The inherent harmfulness of the saviour complex (a rant)
I don’t often use writing to vent, but occasionally, when consumed with rage, disbelief, or some other equally invoking emotion, my mind begins to whirr and my fingers get itchy. Today is such a day. I’ll spare you the specifics, but suffice it to say that I have had it up to here (insert me gesturing towards the top of my head and beyond), with human beings with a saviour complex. I will attempt, in this “passionate” little peice of writing, to explain why.
Here’s the thing. I have a savior complex. Many of us do. The part of me that hates to see anything or anyone suffer (especially animals), that thinks it knows better than anyone what the right thing to do is, that justifies the harm I’ve caused in the name of “trying to be of service.” This is the part of me that thinks she is god. The all seeing eye. A step above the common mortal. And forgets her place in it all, loses sight of the bigger picture, of the cosmic order, of the fact that I am but a tiny little insignificant speck in the scheme of it all. But I digress.
If you’re an animal lover, I’m guessing you’ve met this part of yourself somewhere along the line. She’s the one that tried to give mouth to mouth to the bird that flew into your childhood window, that picked up every last baby bird that fell out of it’s nest and attempted (almost entirely unsuccessfully) to nurse it back to health, and wished to be a veterinarian from a young age until the tragic realization that euthanasia was a part of the gig. This is the one that leaves an animal alive too long, that only “rescues” pets (how dare you buy a purebred! But this purebred chihuahua steward jests) and tends to want to rescue all of the animals ever despite of a seriously concerning lack of time, money and resources, and the huge cost to your physical and mental health. This is the part of you that can’t let go, even though an animal in your care needs more than you can offer them, because you are the only one that can give them a happy life (or so your ego tells you). And it is the part of you who ignores the bigger picture, the soverienty of each being, the inherent power and potential existing within every animal and human walking this earth, and the inevitability of discomfort on the path to healing.
Don’t get me wrong here. Every archetype, every part of us, contains both a healthy side and a not-so-healthy side, and so it is with the saviour. We can use this power for good, if we see it, respect it, and control the way we use it. But it can also show up in some harmful ways if we’re not careful, ways in which we assume that we are all-knowing, that the being we are saving is power-less and without choice, that it is our role to swoop in and “fix” the situation in the way we see fit (and from our own very limited perspective and experiences), without first taking into consideration what is at stake. Actions have consequences.
In the scenario I am currently raging about, that consequence is heartbreak, of a whole family of humans, of a whole family of animals, of this animal themselves, combined with a break-down of the beautiful connection and trust created. I’m pissed, because there’s not much that enrages me more than unnecessary harm caused by stupidity. It really turns my crank (and yes, I’ve had to have a firm talking to with my own inner saviour a time or two over the last few weeks to talk her out of several Joan of Arc type episodes). And what’s truly tragic is nothing can be done to mitigate this impending harm – the saviour involved is incessant and unwavering in the belief that their way is the right way, that they have the only answer, that they are making things better. It would be a joke if it wasn’t so shitty. The irony does not escape me. And so I watch and wait and do my best to stay the heck out of it while being of help where it is requested (and my role – trying to stay tuned into the bigger picture) – I feel like a nurse waiting in the barracks for the inevitable fall-out. Ugh.
So, how do we heal the savior? First, we need to acknowledge his or her existence (gulp) and how this shows up uniquely for each of us. This part of us can be sneaky so get ready to be shocked and amazed by the lies you tell yourself in the name of “saving” something or someone.
Question whether you’re actually wanted or needed in any given scenario. Usually the answer is no if you really listen. Or maybe your role there is a whole lot different than what you previously had envisioned. Question whether your perspective is actually the whole perspective, actually inclusive of all parties involved (including the ones that communicate differently), actually taking into consideration the fall-out and the consequences of each action for all beings concerned. Question your motivations. Are they pure? Or do you want to look like a good person? Do you want to be right? Maybe you just can’t cope with any kind of discomfort in others or yourself (sad to say it, but trying to mitigate any kind of discomfort or suffering in others is an impossible task and not always helpful)? This is an exercise in getting very very real and raw, and usually it’s not pretty. But if you actually want to be of help, of real service, to those around you, a slice of humble pie is on the menu.
You are not the centre of the universe, you do not know everything, you are not all powerful, you can not stop someone from experiencing life in all its peaks and valleys (nor should you), you are not in charge of someone else’s life (even an animal), you are but a wee speck within a vast universe, figuring it out like the rest of us. Gift yourself patience, forgiveness, curiousity, and the courage to make a change. And while you’re at it, work on switching your priority to saving yourself (from personal experience, this is by far the best use of your time and energy). Rant over.