The desire for women to deeply support and help someone they love is biologically instinctual.
Thoughts to consider when helping someone:
Do they want to be helped?
How would you feel if they said no to your support?
Would you insist on helping; convinced that you have the solution, even if the person in question would rather figure it out on their own?
In many ethnic societies, the concept of a savior or heroine who can rescue and save people from their problems is prevalent. This idea often takes the form of the "savior complex" in South Asian mental health, which refers to an individual's need to save others. However, this mindset can be deeply detrimental, especially in regard to how it affects marginalized communities.
According to Shakti Therapy & Healing Services, a South Asian therapist group practice in Los Angeles, CA, culture plays a significant role in all human experiences and is rooted in shared ideas and perspectives, standards for community responses, and cognitive styles. Culture has an impact on the way South Asian women not only experience the savior complex but the blind spots they hold in preventing them from transforming this mindset. The cultural challenges surrounding South Asian mental health play a significant role in preventing South Asian women suffering from reaching out for support to a South Asian therapist in Los Angeles.
What is the Savior Complex
The savior complex refers to the psychological impulse to save people, even if doing so goes against the other person's will or against their own wishes. Validation, self-importance, and the need to contribute to one's own happiness are common motivators for those with this complex. The savior complex can show up differently, like when one partner plays the "savior" and the other plays the "victim" in a relationship. It can also be present in social activism and volunteer work, where individuals may need to "save" or "fix" entire communities.
Characteristics of Savior Complex in South Asian Mental Health
Women of South Asian descent with a savior complex frequently prioritize the needs of others over their own. No matter the cost to their own happiness, they might feel compelled to support their loved ones.
"Please help me"
"Not right now"
“I need your support”
—you will rarely hear South Asian women say these things. The concerning truth is that many South Asian women are not taught to ask for help. To further reinforce the medical impact of this problematic programming; cross-cultural research has found that 80% of women do not share their symptoms or seek medical attention. South Asian culture encourages women in the community to save others, even when it is at the expense of their own well-being. History has shown that women were expected to give up their own lives when their husbands passed away. This moment in history is important as it marks the pivotal time that gender roles were anchored to honor men and strip away the needs of women.
Another example of this self-sacrifice and anchoring of gender roles is the concept of Sati. In Sati, a woman who lost her husband burned herself on her husband's funeral pyre to publicly display her unconditional love for her husband. This practice was seen as a way for women to avoid the shame and stigma of being a widow, and it was sometimes even forced on them to self-sacrifice.
Such cultures had made South Asian women conditioned to feel depressed and anxious when they fail at rescuing others, increasing the need for support with a Los Angeles based South Asian therapist near you. They often feel everything is their fault; as if everything fell apart because of them and their lack of appropriate actions.
Inability to Set Boundaries
Women with a savior mentality can have challenges setting boundaries. This can lead to women being taken advantage of by others. These women may struggle to say "no" to demands, even when the demands may be unreasonable or harmful. The consequences to these women can include burnout, resentment, depression, anxiety, and physical health issues.
Feeling Responsible for Others'
South Asian women may feel obligated to ensure the happiness and well-being of their loved ones. When they are unable to "fix" other people's problems, this can cause guilt, depression, and anxiety. Guilt is a common feeling that is traditionally accepted and encouraged when expectations are not met by women. It is a tactic used to suppress the voices of South Asian women from reaching out for help and shifting away from the savior complex.
Effects of Savior Complex
It's not always successful to try and save someone from their predicament. Even if your efforts are successful in effecting change in another person, that change may not be long-lasting unless the other person genuinely desires to make the change on their own. Having a condition to play the heroine can have benefits, but it can also be harmful as it is not controllable or sustainable.
When you devote yourself entirely to helping other people, you have little energy, emotion, and motivation left over to care for yourself. Saviors may exhibit signs similar to those of caregiver burnout in patients' loved ones. Some of the symptoms of burnout include:
losing sight of yourself and your short or long-term goals
difficulty maintaining relationships and being present with loved ones
muscle tension, pain, fatigue, insomnia, and increased risk for health concerns
A Sense of Failure
A woman with a savior complex may falsely believe they have the power to solve the problems of others. In reality, no one has the authority to technically save anyone. This fantastical preconception leads you to keep chasing an experience that doesn't exist while leading to experiences of disappointment and a sense of failure.
As the famous saying goes, insanity is doing the same thing over and over and not getting different results; if you keep repeating the same behaviors, you will keep getting the same result. This can cause persistent feelings of worthlessness, guilt, and anger at oneself.
Mental Health Symptoms
Multiple negative emotions, such as:
A feeling of resentment or anger towards those who refuse your help
The longer a person has a savior complex, the more their sense of self will be based on their role as a savior, versus the actual wholeness of who they truly are. This can cause them to lose their own identity and lack fulfillment. South Asian women who suffer from the savior complex reinforce existing systemic inequalities and stunt their own personal development and empowerment by continuing the victimization and rescue cycle. For example, a South Asian woman with a savior complex may put her own career or education on hold to take care of her family members or to help a friend in need. This may seem selfless and giving on the surface, and it also promotes the idea that women are only valuable in relation to the needs of others and not their own. This could make structural discrimination against women even stronger, which keeps them from reaching their full potential in all parts of life.
How to Overcome Savior Complex with a South Asian Therapist in Los Angeles
There are many approaches to dealing with the urge to save others. Just being aware of this way of thinking is beneficial.
Listen & Not Act
One way to control the impulse to offer assistance is to practice active listening. Some ways to practice active listening can include nodding your head, rephrasing what the other person said, validating their feelings, or someone close to you may have told you about the problem in hopes of getting your help.
Don’t Impose Help
It’s best to avoid stepping in is to wait until someone asks for help. There’s nothing wrong with wanting loved ones to know you’re there for them. To avoid coming across as controlling or pushy, you can try saying the following: "Let me know if you need help." This not only empowers you but also empowers the other person to try things on their own and communicate when they need support.
Talk to a South Asian Therapist in Los Angeles
If you're having trouble understanding what motivates your actions, consulting a South Asian therapist in Los Angeles can help. When these conditions apply, it can be especially useful:
You want to dig up and deal with some traumatic events from your past.
Your relationship suffers from your savior complex.
Unless someone depends on you, you may feel void of purpose.
A South Asian therapist in Los Angeles, even if you don't know how to handle your savior complex on your own. Consult Shakti Therapy & Healing Services, a South Asian therapy clinic that offers holistic support to manage your Savior Complex.
Ektha Aggarwal is an experienced licensed clinical social worker (LCSW) and Founder of Shakti Therapy and Healing Services.
Shakti Therapy offers a holistic and psychotherapeutic approach to help clients realize that we are an integral part of the vast and complex web of life - that the health of the whole is intimately connected with the health of the individual.
Shakti Therapy combines both ancient Eastern and the most up-to-date scientific modalities, to create a basis of connection - mind to body, human to nature, individual to the community, physical to spiritual, past to present to future.