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"Superhero Syndrome": when you shouldn't try to be a savior

©Esteban Lopez

Who doesn’t want to be a superhero? Possessing superpowers to save the world is surely a cool thing! Superhuman strength, invulnerability, flight, telekinesis, time travel, you name it. While becoming a superhero sounds great, it turns out that “trying to become one” is not always a good idea.


Welcome to the second episode of “why some engineering projects intended to improve the livelihood of a community fail miserably.” (Yes, I have to think of a much simpler and cooler name). In this post, I will cover a rather interesting subject: superhero syndrome.

Also known as “hero syndrome” or “savior complex”, this term describes a condition where someone strives to be a hero. Hold up, isn’t that great?

Well yes, but actually no. The person with this problem acts “desperately”, ranging from an overly-hardworking attitude, to excessive self-sacrifices, and to the point where someone might “stage the conflict” themselves. This desperation comes from strong motivation in many forms. It could be the quite-innocent sense of “doing the right thing” or the sense of responsibility to help others, to the need of being acknowledged by others, or even just to feel the excitement.

While this phenomenon isn’t classified as a mental disorder, there are many cases where it brings detrimental effects. Some case studies of hero syndrome among civil servants reveal flabbergasting stories, starting from police officers who corroborate hoaxes to appear heroic, to firefighters who deliberately set arson just to enjoy the thrill of subduing the flames. On a smaller scale, hero syndrome might lead to a hostile working environment and subjective judgments. There is one common pattern: people who are afflicted by the hero syndrome are often unaware of the gravity of the problems they create due to overconfidence and narcissism.

Okay. So, what does hero syndrome have to do with engineering projects?

A lot, actually. Doing good deeds is exciting, and at the same time… intoxicating. We might be caught in an illusion shaped by the excitement of becoming a powerful-and-good person, detaching us from reality. In the end, it will set domino effects that spell disasters.

There is no such thing as a Superman that can save this world a thousand times. But we can be a super team to try to help the world one step at a time.

Remember the second lesson from my previous post? I have a story about that and how the hero syndrome complicates things. But that’s the story for another Sunday.

See you next week!

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1 Comment

Tomas Virgin
Tomas Virgin
Nov 14, 2023

You really shouldn't be a superhero like in the picture superhero background It is worth being a team, because it is very difficult to decide something and influence something alone, and only a team truly succeeds

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