Everyone loves to watch other people’s lives, even if they hypocritically say that they have plenty to do with their own and don’t care about anyone else’s. Nonetheless, we all like to see what’s happening at the neighbors’ from time to time. I suggest we do it profitably :).
I am sure you have all heard of or seen on TV or in a movie a woman who puzzles everyone by her behavior, by her nearly self-sacrificing relationship with her husband or her grown-up son.
This hero may get drunk or high and go on a rampage. At best, he makes a racket right where he is, at worst, he goes driving. Her girlfriends immediately rush to tell her all about it.
Then the woman, with veiled dignity and deeply hidden shame goes to extricate him from whatever trouble he’s in, drags him home and in the morning tries to deal with the aftermath. A couple of weeks later it all starts again.
Everyone who knows her shrugs their shoulders in bewilderment (if they are well brought-up, the rest simply make the “cuckoo” sign and snigger that she must be just as nuts as her junkie).
I am sure that you have theorized why she does not leave him many times, just out of curiosity.
Not many of us, well-to-do, reasonable, and self-respecting people think that we act the same. True, the characters are different and the circumstances are not quite so dramatic. However, this behavior model that the psychologists call the Rescuer is common.
Are you sure you are not like that?
I am guessing that at this point you’ll say, “As if I had nothing better to do than to rescue someone!” Nonetheless, any co-dependent relationship robs the participants of a choice of behavior. They are like actors who have to follow a script written by someone else. Sometimes, the participants change places, but the play stays just as useless and appealing.
The worst part is that this magic play pulls in everyone who comes near it, distributing unhealthy and senseless roles among them. Psychologists call this model the Karpman Drama Triangle.
You might positively state that your relationship has no dependence. However, I’ll give you several examples, just in case:
- You expect understanding and respect of your wishes from your husband and son. You ask them to be neat and polite. You demand that your husband quit smoking for his own good and you keep him on a low-cholesterol diet.
- You don’t want your child to be in the wrong crowd; you want him to break-up with his girlfriend because “she’s not one of us,” go to law school, and “stop wasting time online.”
- However, if (God forbid) one of them hits someone else’s car (gets into a fight / puts graffiti on the walls of the city hall), you will be the first to go to work on settling things with the police and the other parties, just so your loved ones would be alright.
- You are the only person to whom any of your girlfriends can call at 4 o’clock in the morning and howl over the phone about “what a jerk her Jake is” and scream that she is ready to jump out of the window or swallow a bottle of aspirin if you don’t come over now. You do go over too, because who knows… Such a silly little fool really can jump out of the window or swallow a bottle of pills …
Do you think that this is normal human behavior? It is not. Congratulations, you are a Rescuer too.
Who are the Rescuers?
These characters are truly guided by the wish to care, help, solve others’ problems, etc. However, its internal mechanism is built on the conviction that “If I care for them very well, if I make them happy, they are sure to love me and appreciate me.”
In the Rescuer paradigm, the Rescuer’s needs do not matter. They feel that they have no right to care for themselves. They must earn this care from others.
It is that need that draws the Rescuer to the Victim even though the Victim, in turn, can only accept help. The Victims have no intention of taking care of their Rescuers.
You should not think that a Rescuer chooses the tactics of a good teacher. As a rule, they are more like a crazy mom who makes the Victim do “what’s good for them” by coaxing and manipulation.
It is rare that this character understands how to really help a Victim abandon their eternal state of helplessness.
So, on the one hand, a Rescuer purposefully seeks a Victim and appears to them as a strong and caring person (or as a Knight in Shining Armor). On the other hand, the Rescuers don’t realize that this dependence is mutual and that they need the feeling that they are important and appreciated in return.
How does a Rescuer get that way?
As a rule, these people grow up in families where no one pays much attention to them. Either their needs are openly ignored or these children are simply neglected. With time, they began feeling that way about themselves too without ever getting the internal permission to take care of themselves, to do things for themselves, to enjoy their life.
Their greatest reward is satisfaction from the results achieved by others, social acceptance and remuneration. That said, deep down the Rescuers are quite convinced that they are altruistic and sincerely kind. They almost believe themselves to be a hero and a champion of the good cause.
Yet, their actions are based on the conviction that “If I take care of them well enough and long enough, they will appreciate me and love me.”
It is rare that the scenario goes that way in the Karpman Drama Triangle. Here is what happens most often. The Victim stays helpless. She requires constant support without giving anything in return. A person who cannot even take care of themselves is unlikely to find the energy to take care of someone else, even out of gratitude.
When the Rescuer realizes it, a transformation takes places. They turn not into a simple Victim, but into its more devastating aspect – a martyr. A Rescuer cannot admit to being a Victim, but now they are governed by feelings of being used, betrayed and desperate:
“After everything I’ve done for you… How could you?”
“You don’t care how much I do for you, how hard I try to help… It’s never enough for you!”
“If you loved me, you’d act differently!”
The Rescuer’s greatest fear is to be left alone, to have no one need them. After all, in their paradigm life makes sense only as long as they are useful to others. That is why they try to be irreplaceable at all costs.
That’s not the only problem, however. The problem is that by saving the Victim they only make matters worse. While a Victim is in Rescuer’s care, they do not learn anything. The more a Victim gets, the more helpless they become.
How to diagnose a Rescuer in yourself
When coming in contact with a Victim, a Rescuer always feels the same range of emotions:
- A feeling of pity, a sharp, sinking feeling of empathy and a desire to help. (At that moment the Rescuer associate themselves with the Victim and can deny them nothing. They cannot leave someone alone and not help);
- A feeling of superiority, of greater competence, confidence, access to greater resources and experience.
- A conviction that they know how to solve this problem, with a slight feeling of “omnipotence” giving them more energy.
However, it is precisely this ability to be passionately empathic with the Victim that will never allow the Rescuer to really help someone; to help them outgrow their weakness and learn the hard way how to be responsible for the consequences of their actions.
How can you stop being a Rescuer?
It is unlikely that you will be able to change your behavior model in a day. Bear in mind that you need to change not the behavior of other players, but your own approach to them. If you act as a Rescuer, try to imagine yourself as a Coach. Your goal is not to win the tournament for your pupil, but to teach your student to solve their problems on their own. To hand them a fishing rod, not a boneless grilled fillet.
Your help will be truly helpful if you learn not to stick your oar in without being asked. Even when someone does ask you, only give advice instead of rushing in to do everything and work out everything yourself.
Do you want your loved ones to learn to swim? Stop dragging them after you on floating mattress. Give them a chance to swim on their own.