The Problem with Trying to be a Superhero

I picked up running again. Oddly, I can quiet my mind when running. Probably because all I can focus on is my breathing and my legs. My neighbor, a 54-year-old marathon runner is kind enough to coach me. When the going gets hard I ask my neighbor questions between breaths about her training schedule, life, job, children, and personal ambitions. The more I can listen the more I can focus, run, and just be.

I do not like talking about myself unless it is about working on my mental health, but I do love listening to others. Thank god my therapy is via a phone call today. I start talking about all the things that happened in the past weeks. The common denominator: I feel other people are making their problems mine, and I do not like it. It is annoying. I go on … and on … and on…

She pauses and says, “…we talked about your superhero syndrome…”.
After two years, she does not sugar coat anything, and I am okay with it.
As a big Marvel fan, my initial reaction is, “yeah, I know! but who do you think represents me best from the Marvel Universe considering this week’s back story?” but I know that is not the point.

In a nutshell, the superhero syndrome in psychology is defined as the need to fix other’s problems and by this “save” them. Selflessly fighting and taking on a great deal of pressure with a great sense of responsibility. This also results in striving for perfection. Please do not even mention failures or mistakes because those can rip a superheroes’ heart. Gasps. “Unless somebody asks for it, do not offer help.” she continues.

She said this probably 20 times before. Me wanting to save people is like an annoying infomercial at this point. Like the ones showing consequences of unresolved problems and screaming “Let this help you.” As a classic enabler since 1992, I feel guilty if I do not rescue. My therapist reminds me “when you rescue the victim remains comfortably the victim.” I am not talking about actual victims here. I am talking about somebody acting like one; helpless, hopeless, and powerless. This bugs me. At the same time, I still feel guilty when I do not provide help.

It is such an automatic reflex reaction to help someone, to save. It comes so naturally. Somebody shares a problem, and my brain immediately goes yelling “Let me help you”. Potential scenarios full of various solutions come pouring out of my mouth. I start absorbing their pain, emotions, and make it mine. Place myself in their shoes. Well in my case, it is not only shoes, is it? No. It is shoes, clothes, accessories, full on lives. I wear them. And it does not fit. I force it, with all the pressure.

After all that effort, I remain annoyed at victims, because they always keep saying “but… but… your situation is different than mine”. After all that I went through? For you? Can you imagine? So offensive. I am offended. But I forget, every single time, I forget they never said “Can you help?”.

I do not want to help others without them asking for help anymore.
I do not want to disguise my own problems as concern for other’s needs.
I do not want to shove my own anxiety up their problems.
I do not want to share my problems either; I am paying professionals for that.

I want to save myself from becoming the victim. Despite being fully aware that my character is shaped to be a savior, and I am good at problem solving the question remains “why solve problems before
people ask for a solution?” Are people around me complaining? Ask them to clarify. Lean back and ask them but what will you do? And just listen.

Exactly like when I am running and cannot talk because I am focusing on my breathing and legs. My breathing, my legs, my life, their problems.

I have been listening to Whitney Cumming’s podcast Good for You religiously since Covid-19 hit. She has been talking about codependency and enabling. This is exactly that. Why doesn’t it still register? Breaking this cycle is not easy but it is not worth me spending all my energy to fix other’s problems either. I am tired. I am so tired.

“Do not create victims” her voice echoes through my AirPods, I repeat loudly what she says. Do not create victims … It is kind but it is not necessary for me to provide help. It is destructive. I do not want destructive interactions anymore.

But still, I think I would be Hulk, taking off in a plane.

Selin Varol

Selin Varol is a Writer and Social Insights Expert living in Rotterdam, The Netherlands. She finds peace daily during her walks with Mocha (the dog), devouring coffee, and consuming an inglorious amount of comedy specials and movies.

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