Superheroes are everywhere. We see them on TV, in movies, all over food packaging, in drive-thru kids’ meal toys and everywhere else. They span generations. From a young age, lots of us played with superhero toys and watched the cartoons. We idolized strong, able, invincible heroes who came to the aid of innocent people in need. Some of us still do. Some of us even try to be heroes ourselves. People who strive to achieve, rescue and fix everything in real life suffer from something called the Superman complex, and it’s not a healthy way to live.
The Superman (or Superwoman) complex is the common term for a psychological state in which a person believes no harm can come to them or that they can never fail. They feel like it’s their duty to take on every problem, big or small, no matter what the cost. Those with a Superman complex feel the need to complete tasks for others constantly, believing others to be incapable of completing them themselves. Also dubbed the savior complex, this mind condition often makes people feel the need to save everyone else from failure or harm.
People who suffer from a Superman complex feel the need to “fix” everyone else’s problems in life, sometimes at the cost of their own needs. Over time, living a life as Superman takes its toll. Without caring for themselves, people can’t possibly continue taking care of others.
If this sounds like it might be you, you could be dealing with a Superman complex. You might just feel this way in one area of your life such as work or home. Or, it might affect you all the time, everywhere. Here are some signs you might currently be suffering from a Superman complex:
If you want to help others, why is that such a bad thing? The problem with the Superman complex, however, is it’s not sustainable. It’ll deplete all your energy, and it won’t teach other people how to do things for themselves (internal motivation). Therefore, the “help” you offer may likely be only a short-term solution.
Being Superman also stresses you out, whether you realize it or not. When you spend so much time worrying about completing work that others should be doing themselves, how can you adequately complete your own work? There just isn’t enough time or energy. Some people develop a Superman complex as a way of avoiding their own lives. This will only make problems worse, not better.
If you’re starting to think you might be suffering from a Superman complex, start making some changes so you can live a healthier and happier life.
When you see the opportunity to rush in and save someone, take a moment to consider the situation before running to help. Ask yourself if you’re truly needed in the situation. Did anyone ask for your help? If you help, is it going to negatively impact you and your responsibilities in any way? It’s hard to pause when you are compelled in the moment to go help someone, but with practice, it can become habitual. It can save you from acting spontaneously and taking on too much.
Some people with a Superman complex think they are superior to everyone else and the only ones capable of solving problems. For example, at work, there might be someone who’s worried their team won’t meet a deadline. So, this worker takes on everyone else’s work at an insane cost to herself. In the long run, the project is complete, but at what cost?
Instead, to help the team, you could give tips and advice to them to move them along. You could increase team morale. There are other ways to help. If the project isn’t complete in time, you need to realize that it’s just part of being on a team — you have to let go of a little control. And if there are consequences, you take them as a team, too.
Talk about this stuff with a trusted friend, family member, or therapist. They can help you work through your emotions and perhaps, find the cause of your Superman complex. Sometimes, when talking to others, we see our issues more clearly. By hearing yourself say the words out loud, your thoughts can take on a new perspective. Plus, others can point out to you when your thoughts seem to be out of proportion to the seriousness of the situation.
Instead of running around trying to fix everyone else’s problems, you can better help them by teaching them what they need to know to be more successful on their own. Empowering others with the capability to help themselves is much better than running around scooping up problems and trying to solve them because of control issues. That’s being more of a hero in the long run.
People suffering a Superman complex usually have one big thing in common — they don’t take enough time to take care of themselves. Set aside time every week to focus on just you. Mark it in your calendar, set a reminder and don’t let anything get in the way. Do something you enjoy: going on a run, taking a bubble bath, going to a concert, etc. When you begin spending on yourself, you’ll start realizing how good it feels to just let go of everything else for a while. It can help you learn to set more boundaries in your life.
Everyone needs a break, even superheroes. So, take a break from all the responsibility. Let someone else be the hero. If you believe in a higher power, let that higher power run things. If you don’t, put faith in the universe’s magical ability to keep going. Realize that there are other ways for people to find help besides just you. Remind yourself the universe won’t end if things don’t go perfectly. Life will go on.
When you have a Superman complex, it’s going to take some time to work through it. Be patient with yourself and those around you during the process. Most importantly, take care of yourself. For some ideas on me-time, check out these self-care tips for working women.
Valerie Sizelove is a freelance writer of blog posts, career guides and more. Her specialties lie in writing about mental health, careers and parenting. When she's not writing up a storm, you might find Valerie cooking a huge dinner for her family of 6 or tinkering around in her amateur vegetable garden. Books are pretty good, too. You can find her on LinkedIn and Facebook.