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I Gotta Watch Out for the Saviour Complex

Deepa Krishnan

Author: Deepa Krishnan

Date: Tue, 2017-08-01 11:30

One of the problems in doing "social work" is that I have become a real worry-wart. I worry about our Abhyudaya kids all the time.

It's really not surprising. I see a lot of poverty and injustice around me. The children live in a terribly unhygienic environment, and don't have access to toilets or sanitation. They go to schools that provide very poor quality education. They don't have enough career opportunities. There's the added threat of early removal from the education system, and the threat of early marriage... in other words, there's a lot that can derail the journey of these kids. So like an anxious shepherd tending a flock, I worry all the time about seeing them safely through.

Sometimes I fight battles on their behalf. And I even win some. When I realise that I can actually make a difference, this makes me feel even more responsible for their welfare. But the size of the problem is very large, so I worry that no matter how much I do, it is not enough. I worry that the world will suck the children into a whirlpool of tribulations. 

Yesterday I was talking about some of these worries to a friend. And then suddenly it struck me that I am probably suffering from a Saviour Complex. Just because I have won a few battles, it doesn't mean that the whole world of the children revolves around me. I need to stop thinking that I am the only one making an impact on their lives. They themselves have a lot of agency, and so do their parents. They have many well-wishers, including a big support system of family and friends. It struck me that all social workers need the humility to accept their limited roles. The Saviour Complex is a dangerous thing, because it leads to self-aggrandizement. Instead, we need to tread light and easy.

It's important that I fight battles. It's important that I do what I can. But I must realise that if I were to disappear off the planet tomorrow, the children's lives will still go on. Abhyudaya is a strong programme, and it will continue.

Prof. Deepa Krishnan, Head of  SPJIMR's Abhyudaya initiative, with the Abhyudaya kids

My focus should be to build systems into the programme that will ensure its continuity. I must strengthen the programme so much that I myself become completely redundant. That is the road to making a lasting impact.

People are always talking about leadership, and how important it is. But when it comes to social work, it is more important for the organisation to be sustainable and strong, rather than have any dependence on a dynamic individual leader.

By the way - as a footnote - the same Saviour Complex lesson applies to parenting also. As a mother, I worry all the time about my daughter. I fret about her future, and I make efforts to shield her from any possible trouble. But the truth is that I am not my daughter's keeper. Her life is her own, and she will lead it with or without me. I am there to guide, to mentor, to wipe tears if needed. But she is her own person. My role should only be to develop her own independence, to the point where she no longer needs me. Easier said than done!




Ma'am, after a very long time I have read something which is so real and anyone can connect to it so easily. I read the entire blog , because when blogs have a new concept to share (like here the idea of "saviour complex") it makes it extremely interesting. Look forward to more of such blogs from you. Regards.

Glad you liked the article. Thank you for the comments. It encourages me to post more :-)

I found this piece an extremely interesting, heart-warming one. Prof. Deepa Krishnan seems to; through her blog, dabble with her mind and heart strings. One can notice how she is being tugged from seeking to take complete responsibility for the troubles and challenges faced by the children of Abhyudaya ‘all the time’; and on the other hand also has contrasting thoughts which are holistic in nature - that it is not really her personal responsibility to take care of all marginalised children and goes on to narrate pragmatically that, ‘their lives will still go on’. The human race, through time and ions; on one hand has the overall of tendency to produce some who horde wealth, resources and power and thus bereave the rest of humanity, while often in more ways than one brashly or subtlety, sought to enslave the populace. And on the other, find that the same human race conceives good men and women who devote partially or wholly their life to the elevation of the downtrodden and the subjugated. It is such gems of our society who render their time, intellect, money partially and sometimes wholly, to selfless service to humankind. While enduring names such as mother Teresa and baba Amte stick in our minds and are fondly remembered; it is heartening to notice people who walk in our midst; also having the same streak of kindness, empathy and action; to of their own volition, do good for the under privileged. This gives us hope, that in this present day of ‘each one for himself and God for all’; we also have God’s ‘angels’ who proliferate goodness not only through their words but through good deeds. At the time I am writing this, I reckon a quote by Henry Adams… “A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops”, I think this is even more true for the impoverished, ailing and unfortunate people and more so children, who are touched by God’s ‘angels’ and who have derived the first hand benefit of such genuine, extended aid, support and concern for them at a time in their life, when they need it most and which often made the difference in turning their very lives around. One has great hope that the circle of life will bring forth more such evangelists of goodness who in turn will either ‘pay forward’ or be inspired by such angels, to forge ahead in elevating others towards a better world. One life at a time.

Time changes, things change and people have to change accordingly, a friend once gave me this mantra when I was in my first-year junior college and these words have been with me since then. Today as I read this article, it surprises me that these words which I will take with me to my grave stand true in every aspect of life. Case in point being this complex that you are feeling..the Saviour Complex, I feel the main reason why we all have this complex (up to different extent) is because we fail to come to terms with the truth of life, that “Change is the only Constant”. The mention of your daughter in the last paragraph is so relatable, my mother has said the same words to me so many times, that she will be my shield when I am weak, but I need to be a self-made woman. I think we all fail to understand that life goes on with or without us, as much as we may want to control, change, improve things, there will be times when things will not be in our control and the best way to deal with those, is to find a way to work around them instead of worrying about why this happened and that it shouldn’t have happened. It is good to take up responsibility of things, the way you feel responsible for the Abhyudaya girls is totally relatable, you are like a motherly figure for them, but it’s also equally true that we alone can’t be the centre of anyone’s universe. Everyone comes in the other individual’s life for a purpose, once the purpose is fulfilled, we need to move on and the beneficiary needs to then progress with the lesson he has received. A good business is not the one that has a great leader, but a great business that is sustainable and can keep increasing in the long run. It is humanly impossible to beyond certain number of years, but, some of the most renowned business in today’s date are the ones that were started in 1800s and are still and will continue to flourish. Thus coming back to your point, how have these businesses managed to be where they are….the leaders put a process in place that allowed the business to grow without being dependent on one person…As you rightly said…we need to watch out for the Saviour Complex.

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