How to Stop Being a Rescuer

man stands on beach spraying blue gas in sunset sky
by Amaya Pryce

Troubled? Then stay with me, for I am not. ~ Hafiz

Ah, the joys and comforts of co-dependency. Most of us grew up snugly ensconced in the familiar drama of the Victim Triangle, whose three corners are Victim, Persecutor and Rescuer. Chances are, one of these roles will feel like a second skin to you.

Me, I’m a Rescuer. However, the sad truth is that if you play one of the roles, you will play all of them, depending on the relationship and the situation. Rescuers sometimes pat themselves on the back, because it seems so selfless and “evolved” to help other people. But the Victim Triangle is all about power, anxiety and lack of boundaries, no matter which role you play. Rescuers use their feeling of control and goodness to soothe their own anxiety. Persecutors exert control more directly for the same reason. And Victims willingly relinquish control to both Rescuers and Persecutors so that they won’t have to face the anxiety of taking responsibility for their lives.

And we’re not just talking about alcoholism and addictions here. If you’re brave enough to look closely, chances are you’ll find the Victim Triangle alive and well in just about every relationship you have. I had an interesting experience with my own tendency to rescue at a retreat I attended this month. Going around the circle, with people sharing their difficulties, I felt the need to comfort and fix rising up strongly in me… because I was uncomfortable with their pain. The retreat leader wasn’t uncomfortable. He didn’t jump in to rescue or soothe anyone. He just smiled kindly and said, “Well, you’re all in the right place.”

I think for the first time I realized what a gift you give someone by allowing them to rescue themselves. Let them have their difficulties and their pain because that is what they need for their growth… no matter how uncomfortable it makes you feel. Rescuing takes away their power and their opportunity to heal themselves in a profound way.

This requires a fundamental shift in my definition of being “helpful.” It means seeing others as the powerful creators they are, capable of bearing their burdens of pain while they work out their own salvation. If I can learn to tolerate my own anxiety when someone seems to be in pain, then I can support them through my strength and peace while they do the inner work that needs to be done. And when one person steps out of the Victim Triangle, the game of co-dependency begins to falter, because it takes at least two people to play.

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1 thought on “How to Stop Being a Rescuer”

  1. Deborah Fairfull
    Deborah Fairfull

    What an important reminder in allowing others to heal themselves, just as a caterpillar has to struggle to make their own way from the cocoon to become a beautiful butterfly.

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