Avoiding The Savior Complex In Adoption

savior complex


I am a person who has always needed to be needed. If I wasn’t needed then I couldn’t see my worth. For a soft-spoken, shy introvert this is quite the predicament. It can be an exhausting and bitter existence.

The Savior Complex can show up in our family of origin, workplace, and with our kids. At first, it appears honorable and sacrificial. But really, it’s all about us–our need for someone to see us as good and helpful and strong. It is the thought that I am enough for someone else. It’s a belief that I can fix and sustain. I am the answer. Not just part of the answer. But the answer. It is misplaced responsibility. Individual identities become blurred and resentment sets in.

As parents we are responsible for our children. To love them, meet their needs, and keep them safe. So how are we to know when we’ve gone too far and crossed the line into Savior territory? And then as adoptive parents, the complexities can seem insurmountable. The inclination and pressure we feel to save our adopted kids from the impact of their birth story and the trauma that continues to follow them through life is huge.

As an adoptive parent, I find myself trying to make up for my sense of powerlessness, so I overcompensate. My goals become unrealistic and burdensome. Love is pushed out. I want so much to be able to help my son. But in my striving, I become less dependent on Jesus, the only one who can truly carry the title of Savior. If I’m honest I need help just as much as my son does.

God has used some painful lessons to help me get better at recognizing the danger signs. And what I can do to change course and avoid the Savior Complex.

Take care of myself

Having needs and taking care of them reminds us that we are indeed human. It is not selfish or wrong to take responsibility for ourselves. It is healthy and even biblical. A red flag for me can be as simple as not giving myself the time to have a shower or get dressed in the morning. Or being unable to perceive important cues that my body is sending me. Things like hunger, thirst, or tiredness. Am I able to tell when I feel overstimulated? Do I respond with thoughtfulness or do I ignore these pleas and press on with what I consider more important matters? I’m learning to stop instead, even if it’s for a few minutes. I’m deciding to intentionally care for myself in those moments. An important part of this as adoptive parents is teaching our kids how to do the same, whenever possible. 

Acknowledge my need for help

Focusing my heart on Jesus is where my true sense of joy comes from. He is the only thing that’s anchored when I’m caught up in external or internal drama.

I’m at a point now where even if I wanted to pretend that I can do it all, I just can’t. I’ve reached burnout several times in this pursuit already. It’s been important for me to take stock of what I can really handle. So, when it comes to my son’s needs especially, I need to ask for help. I need to recognize that I cannot create the perfect conditions for him. I cannot be the balm that removes all anxiety or discomfort. It’s just not possible. Releasing my grip and allowing others to help is the only way we have been able to cope as a family. The vulnerability that comes with this is never easy. But it is necessary.

My hope is that encouragement will be waiting for us in our weakness not just in our strength. And that none of us will feel alone as we walk the path of parenting adopted children.