“I can save her!”
“He will change himself for me!”
“They are a better person when they are with me!”
Have you ever come across quotes, posts, and even people (IRL) who quote and more importantly, believe in such statements?
Personally, I find it very funny because life is tough as is the responsibility of turning myself into a fully functioning adult (which is…. exhausting to say the least), but like they say, you gotta do what you gotta do. Which is why it confuses me; why would anyone in their right mind want to take on this added responsibility for someone else? And how are people okay with someone else having that much power over their life?
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like I’ve never tried to “save” someone, in fact I’ve done it more than once. But after flying too close to the flame, one too many times, I’d like to think that I am wise enough to finally contemplate: why do people have this insurmountable need to protect others even at the (dire) cost of their personal well-being? Is the need really about protecting someone else or is it to fulfill some need of their own? It’s unfortunate that this human tendency exists more often than we’d like to believe and in different types of social relationships.
In a collectivist society such as ours, we are taught from very early on that our human worth depends upon how - apologies for the crass language - we are useful to others. Right from the get go, we are taught about our duties to our parents, siblings, family, elders, teachers, friends and on and on and on. But the duty to our self either gets lost in the chaos or is not spoken about at all. So naturally, the way we socialize depends on our values and beliefs, hence the relationships we form are also based on them. We may form our social bonds by helping and supporting others, sometimes to an extent where we may be at risk but we choose to ignore that risk because fulfilling someone else’s needs takes precedence.
Of course surviving in isolation is not possible (and is way less fun) so we involuntarily end up caring for others and looking out for them which is great. However, most often it reaches a point where we are willing to let go of anything that our loved ones throw at us and we try to justify it by saying ‘they are going through a tough time’ or ‘they would do the same for me.’ If they aren’t the best decision makers, we may try to take that load off of them. If they aren’t able to take responsibility for their basic needs, we may be at their service. It may reach a point where saving them from life and even their own self becomes a part of our daily routine.
But listen. Limits do exist.
We may try to be the knight in shining armor for others mostly because of our upbringing but also because we aren’t able to manage the difficulties in our life (thus, trying to fix others’ lives). We form most of our relationships with people who we perceive as broken and maybe even relatable. But that’s the thing, most people do not like being fixed. They like being valued for who they are, not for their upcoming 2.0 version that you’d like to take sole ownership for creating. So if we go into relationships with the intention of saving the other person, we are trying to hold a position of power that may drive them away. And when they leave, it’s natural to experience feelings of abandonment along with the gaping human-shaped hole in our life which we may try to fill with a new person. On the other hand, if someone is comfortable with us saving them, we may reach a point in the relationship where we don’t even realize the impact that their behavior and stressors have on us.
Having a savior complex can exhaust us physically, mentally and emotionally. We reach a point of burnout where we are not able to take care of our needs. They may take a back seat because we are so focused on saving other people from their struggles. So at the end of the day, while we are running around feeling responsible for others, we forget our most important responsibility: the one that we have to ourselves.
It’s important to remember that we are responsible for our needs and experiences. Contrary to what all moral stories and movies tell us, sometimes it’s okay to be selfish. We need to establish our boundaries, prioritize our desires, take out time for self-care (and no, a seven-step routine that includes fancy skin care products doesn’t count) and most importantly, accept that our experiences are real and they deserve our time and attention. If we have difficulty doing this on our own, then we can take the help of our social group because showing support in relationships is a two-way street. Furthermore, therapy is a space where we can explore our behavior and try to manage our struggles better.
Even if you really want to help others, you need to realize that you cannot pour from an empty cup. You need to hammer it into your brains that you aren’t being the superhero you think you are by saving someone else. In fact, you might be taking away their autonomy and making them more dependent on your relationship. If you really want to see someone progress and live a healthy life, you can only provide them the support while allowing them the time and space they require to grow…on their own.
Change cannot be forced and it needs to come from within. It’s high time that we accept that an individual won’t - actually can’t - change for (or because) of us. But the person who will change for (and because of you) is you.
So, I guess what I am saying is, we can look out for others but only be responsible towards ourselves.