A key component of codependent thinking is the misguided belief that it is our job to rescue others. We’ll dive into the trope of the rescuer. Why and how we do it and what we can do instead of rescuing, which is to be supportive to the people we love.
Codependent thinking is this really fascinating thing where we’re constantly seeking other people’s opinions, validation and approval, because the story in our minds and bodies goes, “I need them to constantly prove to me that it’s okay, for me to feel loved and lovable, to feel okay, valid, worthy in this life.”
And my nerds, because we’re not embodied in our sense of worthiness, we feel this constant need to seek evidence, to support the hypothesis, that it’s actually okay for us to be alive and to take up all this darn oxygen.
So, in order to try to gain that external approval, we do things for other people that they can very well do for themselves.
And, we often do things that they didn’t even ask us to do or don’t even want us to do. Because the subconscious story in our minds, that often comes from our inner children, from what we learned by watching the adults in our lives, is one of the two primary thought tendencies I see in my clients in Anchored. Of course, there are folks who are one way in some relationships, in other ways in others.
I see that, overarchingly, either we carry a belief that we are not capable of handling our own lives and we, ourselves, need to be rescued, we need to be told how to do our lives in every way, how to adult. This tends to be a form of anxious attachment driving this particular bus.
Or, à la avoidant attachment, we swing the other direction and over function. We are wildly independent, and we believe that we can do everything all by ourselves, thank you very much. This is the ole “I am a rock. I am an island,” school of life, where we don’t ask for help, support care, co-regulation. And, we believe that we are the only ones we can count on. No one else will show up for us. That we need to do everything on our own.
One of the ways we can show up in relationship, from either overly dependent on others or wildly independent, is as the “rescuer.”
We’ve talked about the “fixer” archetype before, and what I want to expand on here, is the concept of rescuing versus supporting.
Because something folks say to me often, in Anchored, goes something like this, “I am a loving, caring, kind person. Of course, I want to care for and about the people in my life. Of course, I want to support them and be there for them, which is why I do so much for them.”
To the first part of that, I say, “Phenomenal! Do that. Care about your people.”
And, you get to recognize that there’s a fine line, and an important one, between supporting the people you love and attempting to rescue them.
Between giving from your emotionally full cup, giving from your overflow, and giving when you’re running on empty.
There’s a vital difference between giving from obligation or from taking care of others from that subconscious—or even conscious—story that, “If I do for you, then you will do for me.” There is such a difference between all of that, and giving with a full and open heart. Which means giving without a goal, without the old tit-for-tat, right?
Because, part of this codependent narrative is that it’s all about keeping score, which again, we do subconsciously. The difference is between giving to others from an energy of reciprocity and mutuality versus the desire to rescue them.
The former, means you trust yourself to be an autonomous human who can take care of themself, and also needs other people for co-regulation, support, love and care, because the collective matters. And simultaneously, trusting that those you love are also autonomous humans capable of taking care of themselves, too.
This is the basis of an interdependent framework for living, and is markedly different from the codependent framework.
Codependent thinking leads us to engage in the self-abandonment cycle. Which leads us to have these expectations of others that are not feminist, because they’re not consent based. Other people aren’t consenting to be a part of our grand scheme to garner love, and care, and affection from others by taking action, to try to live and manage their lives for them, to rescue them.
When you’re in rescuing energy, you’re often giving more than you healthfully can.
You’re taking on other people’s problems as your own, and you’re emotionally enmeshing yourself with them.
If we remember the basics of the think-feel-act cycle, my darling, you can do the same action from an energy that is supporting, and self-loving, and mutually loving, and you can create a beautiful result for yourself. Or, you can do the same thing from an energy like rescuing, and that same action can create a wildly different result in your life.
You can give to others for the joy of giving, and it can feel beautiful. You can give to others because you want them to rescue you, someday down the line, and it can feel grasp-y, not sincere, not aligned with your integrity.
Furthermore, from rescuing energy, we do things we don’t want to do.
We don’t have healthy boundaries. We don’t know when we don’t know our own limits.
You may be completely exhausted and someone else says they need you.
Or, you believe they need you, because you believe it’s your job to do their life for them. So, you do for them. Often, without checking in with yourself or with them.
Often, without asking if they actually want to be rescued. Then without realizing it, you exhaust yourself, your nervous system, your adrenals. You take time away from nourishing yourself, doing what serves you. And, you create potential resentment in your own life if they don’t praise you for doing something they didn’t ask you to do.
Meanwhile, you rob the other person of the opportunity to deal with their own life, on their own terms.
You take away their chance to figure it out. And of course, to be clear, if someone’s about to drive drunk, have a conversation, take their keys.
And, if someone says to you, “I’d like your opinion. I’d like your thoughts. What do you say here?” Then, by all means, share your opinion when you’ve been asked.
But what we’re talking about here is something so different.
It’s inserting ourselves into other people’s lives, from this belief that that will create love for us and that they’re not able to manage their lives. That’s the part we can’t see when we’re doing this.
What we’re actually saying, when we try to rescue others is, “I don’t trust you to live your own life, to take care of your business on your own. I believe, in my mind, in my heart, that you need me to step in and to manage your life for you.”
We don’t realize how yucky and paternalistic that is.
From that rescuer archetype, we don’t even trust, believe, or even think about the fact that other people could actually be able to manage their own lives because we are so scared that we can’t manage ours.
So, we project that fear onto them. We believe it’s our job to go in there and manage their world for them. We believe that what’s right for us is what’s right for everyone. And, it’s just not.
This habit is so painful and damaging in our lives, and our relationships, in the lives of the people we love. We believe that we are doing this because we love the people in our lives. We don’t want them to suffer, to be in pain, for things to be challenging for them.
From my own lived experience, I now know that I needed to go through all the things I’ve gone through in my life to become the person I am.
And, if someone had attempted to rescue me, I wouldn’t have been able to hear them until I was ready to. Trying to force someone to hear you when they’re not available, they’re not ready, that ends so poorly for everyone involved.
Because we tell people how to live their lives, and they don’t hear us, and so, we get offended. They’re not able to hear us because they’re not in a place in their own growth, in their own development, in their own emotional maturity where that’s possible.
So, the remedy is to honor and accept that.
Another reason why we step into the rescuer role, is when we have a core disbelief in our own value and worth, when we doubt ourselves so strongly.
Sometimes, when we show up, as though we had not a doubt in the world, we show up with his deep confidence when it comes to other people’s lives.
Because we have to overact our self-belief. We feel we need to pretend, in a way, that we’re super self-confident, as a cover up job.
We think we need to show up as know-it-alls, as perfect and amazing in other people’s lives, because we are so insecure in our own.
We do it so often that it keeps us in this role of rescuer for others versus being in loving support.
We do for others instead of living our own lives.
Which means that being the rescuer is indeed a form of buffering, of not facing our own emotions, our own lives.
And instead, we focus on everyone else.
When we are rescuing others, we believe we are protecting them from the consequences of their actions.
And, we do so instead of just letting them experience the consequences of their actions.
Rescuing is nonconsensual.
And in the end, it’s not kind. So, we think we’re protecting others from the consequences of their action, but we’re not. We’re just temporarily shielding them.
Instead of letting them experience what comes, when they take a certain action in the think-feel- act cycle, we put a stop in their path that they haven’t agreed to.
Then, in turn, when we are rescuing, if we take responsibility for other people’s thoughts, feelings, lives we take responsibility for things that are not ours.
If we pick a place for dinner, and they don’t like it, we take on this immense personal responsibility that can be so much to carry.
We take on responsibility for things, big and small, that aren’t ours.
Particularly other people’s feelings, their experience of the world, the results in their lives, their choices, and ours.
But a core part of thought-work and the think-feel-act cycle is to recognize that, of course, our choices influence and impact the people around us, and they get to choose how they want to think and feel about any experience in life. And, so do we.
But we take ownership for their feelings. It’s a core part of our codependent and people pleasing thinking. We believe we need to please others constantly, instead of focusing on pleasing ourselves and making the decisions that are best for us and the collective.
Instead, we make decisions because we don’t want someone else to have a feeling they might not enjoy.
The remedy, the more supportive thing to do when we don’t like the potential trajectory of someone else’s life, is to be there. To show them love, to stay on our own side of the street, and to ask ourselves, “Is this my business, or is it not?”
Then, when someone does come to us with a problem, an issue, we get to listen with care and emotional generosity. To empathize and to ask if the other person would like supportive words, or suggestions without taking responsibility for their feelings.
Next, from rescuing, we make excuses for other people’s behavior.
We excuse away other people hurting us or harming the people we love. We excuse away abuses of power. We excuse patterns of behavior instead of holding people in our lives accountable.
It’s important to say, many of us learned this habit in childhood. Because for some of us, there was a person who was not held accountable. Who everyone in the family enabled to continue to have whatever behavior they had, that was problematic for the family, as a whole.
And so, of course, you continue to do what you learned, until you learn to do it differently.
Instead of honoring that other person’s capacity for self-awareness and change, we preemptively let them off the hook, as a way to rescue them from the effects and impact of their own behavior and choices.
The remedy, the supportive choice, is to honor the duality of your experience in a relationship.
To both hold the person, whose behavior isn’t working for you, in love, care, curiosity, compassion, and acceptance of who they are and how they behave, while acknowledging that their behavior is not working for you.
Saying, “This behavior is not behavior I’m available for. I love you. I can see you as a human, in all your complexity. That doesn’t mean I condone your behavior. It definitely doesn’t mean I need to enable it, or to make excuses for it, to write it off, or pretend it’s not happening.”
So, in holding that duality, ‘I love you and this doesn’t work,’ we both get to make steps to correct the behavior in our space. To set healthy boundaries that honor us, the relationship, the other person. We get to do so from that big, open heart.
It is so important to recognize that the core of these rescuing behaviors is in deep discomfort with discomfort; your own and that of others.
So, most of us would rather throw ourselves under the bus in order to keep the peace. But we’re definitely not keeping the peace in our own hearts, like not at all.
We’re creating so much more stress and distress for ourselves under the guise of just keeping the peace.
So, the remedy to excusing away someone’s problematic behavior is, once more, to hold that duality in our hearts, and eventually to start practicing setting boundaries to protect our tender hearts in our relationships.
Next up, we attempt to rescue others by offering—usually imposing—our own solutions or advice, our answer for their problem.
We tell them, “You know, if I was doing that, actually, I would do it this way.” When they didn’t even ask. We attempt to control others by imposing our way of doing it, because we believe it will make us feel safer, because we are trying to control outcomes.
We do it in the subconscious hope, as well, that they’ll do the same for us. And that then, people will think we are important. We are someone they should keep around and not abandon. They’ll think we’re too valuable to dismiss.
We think all this rescuing will make us matter in their eyes, and our own.
That we’ll get to say, “See how helpful I am?”
That’s often the undercurrent of attempting to force our opinions, or any other kind of rescuing onto others. The more supportive way to show love and care to the people in our lives starts with getting consent.
Getting consent before we give advice is a key remedy for stepping out of the rescuing role.
That sounds as simple as saying, “Hey, I have thoughts I’d like to share about topic X. Let me know if you’d like to hear it.”
Without consent, giving advice puts everyone in an unnecessary relationship dynamic in which, once again, you are the rescuer and they need rescue. You are the person who knows better, and it creates a dependency on you to continue, ad nauseam, to solve their life for them.
Consent is feminist, check ins are feminist. We honor each other’s autonomy.
Finally, there’s a piece there, about acceptance. Accepting that other people may not want your help. You may be the world’s leading expert on sunscreen, and people may not want to hear your opinion about it.
But it can be challenging for us to accept that other people might not want our advice, or expertise, or brilliance when it’s so tied up with our worth.
My darling, your specific advice may not be wanted in that moment, and you get to let that be okay.
So, I’ll ask you, why is your want more valid than theirs?
I’ll also ask you, as well, what unmet need from your childhood are you trying to have met, by having this person tell you, “You matter. Your voice, thoughts, opinions; they matter.”?
- Is that a want or need that you can meet for yourself?
- Can you come into acceptance here?
- What can you do to show up for you, and to anchor yourself in you so your self-worth isn’t dependent on others wanting your advice, your rescuing?
In closing, we can actively learn to stay on our own side of things. We learn to prioritize ourselves and to take care of ourselves. And yes, to show up for the people we love, for our communities. To show up in a consensual manner that respects them in their autonomy, in an interdependent way by being supportive, caring, kind instead of rescuing.
Thank you for taking the time to read Feminist Wellness. I’m excited to be here and to help you take back your health!
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