to create room for my wellbeing.
Thank you for reading!
Edith Tollschein, 2019