“Did she give you that cape that you’ve glued to your back?” I thought to myself during a recent conversation. I’d listened to a non-black woman go on and on about the number of black people at a prior job that she’d advised, and how she was sure they all looked up to her. I pondered on just how often these black women (she specified the race of the women) she advised gave her the credit that she was giving herself. Something tells me that this relationship may have not been as mutual as she believes.
It’s the Christopher Columbus-level logic: “I came onto your land, and therefore, I’ve upgraded your land.” This mode of thinking very seldom considers other role models nor prior existence of said person who needed this “hero” — or assumes they have any. It just comes in to “save” this person in a way to mirror his/her own lifestyle.
I thought about sharing my thoughts while she bragged but realized that I would pretty much be wasting my time. The woman speaking was older, set in her ways and seemed fairly confident in giving herself a trophy that no one had offered. This is something I see far too often with non-black people in black communities — K-12 teachers, managers, volunteers and even strangers.
If you’re not sure if you fall into this category, think of it like this. Imagine you know someone who is looking for a job. You also know a hiring manager who has an open position. You introduce the hiring manager to the job applicant. They have an entire job interview with resumes, cover letters, prior background stories, and maybe a lunch or two that you were not invited to. That person gets the job and thanks you. But you walk around endlessly telling people that you are solely responsible for this person getting hired when in reality all you did was introduce the two.
It took the job applicant’s actual work to receive a paycheck. Humanitarianism is when you confirm that you did indeed introduce the two. The savior complex is when you believe this person owes you a never-ending thank you from the first work day until retirement — and you remind people quite often about why.
So how do you rid yourself of the savior complex?
First step: Step back and observe. Before you dish out your next piece of advice, pause and think, “Did anyone ask me what I think?” Sometimes there’s no way around fixing something that would be a danger to someone’s physical or mental health. I’m not talking about that level of assistance. I’m talking about just airing out your opinion on everything without someone voluntarily tapping you on the shoulder to ask, “What do you think of this?”
Second step: See how often they actually take you up on their advice. It’s hard to watch someone keep making the same stupid mistakes over and over again. You have a right to be frustrated. But unless it affects your day-to-day life, you do not have the right to force them into becoming a miniature version of you. If you find yourself trying to “save” someone who has minimal interest in actively doing what you said, distance yourself. As with babies learning to crawl and walk, you may have to give them room to fall flat on their faces and then follow the first step.
Third step: Give this person time to thank you instead of you buying your own collection of Hallmark cards. If you’re really trying to genuinely help someone, then you’ll do something because you want to do it. If you get something in return, cool. If you don’t, you did your part. Now move on. Stop continuously reminding them about how they would not be where they are without you. Use your “heroism” to help someone else instead of being peculiarly obsessed with getting homage from said person. (And please don’t air out how unappreciated you feel all over social media, just fishing for compliments. It’s annoying.)
Fourth step: Understand that this person’s entire social circle is not you. There will be others who will have a place in said person’s life. For all you know, something that that person did helped, too. It’s OK to share the life lessons. There’s a reason happy parents (and married people) work as a team. Not only is it less stressful to decide to take on the full burden of someone else’s life, but it also helps them to avoid feeling like they’re being suffocated by your unsolicited advice.
Fifth step: Quietly observe how often this person thanks you to others. What really confirms whether you were helpful in a person’s life is how often they go out of their way to thank you — be it in a speech, a “thank you” card, casual conversation, a board meeting, or introducing you to family members and friends by what you did. If you have managed to stop telling said person why they owe you all kinds of thanks but are constantly telling their social circle (or worse, boring the bejesus out of your own social circle) about why they need to thank you, you’re choosing a roundabout way to still be a savior.
Silence is key. If/when this person is ready, you won’t have to pull out your cape and put it on. They’ll walk over to you like you’re James Brown at the end of a concert. Imagine yourself kneeling to one knee and wait for the fabric to hug you, then wait for the questions to come.
Would you like to receive Shamontiel’s Weekly Newsletter via MailChimp? Sign up today!