The Savior Complex

savior mentality
I was talking with my friend Brittany recently about the way we spend our time, and one of the things that came up has to do with our involvement in the lives of others. Now, I think we are meant to do life in community, and be connected with a group of like-minded individuals who can be there for us while we also are available for them. Life pretty much sucks when you have to do everything alone, and you have no friends with whom you can share your highs or your lows. However, we started to discuss how many individuals are too involved in the lives of others, and at best it is unproductive and unwise, and at worst it is harmful to both you and the other person.

Whenever there was a need, I would jump to action and come through. Whenever someone was sad or lonely, I would step in and work to lift their spirits through my words and actions.

Throughout my teen years and even in my early twenties, I unknowingly had what has been termed a “savior complex” or “savior mentality.”  Whenever there was a need, I would jump to action and come through. Whenever someone was sad or lonely, I would step in and work to lift their spirits through my words and actions. Whenever someone had a problem, I was the first to offer a solution.

You might be asking yourself: okay, so what is the issue? I honestly couldn’t see anything wrong at that time either. We are called to be a blessing to others, and I was doing that. We were meant to pour ourselves for others, as Christ did for the church. We are asked to love one another as God has loved us.

However, I was constantly operating out of my emotions – they were the driving force. In various ways, my actions were prompted by the following messages in my mind:

  • People now count on you. This makes you important and valued to others. Keep doing it. Otherwise, no one will care about you. You won’t have any value to them.
  • This is your identity now. This is who “Sameer” is. This is what keeps you affirmed, and validated, and appreciated.
  • People don’t have everything together like you do. They are a hot mess. You know what everyone needs, and you have what everyone needs. You should feel sorry for them and give them what they need.
  • People need you to help them because if you don’t, no one will. It’s up to you to save the day.
  • If you helped other people in the past, why wouldn’t you help this person now? You need to come through for as many people as you possibly can.
  • Life is brutal, and if you come through for others, they will come through for you – in precisely the ways you need them to. Or God will. Because that’s how this thing works.
  • Jesus died to Himself every moment of every day and was always spending Himself on behalf of others. Do the same. Be like Jesus.

Hopefully you are starting to see that while my intentions were really good, my thought processes were also kind of dysfunctional. And definitely unhealthy. I needed others to need me, and I enjoyed their dependency on me. But I never stopped to ask myself the hard questions:

  • Why do you feel this constant compulsion to rescue others?
  • Why do you feel so inadequate just the way you are that you need to constantly be the hero to everyone else?
  • Why do you feel it is your job to make sure that everyone is doing okay?
  • Why must you try to fix others and clean up the messes that they make?

In retrospect, I can point to the fact that I was the oldest son in the family and already was used to taking responsibility for others. And that I didn’t actually believe that people would be drawn to me naturally, and so I had to get them to lean in my direction through my selfless actions. Or that I didn’t understand the importance of self-care, and how I need to be loving myself well before I’m really able to love others well. Or that everything was definitely not up to me.

But the reality was that back then, this is how I lived my life and this is how I interacted with people. And after a while, it started to take a very noticeable toll:

I began to get resentful because I was always pouring out to others, and no one was pouring into me.

I started to hate myself because I felt like I always had to be proving my worth and value through these selfless actions.

I was tired and drained and physically wiped out, but I felt like I had to keep gutting it out to bless others even if I was personally miserable.

It felt like if this was the Christian life, and if this is what Jesus asks of us, I didn’t know if I could do it – or even want to do it.

Thankfully, my pastor pulled me aside one day after I asked an 80 year-old woman at my church to have lunch with me, just because I thought I needed to show her love and interest since other people at our church weren’t really doing that. I’m serious. I had nothing in common with this person, nor any reason to spend time with her. I just felt compelled to be the hero, come through for her, and rescue her from her presumed loneliness.

There’s nothing wrong with random acts of kindness, and doing things for people who can’t do anything for you. In fact, those are awesome things. But that’s not what I was doing. I was operating out of a twisted mentality. I had no balance or perspective. What I was doing was becoming pathological.

I’m so much happier because my interpersonal interactions are healthy now, and not co-dependent. I own my life fully, and I let other people live their lives fully.

Through the blunt conversation I then had with my pastor, my eyes were slowly opened. And over the next few months, I faced the manifestations of my dysfunction, and really committed to rooting out the savior mentality in my life. It has helped so much. I’m so much happier because my interpersonal interactions are healthy now, and not co-dependent. I own my life fully, and I let other people live their lives fully. I really think it’s the best way to be.

Next time, I’m going to explore specific reasons why it’s simply not wise to play this role in the lives of others (based on my extensive experience with this). For now, though, I want to know what personal examples come to your mind as you think about when you’ve tried to be the “savior” in the lives of others.  Please do take a moment and share in the comments below, and I will definitely weigh in as well!

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4 CommentsLeave a comment

  • This definitely resonates, Sameer! So many times in my life I have tried to “save” other people from themselves, often with good intentions but not always with their real best interests at heart, and often without realizing that I was destroying myself in the process. It’s hard to accept that sometimes some people just need God to come crashing into their lives, and nothing I can say or do might make a difference until He does that. I’ve dated a lot of guys who had difficult pasts that they hadn’t quite found peace and healing from, and ultimately it doomed the relationship. I tried to make it work, tried to be the perfect girlfriend and be super supportive, but I can’t force someone to find healing. We each have to chose to come to grips with pain and move forward to healing in a constructive way, and it isn’t an easy process. A few years ago, I lost my best friend, who began a tailspin into self-destructive behavior and ultimately walked away from her faith. I tried to save her, almost destroying my own health and sanity in the process. I finally just had to step back and make prayer my default. Even though she abandoned our friendship, I continue to ask Him to one day break through to her and call her back to Himself. Only He can save people and bring redemption, healing, and peace. God calls us to love on people, but he never calls us to save them–because we can’t even save ourselves. That’s His job!

  • This is so honest. Thank you, Hannah. I’m going to flesh out reasons (you mentioned one) why it is just not our place to be the savior most times. I love your heart, and that you continue to pray for your friend. God’s got her and hopefully He will redeem and restore the relationship. We trust Him fully, and no matter what. I appreciate your words and thoughts.

  • This is so good Sameer! So much truth.

    And Hannah, you have been very open and vulnerable. As we all know, transparency is an essential trait in relationships. We truthfully give of ourselves in varying degrees to people. Ideally, our spouses get the deepest and most transparency. Absolutely essential if we want our marriages to work well. With our children, we disclose different areas as they need instruction, but, appropriately, some areas are never transparent to them. The same is true of our friendships.

    Leaving behind the “Savior complex” and learning to trust God to save those we desperately want to see saved is one of the hardest things we do. But I find comfort in knowing God wants to fulfill the desires of my heart and is truly doing His best to get the attention of my loved ones who do not know Him (yet). But free will is also His plan and He won’t for force anyone to accept Him. That is, in part, I believe, how we share in the cup of suffering with Christ. Jesus loves all, even died for all, but not all will accept Him, even though it’s His will for all to be saved. We always have choice and He won’t take away from us.

    What we can do, as you both say, is pray for one another, bearing each others’ burdens, especially as we share transparently and honestly with each other. What I particularly love is how passionate I can be for your deepest requests and how passionate you, or others, can be for me. That’s the kind of community in which we are called to live. I need you to pray for me and you need me to pray for you. That completely does away with any “Savior complex.”

    Keep this up Sameer! You’re getting to the meat of some of our heart issues! These discussions need to take place. Thank you.

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