Are you proud of how much you help others? After all, they need you and couldn’t cope without you, or could they? There’s a fine line between helping and hindering. It’s easier than you think to fall into the patterns of a savior complex in relationships.
What is a savior complex?
Everything in life has a dark side. Even something seemingly altruistic as helping others, can hurt them and yourself. You could face a savior complex in relationships if you find yourself helping people more than they help themselves.
Simply put, the savior complex’s meaning revolves around how much you do for others. It’s when you put aside your needs to help those around you. More specifically, you end up doing things for them rather than letting them help themselves.
There’s a big difference between helping people by doing things for them versus guiding them to work out their solutions. In other words, a savior complex in relationships boils down to whether you tell them what to do or enable them to figure it out for themselves.
In terms of hero complex psychology, there is no official medical diagnosis which is why you also see the terms white knight syndrome or messiah syndrome.
Nevertheless, people with bipolar disorder, delusional disorder, and schizophrenia can tend to develop savior complex symptoms, as this article on messiah complex disorder explains.
Is the savior complex codependency?
Even without a mental disorder, developing some form of a savior complex in relationships is possible.
For instance, codependency isn’t an official disorder but a psychological state of mind where you’re overly dependent on another person. One person acts in a similar way to a savior.
Codependency is more extreme, and the savior complex is only one aspect. In codependency, you essentially lose yourself in the other person. Your identities become so enmeshed that you struggle to differentiate whose needs are whose.
This Brunel University thesis explores a group of people’s experience of codependency and refers to codependency as being like a seesaw. They experience a big hole deep down inside that they try to fill by being overly perfect as a partner, parent, worker, and across all their roles in life.
Then they swing to self-care as they realize they’re about to break. This comes with feeling guilty that they’re not doing enough for other people. They are uncomfortable with their emotions, so they flip back into high-activity mode again.
On the other hand, hero complex psychology is only about saving someone else. You still know yourself and your needs but choose to sacrifice them. Moreover, you don’t experience such deep helplessness over your feelings like codependents.
All our behaviors are driven by our deep inner beliefs and the feelings that go with them. Savior complex psychology explains how beliefs of, for example, omnipotence could lead to a male savior complex.
For example, in some cases, caregivers can come across as disorganized regarding emotions and how they run their lives. Children then pick up the need to find ways to support them, or they internalize that they need to be perfect to be accepted.
So, they grow up with the belief that they need to help people to feel good. Essentially, helping others becomes their purpose in life.
The attachment style we developed as we grew up as children is closely linked to codependency, as this article on codependent avoidant relationships explains. Similarly, the savior complex in relationships is linked to attachment issues because there’s an imbalance.
Moreover, the constant saving by one can lead to dependency and enmeshment from the other.
So, what is a savior complex if not helping others to get your mind off your pain? Building secure attachment in a relationship means developing awareness of your beliefs and feelings.
Through observation, you can learn to reframe your beliefs. With time, you’ll connect to a joyful feeling where you respect your values and needs as much as someone else’s.
15 signs of savior complex in your relationship
The Savior complex in relationships doesn’t have to end in burnout or depression. Instead, review this set of savior complex symptoms and reflect on your behaviors. Change starts with observation. Then, with patience, you can try out new behaviors.
1. You take on the role of teacher
The savior complex is the need to change people. This can make you come across as the teacher and even the know-it-all. Most people resist such approaches, so you might find your conversations quickly become heated and frustrating.
With a savior mentality, you don’t believe your partner can look after themselves. Perhaps they are unreliable with their schedule, but the answer is not to take over and do their diary management.
Instead, talk to them about how it impacts you and find a way to problem-solve together.
3. You organize the financials
In many traditional households, the man still manages the finances. Again, a fine line is easily crossed over into the male savior complex zone. In essence, he believes that his partner can’t take care of themselves.
The big difference is how involved you are in making financial decisions or if it’s always one-sided.
4. You know what’s best
When people have a savior complex, they believe that they know what’s best for their partners. Maybe you can see what they need because it’s often easier to see other people’s problems and faults than our own.
Regardless, we all must be responsible for our problems and solutions. Giving advice when it isn’t wanted tends to lead to resentment.
5. You fix their problems without invitation
What is a savior complex if not interfering? Of course, it’s a wonderful trait to want to help people, but yes, it can become toxic.
We all do better in life when we can learn to help ourselves. All of us thrive when we feel empowered and independent.
On the flip side, if you have a savior complex, you’re trying to fill a deep internal need that’s more about numbing your pain than serving the other person.
6. You believe you can change something about them
Deep down, a savior mentality means you want to change your partner. We all have faults, but people in healthy relationships accept each other’s faults. They work together as a team despite their faults.
7. You forget your needs
Are you still asking yourself, “do I have a savior complex”? In that case, review how you balance self-care versus looking after your partner. Do you often cancel your own time to fix something for them?
8. Communication becomes an interrogation
People with savior syndrome tend to ask questions in a way that can feel aggressive. Next time you ask questions, try to observe how your partner feels.
Are they answering with as few words as possible such that they let you make their decisions?
Watch this psychotherapist’s video for more details on how our communication subtext ruins our relationships and what we can do about it:
9. People drive your moods
People with a savior complex in relationships often find that they’re only happy when helping their partner. So, their mood is dramatically impacted when something bad happens to their partner.
Of course, we all feel bad when our loved ones get into trouble. Nevertheless, you don’t take on the blame or the responsibility in a healthy relationship.
10. Deep down, you feel used and empty
This one might seem tough to accept, but if you truly observe your feelings, you’ll hear that little nagging voice telling you something isn’t right.
People with a savior complex in relationships often find they stay too long in relationships that don’t serve them. You feel you must not abandon your partner despite what you need.
11. You believe no one else can help
When considering the question, “do I have a savior complex?” try to observe your beliefs. Do you believe no one else can do what you’re doing? We all want to help people, but sometimes we must leave it to the professionals.
12. You act as a pseudo-therapist
A hero complex in relationships can sometimes take on more than the teacher role. They try to be therapists despite not having any training.
Not only does this impact your mental well-being, but it can also do more harm than good as you lead your partner down the wrong path.
The savior complex psychology talks about fixing other people. It also talks about how this helps fill an inner hole. You might find momentary peace while helping, but it also drains you because you do more than the norm.
14. You’re attracted to others’ pain
When we have a savior complex in relationships, we fall for our partner’s vulnerability. We see problems and imagine solutions, making us feel good. Sadly, it also drags us down as we add those problems to our own.
15. Your life is a series of personal sacrifices
People with a savior complex in relationships tend to forget themselves. If you reflect on your relationships and see endless sacrifice, you could be playing the savior. Sometimes, we need a therapist to help us unblock our habits.
People with a savior complex in relationships want to impose their solutions. They find it very difficult to truly listen to their partner to hear their ideas for problem-solving. The deep belief is “I know best.”
17. The relationship is one-sided
When living with savior syndrome, one partner tends to go into submission as the other takes on the controlling trait. There’s no balance or belief in each other’s innate abilities to live as they see fit.
In a nutshell
The savior complex meaning is simple. In summary, a savior or hero complex in relationships is when one person believes they can fix the other one. They know best how to run their partner’s life.
Living with a savior complex in relationships can damage both partners’ well-being. So, get to know the traits and symptoms and work with a therapist to break the cycle of personal sacrifices.
With professional help, you can unlock your unhelpful beliefs and find techniques to build secure attachments for healthy and fulfilling relationships.
If you feel disconnected or frustrated about the state of your marriage but want to avoid separation and/or divorce, the marriage.com course meant for married couples is an excellent resource to help you overcome the most challenging aspects of being married.
Annes passion and purpose in life are to guide people to find their own path and contentment by learning about themselves. Only then can we build and nurture the deep connections we all deserve to have. With a background in psychology and neuroscience coaching, she has helped countless couples transform their communication from aggression to assertiveness and appreciation.
She is both an ICF certified coach and mindfulness-certified, while being a counselor in training, meaning that she offers a holistic approach. You can expect to transform your view of yourself, your relationship, and the world by better understanding the habits of your mind and letting go of the unhelpful ones. You have power over your mind but you dont have to do it alone.