Sunday, November 6, 2016

Savior complex

I've been out of sorts.  The weird thing was the answer was staring me in the face and I didn't put the pieces together until Friday.  Then it took two days to wrap my mind around what I am feeling and doing.  I am working on the questions presented by James Ryan to a Harvard graduating class.  I read the caution he tacked onto the question, "How can I help?"  I'm going to quote him because however I rephrase it in my mind it doesn't come across like how he said it. 

“How can I help?” You are at HGSE, I presume, because you are interested in helping others. But you also know, from your time here, to be aware of the savior complex, of the stance where you are the expert or hero who swoops in to save others. We shouldn’t let the real pitfalls of the savior complex extinguish one of the most humane instincts there is — the instinct to lend a hand. But how we help matters as much as that we do help, and if you ask “how” you can help, you are asking, with humility, for direction. And you are recognizing that others are experts in their own lives and that they will likely help you as much as you help them. ~James Ryan

 From the time I was 5 years old, I was expected to take care of my mother.  I was given responsibility way beyond my years and abilities.  Now, with my mother in an assisted living home with a broken hip, I am feeling that same anxiety that I need to swoop in and save the day by helping mother no matter what havoc it causes for myself.  Oh dear.  Talk about text book example of the savior complex gone awry.   (If you are not familiar with this complex, this gives a short explanation: I can't fix my mother's broken hip.  I'm not the only one visiting my mother.  I can't make my mother happy even though she tells me that my visits bring the sunshine into her miserable life, she says that shortly after someone else left from visiting her.  Quitting my job and caring for my mother 24/7 would wear me out but mother would still be living through healing after breaking her hip.  This is not my problem to solve.  I don't need to swoop in and save the day...there is nothing to save.  I believe in service, don't get me wrong.  I am learning the value of the request from Jesus, "Love thy neighbor, as thyself." 

Mark 12:28-31King James Version (KJV)

28 And one of the scribes came, and having heard them reasoning together, and perceiving that he had answered them well, asked him, Which is the first commandment of all?
29 And Jesus answered him, The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord:
30 And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment.
31 And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these.

He didn't say love my neighbor more than myself.  He didn't say love my neighbor and neglect myself.  I am on equal footing as my neighbor, my mother, the teachers I work with, the students or anyone else I choose to help.  Their needs are not more important than mine.  Service is important to me but neglecting my health to serve others, serves no one.  Now what?  Today, I stayed home and rested.  I am fixing dinner for my grown children that live close by and their families because I love doing this.  I am putting myself back on my chart for self care.  I am a work in progress.  Jump in where I'm at, don't play catch up.  Start where I am and move forward. 


Tundra Woman said...

Yk Ruth, I wonder if what you're feeling is based more in Servant Complex than Savior Complex. There is a huge difference: A servant is one perceived as having lesser status, a savior is one who is perceived as having a greater, more knowledgeable status. I know I could be very wrong about this because it's just my perception, but you feeling "more than?" An "expert in..?" It's not that you place yourself above, but that you place yourself below. We can't be a doormat and an steeple concurrently.

It seems when you think of your mother in any situation she is somehow "above" or more powerful than subordinate you. In every situation. She whines, wheedles and otherwise emotionally blackmails to get what she wants. But what would she do if you weren't around? Believe me, she'd be fine. There are plenty of adults who are not able for a variety of reasons (not all nefarious!) to assist their aging parents.

You become in your own words that CHILD once again when she demands something. There are no ceremonies, no Rites of Passage in typical western society that indicate to others and introduce individuals to their communities as an adult. Traditional societies have rituals for major milestones and to some extent we do-except for one exceptionally important change in status: "You are now an adult." And as such we are EQUAL in status to every other adult. No DNA exceptions.

Your relationship to your adult children no doubt has changed over the years. There is an evolution from how we engage with our minor children and how we engage with our adult children. Our relationship becomes far more equal, far more one of peers. One of the most challenging and unexamined areas of my own life was recognizing I *was* an adult. (And I had been one for a decade plus before I finally caught on to that reality.) But it reframed how I viewed myself and the rest of the world radically: Equal status, equally powerful, equally deserving. Those were words, concepts for awhile before they became actions. Do you know, I was too embarrassed (and to some extent still am) to tell anyone that my "mother" was still physically abusing me as an adult? Push, shove, pull, grab etc. But that embarrassment I was wearing? That rightfully was HER dress out of HER closet that she stuck on me. I "felt" the shame because she didn't. Why was I hiding that? Why was SHE? I hope you understand how wearing "Servant" Glad Rags is not, nor was it ever the uniform of YOUR choice. You just never questioned it or shoved it back at it's rightful owner or better yet, cremate the thing!

Anyway, I so get the anxiety, the guilt, all the emotional battering we get into when we're just giving into them (because it'll never be enoug/ the right thing etc.) as short term bandaids and the equally excruciating NOT falling back into those old roles. And of course they unleash lightning bolts and thunder over the word or the behavior that says and does "NO." Please remember, that is SUCH AN ACT as you already know-remember her peeking through her fingers to assess the effect of her behavior? She isn't suffering-but you are. You anguish, she's delighted. Can you imagine getting off on hurting/manipulating your own kids? The inherent dishonesty, the moral bankruptcy...ugh.

Your "mother" has a Martyr act going on, Ruth. This is a major Theme of her life and Tool of Manipulation.
That doesn't mean you have a Savior Complex at all. It means like Pavlov's dogs you've been conditioned to respond to her bell. Ruff ruff!

(Hope you know that last bit was teasing-Happy Mon., BTW!)

mulderfan said...

Go girl!

Ruth said...

Thanks TW and mulderfan.