Using writing, and meditation, and ice cream, and reading, and dreams,

and a whole lot of other tools to rediscover who I am,

after six years living with a man with OCPD.

Friday, April 20, 2012

A-Z: Rescuer Syndrome - Put Away the Spandex,
It's Not A Good Look

When we love somebody, when we see them hurting, we want to make things better for them. Whatever we can do, we're gonna do it, not holding back or setting limits, and that's a good thing, right?

Bzzzt! Actually, no.

When we do for others what they are perfectly capable of doing for themselves, we are casting them as Victims, and ourselves as Rescuers.

Not, actually, helpful or healthy. Not even if the others have a mental disorder or addiction; not even if they are a child, should we wrap our entire lives around other people.

Remember Dirty Dancing?   "Lock your frame, lock your frame; this is my dance space, this is your dance space."  It's crucial, both for ourselves, and for others, we remember where we end and "the other" begins.

via Wikimedia Commons

From Out of the Fog:
Examples of Fixers & Rescuers:
  • A fiance whose future spouse explodes in a fit of rage, but who chooses to go ahead with the wedding thinking "I can change him/er after the wedding"
  • A husband in an abusive relationship who decides to "love her through the pain"
  • An abused wife who decides not to seek out professional help, preferring to "try harder to work on herself".
  • A partner in a relationship who tries to keep the peace through making everything "perfect" for their partner at home.
  • A parent with a personality-disordered child who seeks solutions by being a better parent.
  • A child of a personality-disordered parent who tries to win their favor through academic performance

There's two problems with the above scenarios.

#1 - It never, ever works. (Oh, sometimes it does, for a few minutes.) But in the long run, after the wedding, he is even more explosive; no matter how much love the husband demonstrates, he doesn't move his wife past her pain; no matter how hard she works the abused wife can't keep from provoking her husband; the 'better parent approach' still doesn't soothe or heal the child; and the straight A  student will have his/her efforts taken for granted, and chided for an A- or a B+.

#2 - By taking another's person's problems onto ourselves, by trying to "fix" them through our efforts, we deprive them of the opportunity to solve their own problems. Yep, they might not do them exactly the way would. Yep, they might fail.  But when we fix/help/rescue others constantly, the message we are sending is, "I don't think you are smart enough/strong enough/resourceful enough to do this on your own. So let me just do it for you."

From Relationship Rescue: Exploring the Dynamics Behind Being a Rescuer

Rescuing is a core dynamic found in most relationships.
A rescuer is some who takes responsibility for fulfilling the needs of others in an attempt to feel valuable.
Whether conscious of it not, a rescuer believes that by taking care of others, their own needs will be met.
However, the irony is that instead, rescuers end up feeling more insecure, taken for granted, unappreciated, unfulfilled and ultimately worn out.

Completing this checklist can help you become aware of ways you may be rescuing people without realizing it.
1. Is it hard for you to take time for yourself and have fun?
2. Do you supply words for someone else when she/he hesitates?
3. Do you set limits for yourself that you exceed?
4. Do you believe you are responsible for making (keeping) someone else happy?
5. Do you like to lend a shoulder for someone else to "cry" on?
6. Do you believe that the other person is not sufficiently grateful for your help?
7. Do you take care of someone else more than you take care of yourself?
8. Do you find yourself interrupting when someone else is talking?
9. Do you watch for clues for ways to be helpful to someone else?
10. Do you make excuses, open or mentally, for another person?
11. Do you do more than your share, that is, work harder than someone else does?
12. When someone else is unsure or uncomfortable about doing something, do you do it for him or her?
13. Do you NOT do things you would like because someone else wouldn't like your doing so?
14. Do you find yourself thinking that you really know what is best for someone else?
15. Do you think someone else would have grave difficulty getting along without you?
16. Do you use the word "we" and then find you don't have the other person's consent?
17. Do you stop yourself by thinking someone will feel badly if you say or do something?
18. Is it hard for you NOT to respond to anyone who seems to be hurting or needing help?
19. Do you find yourself being resented when you were only trying to be helpful?
20. Do you find yourself giving advice that is not welcome or accepted?
(Instructions: Record 5 points for each YES and 0 points for NO! If you have 10 or more points, you may be a Rescuer. That is, a CO-DEPENDENT)
(I'm not sure I agree 100% with the scoring system, above - I think, for example, that #17 can be healthy or taken to extremes, depending on the circumstances. Likewise #18, wanting to help isn't necessarily bad, especially if we're talking about a child, as long as we resist that urge to take it over and do it for him/her. But it is easy enough to see where the questions are going, and what the pattern might be.)

I would like to think of myself as a co-dependent in recovery. I felt so terrible for my poor, (probably) mentally ill boyfriend that I made a ton of excuses for him. My heart ached for him (still does) and I did everything I could to Save Him from the ravages of his disease. In the end, he wasn't one bit mentally, physically, or emotionally healthier, and I was a burned out wreck.

Cover of Cover via AmazonSince then, I've found Charles Whitfield's book Boundaries and Relationships a helpful resource, as well as Melody Beattie's Codependent No More! Also found much help in in a very old book, Manuel J. Smith's When I Say No, I Feel Guilty.

If you are co-dependent, therapy may be a good step for you, to help you to break the old patterns. AlaNon or Co-Dependents Anonymous meetings may also be helpful.

Being a Rescuer or Co-Dependent came about because we care about people so very much - and that feeling in itself is very admirable. But our behavior may be harming the people we love, with the very acts we intend to help them. If we are parents, we are modeling unhealthy behavior. If we are partnered with an emotionally unhealthy partner, we are adding to the toxic dynamic.

Remember, always put on your own oxygen mask, first. 

My A-Z theme is Issues related to Mental Health or Mental Illness.

Are you now (or have you ever been) a Rescuer?
Do you know Rescuers - and can you see how unhealthy it is?
How did you get past this (if you have)
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