Addressing the Savior Complex in Adoptive Parents

Adopting a child is a noble decision. There is no denying that taking in a child who needs a loving home is a wonderful choice for both you and the child. No one would ever take from you the fact that you are helping this child have a better life, but keep in mind that you are not saving them either.

Adoption is not a rescue mission but a decision to grow your family. It is not heroic but loving and complicated. It is important to go in with the right intentions and maintain an outlook of simple, radical love rather than being a savior when adopting.

The Focus of Adoption

Adoption is not a one-time decision but one that lasts a lifetime. Adoption requires the right motivation as well as skill and patience when bringing a child into your home. Not only will your life change immeasurably, but you need to learn how to make the needs of your adopted child a priority.

You want to be an effective parent, but to be one, you have to do more than want it. You need to be willing to put in the work and get educated on the developmental stages and behaviors of children, specifically adopted children, as they can be different from children who live with their biological families.

Considering your family’s situation and preparing for the changes to come is crucial to successful adoption. Be aware of the challenges and opportunities that come with adoption, no matter your circumstances.

What the Savior Complex Can Lead To

The savior complex is not something most adoptive parents plan on. Most people don’t adopt a child because they want to feel like a savior, but it is easy to fall into this way of thinking. When you adopt a child, it can be easy to think of yourself as a hero. Where would this child be without you? This is such a good deed. You put your needs aside for those of this child.

However, adoption is not about you. Every step of adoption, from meeting the child to bringing them into your home, is about them and the family as a whole. If you develop the savior complex, it not only leaves you feeling like you’ve somehow done your child a favor by adopting them but that they are who they are and have what they have only because of you.

This mindset creates an unhealthy environment for the child and the family. It can lead to behaviors that portray such thoughts. When a child is raised to believe their worth is tied to you saving them, and yours is tied to their success with your guidance, it can lead to codependency or enmeshment. These are both symptoms of boundary issues. If a parent is over-protective or over-involved, a child’s growth and maturity may be stunted. Their identity and individuality can be skewed, and that relationship can become dysfunctional.

As an adoptive parent, you may feel that you put extensive effort into adopting this child. You may even feel as though you’re owed a “thank you” from the child or a bond that isn’t healthy. Many adopted children, especially ones that have endured trauma, have been through more in their lives than many adults can imagine. With the constant uncertainty of their young lives, it should be no surprise that they do not show outward signs of gratitude—and they do not have to.

If a parent is wanting a child to not take their love for granted or for some level of appreciation, they are likely suffering from the savior complex.

How to Avoid the Savior Complex

Children need love whether they thank you for it or return it, especially in adoption situations. Adoption has a lot of unknowns, uncertainties, and possible outcomes, and as a parent, you are the one taking those on. You probably don’t expect yourself to develop a savior complex, but it can begin without your awareness. To avoid it, take steps to ensure you are putting your child first by providing them with everything they need to prosper in their new environment.

For example, transracial adoption provides a unique experience and opportunity to families, but it can also come with unexpected challenges. How do you overcome cultural, racial, or ethnic differences? In some instances, parents may downplay or even ignore the adoptive child’s ethnicity because they don’t know how to address it. Ensuring your child knows where they come from and has the chance to connect with their heritage is essential for their identity and individuality.

By taking action to make your child feel as though you see them for who they are and not as an extension of yourself, you are not only encouraging their growth and confidence but also your own as a parent. Taking part in bonding activities with the entire family centered around your, and your child’s routines builds a strong and healthy connection.

Adoption is rewarding and beautiful, but not free from challenges. It can be a difficult process and can bring with it a lot of unexpected hurdles and worries, even once complete. At Havenwood Academy, we focus on the importance of family inclusion in our program. We help the girls in our care build confidence and trust and use multiple techniques and therapies to bring adoptive families together. We can help you work through issues like the savior complex, enmeshment, and codependency, so the entire family can thrive together. The girls we help will learn to work through attachment issues in a safe and comforting environment. Our team can help you identify and address all concerns from behavioral to psychological and more. Our focus is on your family’s safety, health, and happiness. Call us at (435) 586-2500 now to learn about our offerings and resources.


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