When the pressure of work deadlines feels especially heavy, or my never-ending to-do list feels nearly impossible to clear, I have a few foolproof solutions. I take long, deep breaths, organize my closets…or call my sister and tell her everything she’s doing wrong and exactly how I, and only I, can change that for her.
Sound like a strange way of finding calm? According to Talkspace therapist Cynthia Catchings, we try to save or fix people — in this case, my sister — because it is easier than trying to deal with our own issues. We believe we don’t have control over our own situations that are making us anxious, so we try to exert control somewhere else.
The rush that helping others provides us is exhilarating and can become addictive. But is it healthy?
Why “Fixing” Others is Harmful
When I have an anxious moment, my sister gets her life sorted out by me — free of charge — without her having to even initiate it. You’re welcome, girl. No harm no foul, right?
Not so fast, Catchings says. “If you are the type of person that tries to ‘fix’ others, you should stop and recognize that more harm can be done if we do not let the person learn and grow,” she cautions. “It can also become a destructive behavior for us, the ‘fixers.’ We have to understand and accept that people are more capable, interested, and resourceful than we think. Let them try to solve their own challenges.”
Savior complex defined
Wanting to help others is natural and can come from a place of good, but if it becomes a problematic pattern, it could be “Savior Complex.” The savior complex can be defined as “A psychological construct that 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.”
Essentially, it means that you believe you can save someone else from their own problems, and you’re often more enamored with fixing that person than loving them for who they are.
Catchings says this complex can be destructive for both the one suffering from it, and for those on his/her/their path. Trying to “save” someone doesn’t allow the other individual to take responsibility for his or her own actions, and can be an obsessive behavior for the fixer.
“As we try to do more for others, we might obsess and end up over analyzing and assessing every minute and dollar spent,” Catchings says.
How to Stop Trying to Save Others
To avoid falling into the trap of savior complex, Catchings recommends taking these steps:
- Let others take the lead: It is important to remember that while we try to help other people, we need to be there for them, and allow them to make their own decisions.
- Stop, collaborate, and listen: A collaboration is much more helpful than trying to solve a problem by only providing the solution we think is best.
- Put yourself first: Self-care is a key element to avoid falling into the savior trap. If we are not taking care of ourselves, and strong and healthy enough, we cannot take care of others the right way.
While wanting to save or fix someone is rooted in the desire to help another person, it can become a compulsive behavior. Like my go-to of “fixing” my sister, you’re trying to gain control by fitting someone else into the image of the way you believe things “should be.” That image of having things “right” gives you a sense of control in a world where you feel it lacking.
But, under this scenario, people have to be your definition of “perfect” and fit into your mold of what is “correct,” regardless of whether they want to be your version of fixed..
Remember that there is a difference between motivating and inspiring versus saving people. No one can save another person — only they can save themselves. To overcome the need to fix people, you need to start by fixing that need within yourself.