Don't Be A Hero: 3 Reasons Your Superman Complex Is Only Hurting You

by Marlessa Stivala

A self-appointed hero takes to an emotionally damaged, misunderstood individual and makes it his or her mission to save people from whatever has seemingly caused such a wound. Maybe they’ll become best friends, or maybe they’ll even fall in love.

This cliché has been seen time and again in books, television and films. It's usually an entertaining one (it helps that the “damaged” individual is usually an attractive, James Dean-esque rebel with a mysterious past). In reality, being involved in this type of friendship or relationship can be just as intoxicating … emphasis on the toxic.

Over the years, I have had more than my fair share of stints as the “hero” in such situations. I will tell you one thing right off the bat: None of the people in my life who I decided to help ever looked like James Dean.

One was a childhood acquaintance who struggled with confidence issues and came to rely on me a bit too much for reassurance.

One was someone who could be vindictive and borderline cruel to others, but showed me a genuine, vulnerable side I believed was worth protecting and nurturing. Another, still, was somebody who firmly believed she had no self-worth, as long as she remained single.

While each and every one of these individuals obviously had varying personalities and carried different emotional baggage, my interactions with them were essentially the same.

They would come into my life, I would notice them struggling with some sort of burden and, for one reason or another, I would empathize with them to the point of it feeling like their problem was now mine.

It is only recently I have finally come to terms with the three key reasons why my desire to try and “save” them was never going to end well.

This is why:

1. It hindered their own growth.

I 've always liked to think I'm a good friend who can be counted on to offer a shoulder to cry on or to give honest advice.

But there is a world of difference between helping friends in need and helping them to the point of inadvertently denying them their own agency.

You know how there are always two characters on a TV show who most of the other characters think should get together, but nothing really happens until the actual couple in question makes this realization for themselves?

The same logic applies here.

I could have talked endlessly if I wanted to, but in the end, it was never quite enough. I could never make anyone feel more self-confident. I could never make anyone renounce cruelty in favor of kindness. I could never fully convince anyone that a romantic partner was not a necessary ingredient for a happy life.

I could never save people. They had to save themselves.

2. It trapped me in a vicious cycle.

The other person would say or message me something self-deprecating such as, “I will never be successful, so I might as well accept that,” or, “No one will ever want me.”

Alternatively, I would witness the other person in a situation in which they were essentially allowing themselves to be treated with less respect than they deserved.

I would say and do whatever I could to try and help them, and they would seemingly listen before quickly going back to their previous behavior.

Even though the problem was theirs and not mine, I would find myself becoming so emotionally invested in this other person’s well-being, I would neglect my own.

Lather, rinse, repeat.

3. It was making me unhappy.

The more I found myself trapped in such a vicious cycle, the unhappier I was. I was neglecting hobbies and interests that made me happy. I was neglecting the positive people in my life, in favor of worrying over those who caused me nothing but stress.

Worst of all, I reached point where I did not even recognize who those positive people were. I was allowing myself to be in codependent, toxic friendships that were draining the energy out of me.

There was something else, too: Their baggage was really not any of my business.

These people were not my children. Therefore, they were not mine to care for or look after. How they chose to act, feel or think was ultimately in their hands.

If they were truly as unhappy with themselves as they claimed to be, they would have to love themselves enough to seek out their own happiness.

And I would have to love myself enough to seek out mine.