How do we find the balance between codependent “rescuing” and “cold detachment”? This is a question we must ask anytime we step into a service oriented relationship with another. It is the question we must ask at every level – from our personal relations right up to the level of national and international affairs. Whenever we face a decision about “helping” others – we must discern whether the service we are planning to offer empowers the other or fosters dependency.
We have to be able to tell the difference.
Care-taking starts the minute we start seeing someone as less something (less privileged, less financially able, etc) and in need of rescuing. As soon as we start thinking of someone as “having a problem” that needs our fixing, we have demoted them in our mind to the role of “less fortunate” or victim in need of rescue. Whether we intend it or not, we look down on them and see ourselves as superior.
We have now climbed on the Victim Triangle with them, a merry-go-round that offers no happy endings for either of us. When we see others as unfortunates who can't do for themselves we feel moved to start taking on their problems … we take control of their life situation because we think we can handle their lives better than they can. But the more we try to make life easier for them the less they end up feeling capable of doing for themselves. They come to believe, as we do, that they can't take care of themselves and they look to us for their answers. They now see themselves in need of rescuing and so they sit down and wait, expectantly for us to figure life out for them.
It is easily observable in human nature that the more others do for us the less we do for ourselves … the less we do for ourselves the more we become dependent on someone else to take care of us …. Eventually we come to expect to be taken care of and feel afraid and resentful, even outright mad, when our rescuers don't fix our problems for us. And who can blame us? We too have come to believe that we can't do it for ourselves so somebody's got to take care of us, right?
photo credit: mackenzienicole
As rescuers trying to prop up these “unfortunates” we feel increasing hopelessness and frustration because the more we do for them the heavier they are to carry. We end up reinforcing their helplessness by taking care of them and because they too have come to believe they can't take care of themselves they become dead weight who now demand to be rescued. Instead of feeling grateful to us as their rescuers, these “unfortunates” grow increasingly angry because in spite of all of our efforts things are no better for them. Our gigantic efforts not only fail to fix them but leave us feeling completely depleted.
The rescuing approach does not work in families, relationships, at work, or on the community or national level. Rescuing is doomed to fail – every time – because success does not come from one person (or organization or country) taking responsibility for another (person, organization or country.) Success can only come when each of us takes 100% responsibilty for the quality of our own lives and stops looking out there for superman in the form of a parent, spouse, politician or government to do it for us.
Who are we rescuing? Who is rescuing us? And what are the consequences of that rescue? These are the questions to ask ourselves, our politicians and our government.
Loving ourselves and one another means to start taking responsibility for our own thoughts, feelings and choices on every level and respecting others enough to let them do the same. Self responsibility empowers us, it strengthens our capabilities and gives us a sense of self respect that ultimately frees us to live life autonomously.