This post is the second in a series following up on the June 2017 newsletter The Triangle of Victim, Rescuer and Persecutor.
The archetypal role of rescuer is also a mindset learned in our families of origin or similar early relational conditioning. Someone who identifies as a rescuer gets to feel good about themselves because of their role in rescuing someone who needs help and support (who also identifies as a victim in the drama triangle).
Rescuers work hard to help and caretake other people, and even need to help other people, to feel good about themselves. Different from genuine compassionate companioning, rescuers tend to feel harried, overworked, tired because they are neglecting they own needs or not taking responsibility for meeting their needs. Rescuers tend to feel caught in a martyr style while resentment festers underneath.
This post offers some practical suggestions to help rescuers shift out of the martyr role into genuine caring resonant relationships with people.
Resigning from Rescuing; Signing on for Resonant Relating
[The first three steps are repeated from last week’s post on Shifting Out of Victim Identity into Empowerment. Specific suggestions for recovering from rescuing begin with Step 4.]
1. Wise View
Challenging any mindset or viewpoint that we have identified with for some time, usually for some protective purpose, often to some benefit in feeling safe or good about ourselves, requires us to recognize that this mindset or identity IS a point of view, a perspective, one of many possibilities. I’m not saying it’s easy to relinquish a way we have seen ourselves for a long time, but it is possible. And when it’s not working so well any more to cling to that mindset, it’s necessary to see that we have a choice.
The practice of knowing what we’re experiencing while we’re experiencing it; the practice of knowing what we believe while we are believing it. My mentor James Baraz taught me to inquire, “What story am I believing now?” Because usually we’re believing something, taught to us by our culture or our families or from how we have coped with our culture or our families up until now. And to frame something we may hold as The Truth of the Way Thigs Are as one possibility out of many, there could be others ways to make sense of our experience as well, cracks open the door to the possibility of change.
“Waking up” to the choices we have made and the consequences of those choices, for ourselves and others, can evoke powerful feelings – incredulity or regret, guilt or embarrassment. And so self-compassion half a split second after seeing clearly something we never saw so clearly before, is essential to help our minds and hearts stay open to what might need to shift. Kind, loving acceptance of how hard it is to be a human being, how we all want to feel safe and sometimes the way we have learned to feel safe have a cost we could not have seen or foreseen at the time.
People who engage with other people from a rescuer mindset often gain a great deal of pride and satisfaction from their caretaking of others and are seen, even acclaimed and rewarded by others, for their selfless or heroic acts of caring.
Rescuers can get caught in the mindset of believing their total value comes from how much they do for others. It’s difficult for someone caught in that mindset to see their worth beyond what they have to offer in the way of “stuff’ or service.
Rescuers have difficulty believing in their own worth and their own goodness without having someone to care for or rescue. Rescuers are the classic co-dependent enablers who can’t quite let the person they are rescuing take responsibility for themselves and grow up. (This happens even with parents who can’t quite let their children launch) And who can’t quite take responsibility for meeting their own needs for acceptance and worth without someone feeding them by needing them.
The key choice for rescuers is to see their own value and worth in who they are, not just in what they do. To trust in their goodness without having to “earn their place on the planet.” To engage in relationships that are reciprocal rather than hierarchical, offering care, support and nurturing among equals. To accompany people in their life journey without having to “fix” them.
Rescuers do have to step back from rescuing and allow those they have been “saving” to empower themselves to take care of themselves. But rescuers also have to empower themselves to get their own needs for belonging and connection met by being helpful without hovering, caring without controlling, nurturing without require the other to be needy.
7. Resilience and Well-Being
The shift in mindset rescuers need to make to evolve from rescuing to resonant relating requires a flexibility in their psyche that leads to more genuine response-flexibility, and more resilience overall.