We have all either experienced or know of people whose relationships are full of drama. In fact, it is so common that our language is full of colloquialisms that describe the boundaries of such relationships: “Save the drama for your mama,” “Not my circus, not my monkeys,” or as seen in the Target dollar area: “No Drama Llama.” There are names for this type of relationship dynamic: The Martyr Complex and the Savior Complex. The Martyr Complex refers to someone who feels the need to sacrifice herself for somebody else’s sake. The Savior Complex refers to someone who feels the need to constantly save somebody else. They are two sides of the same coin, and a compulsive role that subconsciously needs to be played within a person. However, it centers around, interestingly enough, not the need to save or sacrifice but the need for drama. The hard reality is that we all know intrinsically that we can’t save anyone else, it’s everything around the saving and sacrificing that draws us in.
Martyrs and Saviors
For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you.
how drama erodes friendship
Second Thessalonians 3:11 has another word for “drama,” and that’s periergazomenous, translated “busybodies.” The picture Paul gives is a person who goes around focusing on what other people are doing instead of what she needs to do—she’s shirking her work. From a therapeutic point of view, that is exactly what occurs in relationships involving a martyr/savior complex. It is when people subconsciously try to avoid the internal and emotional work (healing) that they need to do by focusing on: 1) everything they are sacrificing or suffering for another, or 2) the perceived needs and rescuing work surrounding someone else. A person with a savior and martyr complex is someone who has internalized and stuffed down her own pain and projected it onto someone else. It is not healthy for either party, because the best thing we can do for a friend is to tell and show her that, through Christ, she is strong and capable (Philippians 4:13). A friendship that is centered around periergazomenous can become stifling because it lacks depth and authenticity.
We are not each other’s saviors. We only have One Savior. May we always help our friends see Him above all, and may we trust Him with the parts we may have hidden even to ourselves. The courage to be still allows us to know that God is God, and find peace in the midst of our pain.
Watch Session Four
Is there a relationship in your life that is marked by drama? Ponder if there is a trace of martyrdom or savior complex in that dynamic. Is there a hidden need that you’re trying to meet? This may take some journaling to uncover. Give it to our God who supplies every need according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus (Phil 4:19).
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