Where to begin. She kept staring at her vision board that she had created just over 2 years ago. It contained pictures of her favorite travel destinations that she had been fortunate enough to experience. In addition there were pictures of her family. Then she had placed words, feel good words, to accompany the pictures. Determination, energy purpose, abundance, passion, love, appreciation, eagerness and clarity. The vision board required some updates. At the time William was not born. She had forgotten the words ease, calm, certainty, serenity, confidence, faith, hope, worthy and strong. She remembered that time.
She had learned valuable lessons then. Her boyfriend had been in rehab. It had been what she was hoping he would do for a few years. At that time she had done everything possible to help him «get clean». She was no longer willing to live the way they were living. She had given him the ultimatum – the streets or rehab. She was hoping he would say rehab because she was not convinced she would be able to kick him out on the streets. So when he went, she was certain their life would turn around. It did.
In rehab he decided he wanted independence from her and start living a new life. She experienced the break up. She did not turn to substances to feel better. She turned within and found her self-worth and confidence. She found her power. She no longer felt powerless. She felt strong. She did not hope for a reunion. She had let go. It took a few months but she was free even though she had hurt and cried. The result had been very revealing and beneficial to her. At the same time, an unexpected event at work resulted in a project that required her to travel to Amsterdam just before her planned vacation to Ireland. The timing was perfect. She would be away for three weeks and she had not planned this in order to run away – no – this was like a gift from the Universe.
She absolutely loved travelling alone. In Amsterdam, it was all new to her. She walked everywhere and experienced as much as she could before the work in Rotterdam started. She loved taking the train to Rotterdam and she loved the ocean there. No beaches were visited there but she did take a boat ride. This is where she felt at ease and calm – on, by or in the water. After the work was finished in the Netherlands she left for Ireland. She had never felt as free and confident as when she got into the car, on the other side, drove standard and onto the road, on the opposite side of what she was accustomed to. She did it like she had lived there her whole life. The highways were perfect. No traffic, just beautiful scenery. She drove to Galway, Doolin, Connemara, and the Ring of Kerry and to every beach the GPS could find. Wild beaches along the Atlantic Way with nobody around. She took the ferry to the Aran Islands. She took in every single bit of Ireland she could on that trip, and of course Dublin. She got lost and then found her way, all by herself. She came home happy and knew she loved life and life loved her. That was just over two years ago. The word on her vision board that had her attention now was clarity. She wanted clarity.
Looking back, life had continued to be filed with blessings and challenges and she had gotten through them. But now, there were things that seemed to building up and coming to a head. This is how it felt. She had reunited with her boyfriend back then. He was back to the same old destructive patterns. Patterns she was no longer willing to spend any energy trying to manage. Last year his mother had gotten ill and it had been scary. At the same time, her own mother had been placed in a home due to Alzheimer’s and she had that to face, feel and manage. William was born and her life was filled with new joys and some worry. There were certain issues that needed to be addressed. All was well for the moment with William. Yes, there were some emotional moments in that year. She had thought to herself, that 2017 would be her year to shine, the prime year was hers to reach her own and thrive.
It had not been quite the year she expected or planned. There was no way she could have prepared for the events of this year. Her mother passed, and perhaps that was to be expected, but she was still feeling the loss. Then her ex, the father of her child passed, unexpectedly and that threw her daughter into a tail spin. She had to face unresolved feelings where he was concerned. She had the tools for going through those losses. She reached out to family, to meditation, to the silence within. She cried and said she accepted. She worked her ass off and went for that promotion, and at the time it appeared she would not get it. Life had made it such that she met with a friend form work, who had left, and started a new career elsewhere. The timing, again, was perfect. She was willing and felt the hope of the possibilities of something new. Her boyfriend was using and, while annoying, she did not resist, she accepted and she focused elsewhere. She knew she could not control another. She had learned that those two years ago. She worked, saw her family and friends. She decided to take a week vacation, by herself and found herself at the beach for 7 days. There she reached to meditation, to the silence within, to the ocean waves. It was wonderful, therapeutic and exactly what she needed. When she returned she had taken a road trip with her little one to the beach her mom and second dad had loved so much. She did not fear crying. It was like the ocean, like the tides releasing and renewing, constantly.
Her daughter was having a difficult time accepting her father’s and grandmother’s deaths. She was having severe panic attacks and was unable to join in the road trip that had initially been planned for the whole family, the five of them. She had been to the hospital twice for panic attacks and thought her heart would give out. She was prescribed anti-anxiety medication and Ativan. Her heart had sunk upon hearing the news. Pills do not make anything better, she thought to herself, but in this case, for now, this might help. She thought therapy would be the best option. Waiting lists………She feared her daughter would return to self-harming. She was not wrong. She never believed her daughter would go down a path that had her thinking and imagining the worst kind of horrors. She felt helpless, powerless and could not accept this. This had been one of her reservations – nothing could happen to her daughter. Acceptance. She could accept many things, but this one felt like to accept would be the polar opposite of being a mom. She had experience with this. Sometimes the thing we must accept is that we are resisting, she thought to herslef. Judgement was not an issue. She could not judge. But she was full resistant mode. She accepted that. She could be there for her but could not make her feel better or make decisions for her. She reflected on the fact that two people in her life were on a downward spiral and she felt completely different about each of them. Why? Clarity eluded her.
She understood the thoughts that led to the choices that led to the behaviour that led to hell. She could not judge that. However, in her daughter’s case, she still felt helpless, destroyed, scared, worried and powerless. She was tired of it. But to let those feelings go by just accepting and letting go of the need to control was beyond her at the moment. She knew she could force an intervention of sorts. Sure, remove her daughter and place her in a safe place. That was extreme. The kids were fine. She was a wonderful mom, who just had little regard for her self-worth and well-being at the moment. Children can keep you sane, she thought to herself. This was her experience. Children are the loves of your life, your motivation to be and do better. Her son in law was being brilliant, supportive, and amazing. It was humbling.
She recalled something her second dad had said to her, over dinner one night after her mom had passed. He had said he would forever feel guilty about taking her mom out of their home and placing her in that residence. Despite having gone there every single day, he still felt guilt. She had hated him for placing her there. He had consulted with the whole family and doctors before making that choice. It was for the best, for her well-being. That was the thought process behind that choice. It had been the most difficult to make. This man adored her mother, with no doubt, she knew that. But he felt guilt. She was not sure that intervening in such a way would be for the best. Her daughter was a wonderful mother to those boys. They were happy little ones and just……….angels. That was not the answer.
Her daughter requested spending more time together. She was overjoyed at the thought. She would focus on the positives. The phone calls, the texts, the talks, the time spent together, babysitting the little ones every weekend. All good things. Every communication from her daughter was a good sign. Even if what she was hearing and seeing was not good. Her daughter wanted to go to meetings. She was happy. Maybe there she would find some clarity and her daughter would remember the tools she had and her inner strength. Her daughter was a wonderful, beautiful, strong woman now. With a lot of little kid in her. Her daughter did not know how to grieve. She could learn that at the meetings. That is where she had learned many life skills. She was willing to share how she grieved the same events with her daughter too. So they went to the meeting again, for the second time in two weeks. It could become a weekly thing, she thought to herself. But to her dismay, her daughter left to go outside. She stayed and listened. She heard somebody share about people being mirrors, about how those you seek to be around are a reflection of yourself. Well this was interesting, she thought. She did not depend on people to find herself anymore. But, being open minded to the message, she asked «what did her people reflect about her? » Was she turning to substances to manage life? No. Was she on a self-destructive path? No. She was trying to be there for her daughter. Like a lighthouse. She had been called that before. She was hoping to help her daughter. Why did she want to help people? Well it was natural to help her daughter. Why help the boyfriend? Again and again and again and again…………………What did that say about her? She no longer cared about pleasing people. She had recently realized she was losing the need and desire to explain or justify herself to anyone. Another good thing buried among the chaos of the moment.
She looked up people that want to save others. Just in case. It was not like she was running around finding people to save, they were in her life. She had given birth to one of them. It was worth investigating. She looked up the term «saviour complex». It was like a slap in the face. Ironically just the day before, a conversation at work had led to her admitting that because she was raised in a strict household, she had not set enough boundaries with her daughter. Balance. Now she was reading the following from Psychology today:
«The savior complex can be best defined as “A psychological construct which 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.”»
She had done that with her boyfriend and had learned to be more balanced. She knew with her daughter, she would do anything to help her and this was probably the point. Her daughter was the one reservation she had, back when she had decided to get help with her substance abuse. But, she did not want to learn life lessons at the expense of her daughter’s well-being! Reservations, resistance………However she had to read on.
«Many individuals who enter into caring professions such as mental health care, health care and even those who have loved ones with addictions may have some of these personality characteristics. »
Well, last week she had asked why she felt surrounded by this and now she could not deny this one. She had asked for clarity……..
« The underlying belief system of these individuals is that “It is the noble thing to do. They believe they are somehow better than others because they help people all the time without getting anything back.” »
While she knew she was not better or worse than anyone, it would appear she had not quite correctly understood the meaning of «you can only keep what you have by giving it away. » Guilt? Perhaps.
«While motives may or may not be pure, their actions are not helpful to all involved. The problem is that trying to “save” someone does not allow the other individual to take responsibility for his or her own actions and to develop internal motivation. Therefore, the positive (or negative) changes may only be temporary. »
Yes. This was true in her experience. The article went on to quote an author whose book had helped her those two years ago.
«The Second of The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz is “Don’t Take Anything Personally.” This book chapter and following quotes teach key concepts that may provide helpful guidance for those struggling with savior complex tendencies:
“You are never responsible for the actions of others; you are only responsible for you.”
“Whatever you think, whatever you feel, I know is your problem and not my problem. It is the way you see the world. It is nothing personal, because you are dealing with yourself, not with me. Humans are addicted to suffering at different levels and to different degrees, and we support each other in maintaining these addictions”»
She felt like clarity was sitting there asking «You wanted to see me? Well here you go, I am here! » The article offered solutions too. She figured she would note them down for future consultation. The solutions offered to avoiding falling into the “savior” trap with relationships were as follows:
- Process emotions with friends and family – without breaking things – it had been 1 full week!
- Set boundaries with the other individual that allow you to balance caring for them with trying to “save” them – THIS was what she was most hoping to learn to master
- Say “maybe” or “no” before saying yes in order to give yourself time to weigh options – done
- Slow down enough to be mindful of choices – she had meditated twice that week!
- Reach out for support from a therapist or coach in order to receive an objective assessment of your interpersonal issue – meetings were a form of support.
- Let your loved one take responsibility for their actions – clarity help!
- Do not over-function or work harder than your loved one – she was beginning to see a pattern
- Do the best that you can do to support the individual and then “let go” of the results – ok, she was willing
- Redefining “helping” and “caring” – clarity help!!!!
The quote «what you resist persists» came to her mind. Sure, she had done a lot of good work when it came to others, but clearly, life wanted her to learn more to really be there for her daughter and maybe even for herself. In the healthy way. She could learn to set boundaries. She could do all of the above. She would because she loved her daughter and herself. She remembered how her faith had been shaken. But still she had looked for the lesson. She still had faith that life had her back. She had been wiling. Despite the current situation, she would create a different one. The article offered these suggestions for helping someone:
- Ask questions
- Backing off
- Simply listening
- Offer action steps and coping skills instead of doing the work for them
She realized she was learning to do just that. Her daughter hated the questions and she was learning to back off – it was difficult but she would do it. She was listening and she was offering her experience to her daughter. All was not lost. Hope was revealing a flicker of itself. To keep her in line, the article offered these questions she should ask herself to keep herself on the right track:
- Am I helping this person by avoiding natural consequences?
- Am I giving them what they want or what they need?
- Is this decision made to keep them “happy” or for their overall health?
- Is my action helping them to get better or me to feel better?
- Am I being invited to help?
- Do I “want” to or have to do this?
And to address her fears about not helping, and to challenge them as “False Evidence Appearing Real”, the article had these questions to help her:
- The family or others will not like me – family yes this was a fear, others, not a concern of hers.
- People may complain, not be happy or my job may be in jeopardy – yep, this was a fear she had
- I will feel like I am not being effective as a loved one or at my job – she strived to be effective…..maybe this was an issue?
- I feel like I am not able to help – yes, she had this fear as well
- I am not doing the best that I can? – Ironically she did not know what the best meant.
- I am missing something obvious? – Clearly she had missed the fact that had some elements of the saviour complex.
She felt like she had found some clarity. She imagine clarity sitting there smiling over her while fear took a back seat. Doubt was coming out from behind the bushes though as she focused on hope. Doubt likes to sneak up when one is focused elsewhere. However, with awareness, she felt confident in her ability to look at herself and put these suggestions into practice. She remembered what she had read/learned before – she did not have to suffer because her daughter was. She was no longer interested in being addicted to suffering. She did not have to do what everyone else would do. She remembered the saying, it is only when there is nothing left to do that you do what works anyway – let go and meditate. The resistance was not completely gone, but she had tools to address it. At the end of the day, she realized the Universe did indeed have her back. She also believed the Universe understood they could agree to disagree, for a moment. The Universe was patient and did not have a savour complex. It would be here for her when she was ready to learn. That choice was hers. Reservations, what a horribly wonderful thing,…. once you are on the other side.
Reference: Psychology Today, The Saviour Complex, by Sarah A Benton MS, LMHC, LPC