Among us there are saviours. These are people who are very, even too, empathetic, who want to help everyone in any situation. They are people who will give everything for others, even if it means forgetting themselves. We call this the saviour syndrome.
1. What is saviour syndrome?
Saviour syndrome is a psychological disorder that is not listed in the DSM. People have a constant need to receive gratitude and recognition from others. Thus, it presents an empathy and a need for sacrifice for others, which is constant. This syndrome is also referred to as “co-dependency“.
They are people who lack a great deal of self-confidence. What they are looking for is not necessarily to help others, but unconsciously to help themselves. Helping others will also satisfy their ego, both in their own eyes and in the eyes of others.
Empathy is therefore a particularly well-developed character trait in these people. They are often found in occupations related to helping others. Jobs where people have to be very caring, especially in the health sector. Rescuers can also more easily surround themselves with people who need to be helped”, such as people with an addiction.
It is necessary to distinguish between a person with saviour syndrome and a person who is altruistic. The big difference between the two is that the saviour will have no limits in the help he will give, even sacrificing himself or his needs.
There are different categories of rescuers :
- the damaged saviour: represented by people who need to be loved and admired in order to compensate for their wounds and self-image. They therefore have a constant need to be admired.
- The empathic rescuer: This type of rescuer is a person who cannot stand the fact that his or her partner is moving away, he or she will experience this emotional distance as a threat. Thus this type of saviour will be extremely afraid of being abandoned.
- The terrorising saviour: This is a person who will want to do anything to avoid being abandoned. He or she is therefore a manipulator, who will exert physical and emotional control over his or her victim.
In the most extreme cases, the saviour may go so far as to provoke unhappiness in others by belittling them, manipulating them… in order to be able to save them more easily later.
2. The causes of saviour syndrome
There are several explanations for this syndrome. The causes of saviour syndrome are often found in childhood.
They may be children who have experienced various traumas, abandonment.
They may also be children who have been “parentified”. That is, they had to take on the role of parents to their brothers and sisters at a very early age.
They are people who need to feel valued and to exist for others. With their self-esteem often very low, helping others allows them to improve their ego.
3. The link with the nurse’s syndrome
With the multitude of syndromes that exist, it is easy to get lost. However, care must be taken not to confuse saviour syndrome with nurse syndrome.
The first distinction is made by the prevalence of people affected by the nurse syndrome. As the name suggests, it is often women who suffer from Nurse Syndrome, whereas for Saviour Syndrome it is men and women indiscriminately.
The second major distinction between the two comes from the provision of help. In the saviour syndrome, the person expects a certain amount of recognition for his or her help. Helping others allows them to inflate their ego. Some people will even call the saviour syndrome “narcissistic altruism“.
In Nurse Syndrome, people are not looking for any interest behind their help, they are in empathy, generosity and a need to help others, without expecting anything in return. The relationship of a person with Nurse Syndrome can be extremely toxic for both partners. The “nurse” will give everything for her/his spouse while the second person in the couple may feel infantilised.
4. Management of saviour syndrome
In order to be able to deal with the saviour syndrome, a first step is essential. Awareness of the disorder.
The aim of the therapy is not to fall into the other extreme and not to help others. But it is going to be in the fact of being able to accompany, to help without falling into an unhealthy relationship which can harm the person.
The needs of rescuers are often put aside in favour of the needs of others. The aim is to get the person to refocus on his or her own needs: to identify them and to concentrate on them.
It is necessary to work on the self-esteem of the rescuer, as well as on their negative beliefs.