The Hero Complex


The thought of being a hero is pretty great. The rewarding sensation that comes with helping someone out can feel awesome, whether it’s a serious situation or even a small favor. Not everyone has one, but a decent amount of people like helping others for the sake of others, and an unintended side effect is that they feel good for being helpful. Some people want to help a little too much though, and they have what’s known as the Hero Complex.

We’ve all found ourselves in situations where we feel like we want to help to be the hero, whether it’s necessary or not. We’ve all gotten the “I’m alright, thanks for the offer!” comment every now and then, it’s totally normal and to be expected.

Whether it’s offering to help someone move, offering to drop someone off, or walking someone home at night, there are tons of instances where we might think we can be helpful when it’s needed.

The point being, sometimes it’s not needed, and other times someone does want help, but they’d prefer to receive it from someone else.

Sometimes the desire to help others goes a bit too far. This is where we run into the Hero Complex. By itself, the Hero Complex isn’t inherently bad. We like to be the hero, so if we find an opportunity to do so, we often take it. But sometimes our help isn’t needed, and men with a Hero Complex are slow to realize that help isn’t needed, or they might not even realize it at all.

This can lead to acting unnecessarily overprotective and overbearing, which doesn’t always send the right message to a potential partner.

man wearing superhero costume

Signs You Have a Hero Complex

Helping a potential significant other out with things is typically a good way to win them over. Most of the time, we’re helping for the sake of helping, but we’re also helping because we feel that they might be important to us. If you think someone has the potential to be your wife, you’d probably be more willing to fix her flat tire in comparison to a stranger’s.

Alternatively, if a guy at work was giving her trouble, you’d probably care about helping her out more than you would another one of her coworkers who’s in that situation.

Not to say that you wouldn’t help the stranger or the coworker, just that you’re naturally invested in helping her out more than other people (along the same lines of taking out your mom’s trash but not a neighbor’s). Helping her out feels good and you want the best for her, so you’ll do what you can to make her life better.

This is the primary idea that drives the Hero Complex. Being the hero feels great, and taking steps to put yourself in heroic positions is one way to experience that feeling.

People with the Hero Complex go overboard with this mentality, which usually ends up them making relationships worse by assuming the wants or needs of a potential partner.

Here are some signs that you might have this complex:

If you assume what a potential partner might want or need and you act without asking them first. Sometimes what a partner might need is obvious, but a lot of the time it isn’t.

Assuming things about her needs will usually lead to her feeling like you act hastily and don’t consider her enough. And for you, it might result in time and effort spent unnecessarily doing things for her that she doesn’t need.

If you strongly feel the need to protect loved ones. Being protective of a sibling or parent is natural, especially if you were an older brother who had to take care of a younger sister or brother growing up. While this is normal to feel, you shouldn’t always apply this protectiveness to potential romantic relationships.

Protecting loved ones always comes with boundaries, but with a family member you already know that you would do pretty much anything for them. With a woman you just met, those boundaries aren’t usually clear and you shouldn’t automatically protect her as you would a sibling (unless, of course, she clearly needs help or asks for it and you’re in a position to protect her).

If you’re used to leadership positions. Being a leader is great. You make tough decisions on behalf of a group and have the group’s well-being in mind. It’s pretty much guaranteed that we’ve all been in some sort of leadership position at some point, but some people certainly like it more than others.

While it isn’t true of every leadership position, often leaders have to take steps to protect group members. When you’re a leader, this is great, and somewhat expected because of the assigned role you’re in.

When you’re in a romantic relationship or looking to be in one, you’re entering a partnership with the other person where you’re on equal footing. Trying to always be the leader in romantic relationships is naturally tied to the Hero Complex.

man posing as a superhero

How the Hero Complex can Help your Prospects

It’s not the case for everyone, but feeling protected by someone is nice. If you protect a potential partner, there’s a decent chance that she would be happy about that and it would help improve your relationship with her.

Being a hero is associated with many good qualities. Heroes are selfless, brave, and caring. All of these traits are usually ones that women find attractive, so it makes sense that those we see as heroes are esteemed.

Doctors, firefighters, veterans, and plenty of other groups are naturally seen as heroes, and it’s often the case that guys in those groups are naturally viewed as more attractive because of their heroic lifestyle.

How the Hero Complex can hurt your Prospects

Being a hero by itself is great, but most of us aren’t actual doctors, firefighters, or veterans. We can be everyday heroes by helping out others in times of need, but our heroic acts are less common and it’s less clear when we’re needed. After all, people doing these jobs are signing up to do heroic things, where the natural expectation is that you need to be brave and heroic.

When potential heroics are involved while dating, you’re not necessarily expected to act like a hero. It’s not always clear when heroics are needed, and often, it’s not clear if your heroism is needed.

There are countless ways you can screw things up when it comes to heroics, but it usually boils down to your mindset around heroic acts and how you handle potential situations in which you think being a hero might help where you misinterpret or poorly react to certain situations.

Instead of being seen as courageous or kind, having a Hero Complex can lead to having some negative personality traits.

First, you can be seen as overprotective. Being overprotective is to be expected a lot of the time. If you have a little sister going on a date with a kid known to be reckless, naturally you might be concerned and ask her to text you an update midway through the date to make sure she’s okay.

In that case, being overprotective is usually seen in a positive light and is deemed understandable. But when you’re dating someone or hoping to date someone, being overprotective is often conflated with being controlling.

Some women are into guys who take charge and have dominant personalities, but it’s wrong to assume that most do. And even for the women who do like a more dominant guy, usually, they’ll mention or indicate that somehow, so either way it’s wrong to make assumptions like that about what she might be looking for.

In addition to being viewed as controlling, guys with Hero Complexes are often seen as inconsiderate. Most of the problems that Hero Complexes lead to are a result of guys not talking with the women they’re interested in.

One of the most timeless pieces of relationship advice that women and men both often advocate for is good communication. If you’re currently in a relationship and a Hero Complex seems like it’s becoming an issue, if you just talk things out with your significant other, the odds are good that issues will be resolved quickly.

Another issue that comes up with the Hero Complex is the need for recognition. Guys with hero complexes will often advertise how good they are in an attempt to use it to their advantage. Most guys who are heroic will be such good people that others brag about them on their behalf, usually without their knowledge.

Because of this, women will be able to see pretty clearly when a guy is only doing something to look good.

Probably the worst of outcomes from the Hero Complex is that some guys start to expect things, which can lead to some bad romantic outcomes that I’ll get into now.

Man holding the umbrella over his girlfriend

A Major Problem: Nice Guy Syndrome

While there are plenty of bad things that can happen as a result of your Hero Complex, probably the worst is that you could develop an expectation for some type of reciprocity.

By reciprocity, I mean that you shouldn’t expect anything at all from her in return for your kindness. This is essentially another concept known as the Nice Guy, where the Hero Complex is often something that Nice Guys have (but they’re two different concepts).

The Hero Complex is the idea that you need to be heroic. Nice Guys, on the other hand, hold the central belief that if they’re nice to women, by doing nice things, by saying nice things, or just by treating women with common decency, that they’re entitled to sexual favors or romantic relationships.

Nice Guys usually don’t have much respect for women, because they feel that doing the bare minimum (being nice as they already should be) is cause for praise and reward.

I want to be very clear here that if you think you have a Hero Complex, it doesn’t mean that you’re a Nice Guy. They’re two different things, one main difference being that having a Hero Complex is not at all inherently bad. Wanting to be a hero is natural, and we all want to be heroes to varying degrees.

Being a Nice Guy, on the other hand, is a bad thing. If you feel that treating women nicely is cause for them owing you in a romantic capacity, the likelihood that you’ll be romantically successful is not great.

So when it comes to problems that arise from the Hero Complex, there’s a chance (but it’s not guaranteed) that you might adopt Nice Guy ideals. Aside from the potential to expect romantic or sexual feelings, you also shouldn’t expect heroic acts in return. You might feel that you’re at a point in the relationship where she should protect you too, but if you’re being her hero without her asking first, then it’s possible that she doesn’t expect or want either of you to be each other’s hero.

So, there’s a simple solution to this problem. Don’t expect anything. Just because you’re interested in a woman, and you help her out with something, it doesn’t mean that she owes you at all. These expectations aren’t fair, and often it results in repulsing a potential girlfriend rather than attracting one.

If you want another way to think about it, treat your heroism as a gift. The best gift-givers don’t expect anything in return. They pick out thoughtful gifts that they think the receiver would like. If the person doesn’t want or like the gift, they don’t get offended because the thing they care most about is that the person enjoys the gift and benefits from receiving it. Gifts aren’t about reciprocity, and they shouldn’t come with expectations, just like heroic acts.

Handling Nice Guys and True Heroism

Just putting it out there, if you know any guys that fit the Nice Guy description, usually Nice Guys don’t have enough respect for women that they would change their behavior by learning from a woman.

So, you’d be doing a public service by calling them out on it because then the dating scene would get that much nicer for women (you can call them out politely in private if being polite is more likely to resonate with them in your opinion).

Another thing to consider is that a true hero aims to not have to be heroic. Making the world a better place through heroic acts doesn’t always lead to a reduction in needed heroism.

A surgeon saving a man’s life through open-heart surgery wouldn’t likely prevent another surgery from happening, for instance. But some heroic acts do reduce overall harm and therefore reduce the need for protection from that harm.

Hacking the Hero Complex

The Hero Complex in moderation can be great. If it pushes you to do more things to help others, and you know when using it will be good, then you’re likely going to end up improving yourself and your relationships with women significantly. If you have one, here are some tips that should help you hone it:

Tip One: Ask Before Doing

This is probably the simplest way to prevent yourself from screwing up. If you’re thinking of doing something to help out a potential partner, and it’s a pretty big favor (use your judgment), it’s probably a smart idea to ask her first to see if she wants any help in the first place.

Say you’re hanging out with her at the bar, it might be a date, it might not, and you want to walk her home. Her apartment is close, so there’s a decent chance she might walk home, but it’s pretty dark out and it’s not the safest neighborhood. This is a pretty standard case where offering help might be appreciated. She might say yes, but let’s go through the scenario where she says no.

There are plenty of reasons why she might say no. I’ll get more into that in a minute, but the basics of if she says no is to accept it and move on. In some cases, it might be reasonable to offer once more, because there are actually situations where she might not want to be too much of a burden. If that seems to be the case and she says no to that too, let her be and don’t push it further. Asking any more than that is pushy and she could likely take it as you not respecting her decisions.

There are some limits to asking before doing. For basic things like holding open a door for her or carrying something super heavy, you don’t really have to ask. Those can definitely be the types of things where she can opt-out of your help if she wants, but no harm would be done if you were to do some of the small things and she turns down the help.

Tip Two: If She Rejects Your Help, Don’t Take it Personally.

There are many different reasons why she might not want your help. Someone else might be helping her out, for one. She also might not need any help in the first place. In either case, you shouldn’t take her turning you down as a sign that she doesn’t like you or that she doesn’t see a potential future with you.

Take the walking home from the bar example. If she says no, there are plenty of reasons why that might be, and even if she doesn’t have one off the top of her head, her decision probably won’t have anything to do with you. She might be going home with a roommate, friend, or neighbor if she came with someone. She might be used to the walk home and enjoy walking alone or have self-defense training already. She might also prefer to Uber rather than walking.

And, if it is about you, her reason is probably a good one. She might not want to consider doing anything that would normally happen at the end of a night walk home and if you don’t know each other too well she might not want to outright say that. She might also not want to invite you in for a completely different reason.

On top of that, she might not trust you yet. While you know that you’re trustworthy, and time spent together would prove that, it’s perfectly reasonable for her not to be comfortable being alone with you at night if you’re not too close yet.

Tip Three: Use Your Judgment.

Sometimes there are instances where asking whether she needs help isn’t a reasonable step to consider. If you’re with a potential partner and she’s obviously visibly uncomfortable by another guy’s advances, it’s reasonable to step in and deescalate the situation. Even then, you shouldn’t jump to beating up the guy, but a typical smart move is to distract him so she can get away or interact with her directly by starting up a conversation or talking to both of them at once so he backs off.

There are tons of cases where protecting someone is needed. In many cases, you don’t actually have to put much thought into deciding whether your help would be useful, so don’t sweat it too much.

Be a True Hero

All of us could stand to get better at relationships. If this is your wake-up call that you might have a Hero Complex, keep in mind that we all do to some degree. What matters most is that you put effort into recognizing how you can grow, maybe by applying some of the strategies from this article, and hopefully, you’ll see that the work you’re putting in will strengthen your relationships in no time!

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