The idea that a person can save others is central to Christianity, which believes that God incarnated in human form to redeem the world.
While this uplifts and inspires religious Christians, the idea of somebody saving or “fixing” others can actually be deeply toxic in romantic relationships and other areas of life.
It’s what psychologists refer to as a savior complex, and if you’re involved or working closely with somebody who has this then you likely want to know what it is and how to deal with it.
Here’s an honest look at the top signs of a savior complex and how to face it if you find yourself falling into it or falling for it in others.
Top 10 signs of the savior complex
If you’re finding elements of a savior complex in yourself or someone else it’s really important to be honest about it.
The truth is many of us have some instincts toward this in ourselves or in being attracted to it.
But the more we learn to recognize these signs and deal with them, the more empowering and meaningful our lives and relationships will become.
1) Believing you can fix somebody else
The belief that you can fix someone else is central to the savior complex.
This personality type derives its worth and power from the idea of being able to arrange and resolve problems in the world and other people.
If somebody is sad, your job as the savior is to make them happy.
If somebody’s out of money, it’s your job to find a way to get them some money,
The savior doesn’t just feel inspired to help others or fix them and their situation, they feel compelled to do so, almost like a drug addict.
And after helping people, the hole only feels deeper.
They need to help more, do more, be more, all the way to the extent that they even destroy their own lives.
2) Insisting you know what’s best for someone more than they do
The individual with a savior complex believes they see and understand the solution to others’ lives and situations in a superior way.
They know what is best, even if their own husband or wife doesn’t know.
They get it, and everyone else just has to catch up.
The savior will go to great lengths to say they know what’s best for somebody else in their life, and even if they’re proven wrong they will generally just double down.
“If you feel responsible for another person’s needs — and enable them to fill those needs, even if they’re negative — you may be more prone to experience a messiah complex or pathological altruism.”
3) A need to control and track the progress of others
The savior complex doesn’t only manifest in romantic relationships. It also manifests in families, for example in helicopter parenting.
This style of parenting often involves one or two parents with a savior complex who want to “save” their kids from the tragedies and disappointments of life.
As such they are highly protective of them and have a need to control and track their progress constantly.
Just eating the wrong food one time is a huge deal, much less getting bad grades at school.
This often results in golden child syndrome, and creates a cycle of a child who believes they too can only derive worth by their accomplishments and proving their value through external feats.
4) Sacrificing your own well-being to help somebody else
The individual with a savior complex is addicted to helping and trying to run the lives of others, particularly those close to them.
They demonstrate love in a toxic way, by caring so much that it ironically becomes more about making them feel good than actually helping.
This is deeply damaging to romantic relationships, for one thing, because it becomes a cycle of needing to satisfy the savior’s craving to help and “save” even if you don’t need it…
And it can also involve watching a savior partner go so far in their crusade to save that they ruin their own well-being…
The savior complex can creep up in very unexpected places and we may even find ourselves engaging in it without realizing.
But it’s important to become conscious and start to address it, because as the shaman Rudá Iandê explains in his masterclass on love and intimacy, the savior complex can create a codependent whirlwind that sucks up everyone in its path.
5) An inability to separate support from dependence
All of us have likely had times in life when somebody we care about a lot comes in and helps us out big time.
They may provide material support or advice or emotional support that turns our situation around.
But the individual with a savior complex can’t separate helping somebody from trying to make somebody dependent.
They just won’t allow enough space.
Their help always comes with conditions, and the conditions are that the person they are helping must submit to any and all further help, monitoring, and adjustments.
It’s basically a way to try to control others.
6) Assuming responsibility for what happens in somebody else’s life
The savior complex individual often believes that they are responsible for what happens in somebody else’s life.
However, this only falls on one side:
They always feel responsible for not “doing enough,” never for doing too much…
The savior complex individual consistently can’t see how he or she might be making problems worse:
Like a neoconservative, the solution is always to double down on the policy that already didn’t work the first time.
“The problem is that trying to ‘save’ someone does not allow the other individual to take responsibility for his or her own actions and to develop internal motivation.”
7) Believing you are especially gifted or tasked with a heroic task
The savior complex individual believes he or she is special.
They consider themselves to have a heroic task or special gift which they must share with others, often as part of a destiny or role.
This sometimes feeds into them becoming a guru or a psychologist and other similar jobs.
At the extreme end, it can become part of disorders including bipolar, schizophrenia, personality disorder, and megalomania.
8) Caring more about the rush you get from helping than actually helping
One of the saddest things about a savior complex individual is that they often really do want to be a good person and help.
But they are unable to control that part of them that seeks a rush from helping more than the actual act.
This addicted element of their personality gets hooked on the rush of helping and being seen to help, not so much on helping.
They need that selfie, that hashtag, that knowledge that they’re the difference maker who’s saving their lover, the environment, the world.
9) Putting yourself into debt or health trouble so somebody else can freeload off you
The savior complex individual will often sacrifice their own well-being, job, and health so somebody else can freeload off them.
They are unable to accept that they are being taken advantage of in some cases and see it as their duty to help and provide.
This is especially true in relationships, where the savior complex individual may end up with somebody in a victim complex who sponges off them for years.
It’s a scary sight to see…
10) Staying with someone out of duty or guilt rather than love and voluntary commitment
The savior complex individual will stay in a relationship out of duty and guilt.
They will stay even if they’re deeply unhappy, their health is suffering or they are finding no joy in the connection.
They’ll stay even if they know they’re making the situation worse but are convinced they must continue to try to make it better.
They’re sure that nobody else really understands their partner, could help them or could love them enough…
They’re convinced that their partner will be lost and die without their help and love.
They feel a deep need to stay even if it’s destroying them and their partner.
What’s the deeper meaning of the savior complex?
The savior complex can manifest in many different ways.
At heart, it is a desire to “fix” others and save them, often from themselves or a situation or problem which has victimized them.
People with a savior complex may end up running organizations with determined focus or may end up in romantic relationships trying to “fix” a partner.
The common denominator is an overriding need to be the one who saves and fixes somebody else and “shows them the light.”
This is an absolute disaster, especially in love, where it often feeds into a codependent spiral of misery and neediness.
Finding true love and intimacy isn’t easy but it is possible; however, if a savior complex is involved it gets so much harder.
The savior individual doesn’t just want to help, they need to help to feel a sense of self-worth and secure identity.
This is crucial to understand, and also helps to grasp why somebody with a savior complex will sometimes go so far above and beyond to help others that they wreck their own lives.
To put it bluntly, someone with a savior complex is so obsessed with helping and saving other people that they refuse to look after themselves and become pathologically attached to the well-being of others around them.
“Also known as white knight syndrome, savior complex occurs when individuals feel good about themselves only when helping someone, believe their job or purpose is to help those around them, and sacrifice their own interests and well-being in the effort to aid another.”
What’s the primary concept behind the savior complex?
The main concept and cause behind the savior complex is a feeling of insecurity and unworthiness.
The individual with a savior complex actually feels that they are responsible for the problems of others and feels unworthy on a deep level.
For this reason, they only feel they are valuable or needed when they are “helping.”
This help can go far above and beyond what’s necessary and even become downright toxic.
But when somebody with a savior complex meets somebody with a victim complex you get a perfect storm of codependence.
The victim believes they have been mistreated and personally singled out by love and life, while the savior believes they have been personally singled out by life to save and fix the broken and downtrodden.
Both are attempts to essentially fill a hole inside.
The victim believes he or she is being persecuted and given an unfair shake and must find a person, place, job, or recognition that will finally “fix” them.
The savior believes that he or she must do more to earn their place in the world and that they will finally help somebody so much and so dramatically that they will finally “prove” their worth.
Both are like emotional drug addicts trying to get that perfect fix where they won’t ever need to take another hit.
If they don’t desist from the addiction, it can become a lifelong condition.
Four key tips to deal with somebody who has a savior complex or resolve it in yourself
If you’re finding that you have a savior complex or are closely involved with someone who does, here’s what to do:
1) Get clear on where help ends and the savior complex begins
Helping others is great. Having your worth depend on helping others is toxic and damaging.
Getting clear on the difference is key to resolving and facing the savior complex.
Think about the last time you helped somebody or were helped:
What was the main motivation behind it?
2) Allow room for careful choices and involvement
The next step is to always allow room for careful choices and involvement.
The savior complex is a form of neediness, and it can often pop up in relationships and other areas when we let our own self-value slide.
The savior complex individual sees themselves as defined by what they do, not who they are at a deeper level.
If they didn’t help enough this month they will feel like shit.
If they supported a charity that plants trees, but somebody else started a charity that directly helps refugees get resettled, they’re going to feel like absolute garbage.
It is not so much the desire to help that’s the issue in a savior complex:
It’s the inability to find worth without helping, and the need to receive ever greater hits of gratitude and feedback from helping.
3) Get your own house in order first
If you have a savior complex or are involved with somebody who does, try to focus on the concept of getting your own house in order first.
How can somebody truly help others if they don’t feel good about themselves?
How can you find worth for yourself if you only get it by being “useful” for somebody else?
This is not a healthy or proactive basis for a social or love life.
Try to work on finding or allowing somebody else to find this inner worth and inner power first, before getting too involved closely.
4) Know when to walk away and when to take a pause
There are times when an individual with a savior complex needs to take a pause and really work on themselves.
The same goes for those who may find themselves looking for a personal or romantic savior.
Examine this need in yourself: it’s valid and sincere, but what can it teach you about finding your own power and finding love that’s real and empowering?
Nobody’s coming to save you
Let me be honest:
The theological idea of being saved and salvation is deeply powerful.
And so are real-life stories of salvation and rescue.
Stories from life and history where a hero saved others touch us on a deep level because they are unexpected, larger-than-life, and inspiring.
“Local teen saves man from drowning,” can bring you to tears when you read the details of how somebody put their life on the line to save a stranger.
But in your personal life and sense of self-worth, nobody can “save” or “fix” you.
You have to find that inner worth and inner drive and nurture it like a seedling and raise it up.
Nobody’s coming to save you from yourself:
Not in a miracle job offer, not in a relationship that suddenly makes your problems go away, not in a family member who you rely on.
If you suffer from a savior complex, it’s crucial to realize and resolve this part of yourself that wants to save and fix others.
If you find yourself looking for a savior in your personal life, it’s key to also face this inner craving for validation and being fixed.
They’re two sides of the same coin.
At the end of the day, we must find worth and vision inside ourselves rather than seek to impose it on someone else or receive it from them.