(Last Updated On: December 31, 2023)

Savior Syndrome (Savior Complex or Messiah Complex)

And the Negative Consequences to Them and Other Scam Victims

Author:
•  Tim McGuinness, Ph.D. – Anthropologist, Scientist, Director of the Society of Citizens Against Relationship Scams Inc.
Originally Published on RomanceScamsNOW.com 2018

Savior Syndrome/Savior Complex – How Victims Often Use Negative Coping Mechanisms To Avoid The Pain Of Their Own Trauma

After Someone Is Victimized They Are Often Desperate To Take Control Back

The development of savior syndrome in scam victims who have experienced prior trauma is a complex and often counterintuitive phenomenon. It is a very powerful negative coping mechanism that leads them to believe they must help others instead of helping themselves first. However, understanding the underlying factors can help us offer better support and guidance to these individuals.

What is Savior Syndrome?

Savior syndrome is a psychological pattern where individuals become excessively focused on helping others immediately after the scam ends and for several months, often to the point of neglecting their own needs and well-being. In the context of scam victims, this manifests as an intense desire to help other victims, even at the expense of their own emotional and financial recovery.

Why would Traumatized Scam Victims develop Savior Syndrome?

There are several explanations for this seemingly paradoxical behavior:

  • Guilt and Self-blame: Prior trauma can leave individuals grappling with guilt and self-blame. Focusing on helping others, particularly fellow victims, can be a way to subconsciously assuage these emotions and feel a sense of control or agency.
  • Need for Validation and Identity: Trauma can shatter one’s sense of self and purpose. Helping others can offer a sense of purpose and validation, allowing the victim to reclaim their identity as a ‘helper’ or ‘protector.’
  • Hope and Distraction: Focusing on others’ plights can be a way to distract from their own emotional pain and trauma. Additionally, witnessing others beginning to overcome similar experiences can foster hope and a sense of their shared journey.
  • Hypervigilance and Emotional Contagion: Individuals who are traumatized can be more attuned to the emotional distress of others and feel a heightened sense of responsibility to intervene. This hypervigilance, combined with the emotional contagion (also known as Vicarious Trauma) of witnessing another’s pain, can fuel the urge to help.
  • Desire for Revenge – Forming a Possee: In their desire to see justice served for themselves, saviors often believe that law enforcement does nothing, and it falls on them to gather other scam victims around them out of a desire to take action – in effect form a posse and become vigilantes. Sadly, there are thousands of such victim groups on social media.

Why Do Crime Victims Try To Control Their Situation By Trying To Control Others By Becoming Saviors?

It is not uncommon for people who have experienced trauma, such as being the victim of a crime, to feel a sense of loss of control over their lives.

  • In an effort to regain a sense of control, they may try to control their environment or the people around them.
  • This is a coping mechanism to help them feel more secure and less vulnerable.

However, it is important to recognize that attempting to control others is not a healthy or effective way to cope with trauma or to try to regain a sense of control. It is important for individuals who have experienced trauma to seek support from trusted friends, family members, or mental health professionals or support organizations to help them cope with their experiences in a healthy and adaptive way.

The Negative Consequences of Savior Syndrome to the Savior

While the intentions of individuals exhibiting savior complex, savior syndrome, or messiah complex might seem noble, their actions can be quite harmful, both to themselves and the scam victims they claim to be helping.

Savior Syndrome is mostly detrimental to themselves in the long run – here’s a closer look at the negative psychological effects:

  • Burnout and Exhaustion: The relentless focus on “saving” others can lead to emotional and physical exhaustion. This constant pressure to be strong and perfect can leave the savior feeling depleted and unable to care for themselves, hindering their own healing process.
  • Increased Anxiety and Stress: The intense responsibility of guiding and protecting others can generate significant anxiety and stress. The fear of not being “good enough” or failing to prevent others’ suffering can exacerbate emotional distress.
  • Distorted Self-perception: The savior narrative reinforces a self-image of being indispensable and superior. This can lead to arrogance, narcissism, and a lack of empathy for those they “help.” It absolutely leads to a very distorted view of their own knowledge and expertise, which then crosses legal & licensing boundaries.
  • Poor Boundaries and Codependency: Savior complex often blurs boundaries, creating unhealthy codependent relationships with other victims. This can stifle the growth and autonomy of both the savior and the individuals they’re helping.
  • Loss of Authenticity and Identity: Excessive focus on external validation through “saving” others can lead to a loss of connection with one’s authentic self and core values which always need to be repaired and restored after a relationship scam and the severe betrayal that accompanies them.
  • Unrealistic Expectations and Potential Re-traumatization: The desire to “fix” others and prevent their suffering often leads to unrealistic expectations and disappointment. Witnessing others struggle or experience setbacks can also trigger re-traumatization for the savior since they are significantly over-reliant on cognitive biases.

Savior Syndrome’s Negative Effects on Other Scam Victims

While the intentions of individuals acting under the influence of savior syndrome might stem from a genuine desire to help, their actions can unintentionally inflict significant harm on the very individuals they aim to support. This harm can manifest in various ways, from fostering unhealthy dependence by overstepping boundaries and hindering personal growth to invalidating the unique experiences and emotions of others through a rigid, one-size-fits-all approach.

This dominance can stifle open communication and suppress personal voices, creating a potentially suffocating environment where unrealistic expectations and toxic positivity prevail. Even worse, the savior’s own unresolved issues might inadvertently trigger or re-traumatize those they seek to aid. We often see this leading to the fostering of aggressive and even hateful environments.

What it can do to Other Scam Victims:

  • Disabling Dependence: The savior’s constant interventions and guidance can hinder other victims’ development of their own coping mechanisms and resilience. This reliance on the savior can create a sense of learned helplessness and dependence.
  • Invalidation and Emotional Manipulation: The savior’s rigid, “one-size-fits-all” approach can invalidate the unique experiences and emotional responses of other victims. This can lead to feeling misunderstood, judged, and even emotionally manipulated.
  • Stifled Growth and Suppressed Voices: The savior’s domineering presence can prevent other victims from exploring their own emotions, expressing their concerns, and finding their own path to healing. This can create a stifled environment where individual growth and personal empowerment are hindered.
  • Negativity for Professionals: Saviors often diminish, if not completely negate the value that psychological or victims’ services professionals provide in helping traumatized scam victims. They typically instruct those in their care to avoid professionals because only they know what these victims need, only they will understand and not judge them. This can often be both illegal and more importantly denies scam victims the real help they need to successfully recover from their experiences.
  • Toxic Positivity and Unrealistic Expectations: The savior’s relentless optimism and insistence on finding “the silver lining” can be suffocating for other victims who might be struggling with anger, grief, or despair. This toxic positivity can invalidate their legitimate emotions and set unrealistic expectations for their healing journey.
  • Potential Retraumatization: The savior’s own trauma and unresolved issues might inadvertently trigger or re-traumatize other victims through insensitive comments, actions, or emotional outbursts.

Ultimately, attempting to “save” others from their struggles, despite good intentions, can hinder their personal journey toward healing and empowerment. Recognizing these pitfalls and fostering supportive environments that respect individual experiences are crucial for facilitating healthy recovery for all involved.

Countless Victims believe they are Instant Experts

A significant percentage of scam victims instantly believe they are experts just because they went through a scam. Being a victim does not make anyone an expert. As the saying goes, it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert at something. Instead, the scam victim’s own need to regain control leads them to believe they are more knowledgeable and capable than they are.

The desperate need to restore control frequently leads people to want and believe they are in control when they are really not. At least not yet. This leads them to believe they are competent to lead others, thus the development of the Savior Syndrome.

Many victims fall into this delusion, that they are the ONLY person that can save other victims.

Be watchful for people like this, they will pull the victims they are helping off course, try to dominate them and either prevent them from achieving real recovery or prevent them from recovering at all because they live in a constant state of certainty in their beliefs, often in outrage and anger while projecting concern for the wellbeing of other victims.

Several factors contribute to the misconception that ending a relationship scam automatically grants expertise in scams and related crimes:

  • False Sense of Mastery: Overcoming the emotional and financial impact of a scam can trigger a deep need for empowerment. This feeling can be misconstrued as expertise, leading the victim to believe they’ve gained special knowledge and insight into the workings of scams.
  • Identity Recovery: For many victims, reclaiming their sense of identity after being deceived is a crucial part of healing. Sharing their experience and offering advice to others can be a powerful way to rebuild their sense of control and agency. However, this does not equate to professional expertise.
  • Confirmation Bias and Other Cognitive Biases: Often, scam victims seek out information that confirms their existing understanding of the situation. This confirmation bias can lead them to overemphasize their own experiences and disregard broader perspectives on scams and crime prevention. Their own cognitive biases both limit and bias the information they seek and exclude information that does not conform to their beliefs.
  • Lack of Awareness: Many people underestimate the complexity and sophistication of scams, victimology, and criminology. These are sciences that take significant learning to comprehend. They may mistakenly assume that once they understand the tactics used in their own experience, they are equipped to understand all types of scams.
  • Emotional Investment: The intense emotions associated with being scammed can make it difficult for victims to remain objective. This emotional investment clouds their judgment and leads them to overestimate their own understanding of the crime.
  • Cognitive Impairment: Trauma, by its very nature impairs the brain in significant ways, leading to being controlled by emotions (courtesy of the Amygdala) and the making of impulsive decisions. This impairs learning and decision-making to a great extent for many months (sometimes years) after the scam ends.

The Dangers of the ‘Instant Scam Expert’ Misconception:

  • Misinformation: Sharing inaccurate information about scams misleads others and causes significant harm to other victims and to the overall goals of reducing these crimes.
  • Victim Blaming: When self-proclaimed ‘scam experts’ judge or blame other victims, it can discourage reporting and perpetuate a culture of silence.
  • Undermining Professional Efforts: Law enforcement and consumer protection agencies have extensive experience and expertise in investigating and preventing scams. Relying solely on anecdotal information from scam victims can hinder their work. Instant experts also help convince victims that there is nothing wrong with them, performing unlawful diagnoses and steering victims away from professional support, counseling, and therapy that they so desperately need.

How does Someone develop Savior Syndrome or Messiah Syndrome?

Savior syndrome (Saaviors) or Messiah syndrome is a psychological condition where a person feels a compulsive need to rescue or save others, often to the point of putting themselves in harm’s way or causing harm to others.

Here are a few factors that may contribute to the development of savior syndrome:

  • Childhood Experiences: Childhood experiences such as neglect, abuse, or trauma can contribute to the development of savior syndrome. People who experienced neglect or abuse may feel a need to rescue others as a way of compensating for their own unmet needs.
  • Personality Traits: Certain personality traits such as a need for control, low self-esteem, or a desire for validation can also contribute to savior syndrome. People with these traits may feel a need to rescue others as a way of feeling more powerful or valued.
  • Cultural and Societal Expectations: Cultural and societal expectations can also contribute to savior syndrome. In some cultures, there may be a strong emphasis on self-sacrifice and putting others first, which can contribute to the development of savior syndrome.
  • Trauma Exposure: Exposure to traumatic events or experiences can lead to a desire to help others who have experienced similar trauma. This can sometimes lead to savior syndrome if the desire to help becomes compulsive or overwhelming.
  • Enabling Behavior: People who engage in enabling behavior may inadvertently contribute to the development of savior syndrome. Enabling behavior involves supporting someone’s harmful behavior by making excuses or ignoring the harm it causes. This can reinforce the belief that the person needs to be rescued or saved.

Overall, savior syndrome is a complex condition that can be influenced by a variety of factors. It is important to seek help from a mental health professional who can provide support and guidance for anyone who feels compelled to help others after a recent trauma.

Scam Victims are Easy Prey of Saviors

Being scammed once only confirms that a person is susceptible to being scammed again.

Avoiding scams is not about attitude, nor is it about knowledge alone. It is about a combination of knowledge and new behaviors that help to hold people back when they want to make an impulsive action. It is about learning that emotions are easily hijacked, and the need to change behaviors to alow time to let it fade.

Unfortunately, to most scam victims, Saviors are every bit as dangerous as scammers because saviors believe they are the only one who knows anything – when in reality they only know a few bits and pieces and are responsible for spreading large amounts of false or urban legends to other victims. They tend to be very domineering with other victims and argumentative towards real professionals.

There are thousands of one-person saviors or small amateur anti-scam groups. All scam victims need to be careful of whom they trust and follow. They are a big part of the reason why less than a quarter of victims recover from these crimes.

Do Your Homework. Trust The Trustworthy, But Not Because They Say So!

We hope you find this information beneficial. We hope we can help you avoid scammers and to recover who you were before.

SCARS offers free, safe, confidential and private support groups for scam victims who need help. But if not, that’s ok too – we will wish you well and hope that you learned enough to help you make it through.

To join one of our support & recovery groups please visit support.AgainstScams.org

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PLEASE NOTE: Psychology Clarification

The following specific modalities within the practice of psychology are restricted to psychologists appropriately trained in the use of such modalities:

  • Diagnosis: The diagnosis of mental, emotional, or brain disorders and related behaviors.
  • Psychoanalysis: Psychoanalysis is a type of therapy that focuses on helping individuals to understand and resolve unconscious conflicts.
  • Hypnosis: Hypnosis is a state of trance in which individuals are more susceptible to suggestion. It can be used to treat a variety of conditions, including anxiety, depression, and pain.
  • Biofeedback: Biofeedback is a type of therapy that teaches individuals to control their bodily functions, such as heart rate and blood pressure. It can be used to treat a variety of conditions, including stress, anxiety, and pain.
  • Behavioral analysis: Behavioral analysis is a type of therapy that focuses on changing individuals’ behaviors. It is often used to treat conditions such as autism and ADHD.
    Neuropsychology: Neuropsychology is a type of psychology that focuses on the relationship between the brain and behavior. It is often used to assess and treat cognitive impairments caused by brain injuries or diseases.

SCARS and the members of the SCARS Team do not engage in any of the above modalities in relationship to scam victims. SCARS is not a mental healthcare provider and recognizes the importance of professionalism and separation between its work and that of the licensed practice of psychology.

SCARS is an educational provider of generalized self-help information that individuals can use for their own benefit to achieve their own goals related to emotional trauma. SCARS recommends that all scam victims see professional counselors or therapists to help them determine the suitability of any specific information or practices that may help them.

SCARS cannot diagnose or treat any individuals, nor can it state the effectiveness of any educational information that it may provide, regardless of its experience in interacting with traumatized scam victims over time. All information that SCARS provides is purely for general educational purposes to help scam victims become aware of and better understand the topics and to be able to dialog with their counselors or therapists.

It is important that all readers understand these distinctions and that they apply the information that SCARS may publish at their own risk, and should do so only after consulting a licensed psychologist or mental healthcare provider.

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The opinions of the author are not necessarily those of the Society of Citizens Against Rleationship Scams Inc. The author is solely responsible for the content of their work. SCARS is protected under the Communications Decency Act (CDA) section 230 from liability.

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