Are You Promoting Autonomy or Dependence?

Seeking Help
Creative Commons License photo credit: photographerpandora

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?

mattlas 003

Creative Commons License 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.

2 Responses

  1. Thank you Deb for your comments and questions. Yes it is wonderful to support others as in to give “… a hand of encouragement, a hand of example, a hand of connection.”

    There are two major distinctions between the codependent care taker state of consciousness and giving authentic empowering support;

    1, the givers underlying motive in offering support:
    Do we serve others out of our own inner demand to be seen as powerful, important or capable? Are we “doing for them” so that we can feel strong and capable? Does our service to others provide our identity? Are we trying to live up to an image we believe of what being a “good” person is?

    Or do we see service work as our own school yard opportunity for our own personal growth and enrichment? Do we serve because it is what we are prompted to do or because it’s what we think we “should” do?

    And number 2 distinction between rescuer mode and true service is in the perception we, as mentors and models, hold towards those to whom we are providing the service.

    Do we see our clients as helpless, incapable, wounded? Do we think of them as inadequate and feel sorry for them? Do we operate out of guilt and/or pity towards them?

    Do we understand that their life path is as valid and full of blessings for them as our life path is for us? Are we able to remember that each one of us has the life especially designed for us, our clients no less than us? is what we offer that which will foster that understanding in them?

    Do we let them take every ounce of responsibility for themselves as they possibly can? Is their freedom and independence more important to us than our need to be needed?

    Ask yourself these questions when you work with others and it will help you tell the difference in yourself between these two states of consciousness.

    The second question, “… codependency or cold detachment”. Are these two behaviors opposites …?”

    These are two opposite extremes. There is an old saying, “180 degrees from sick is still sick,” both ends of the spectrum are extremes and therefore out of balance.

    Codependency usually refers to the enmeshed, glummed together sort of care giving whereas cold detachment is its opposite, showing up as isolated with extreme walls of separation.

    Thanks for asking for clarification.
    Blessings, Lynne

  2. Lynne,

    Thank you for your fantastic blog and the helpful reminders.

    After reading your blog, I was wondering what your thoughts were regarding the practice of service to others. There appear to be many individuals within our mist that do not have a clue on how to go about bettering the quality of their lives. None of us were brought up with a “How to Do It Book”. I am specifically referring to my clients that I provide and teach numerous services that assist them in improving their quality of life. Sometimes these folks make baby steps towards accomplishing goals that many of us may take for granted in our daily lives. For these folks, there is a need for a hand up, a hand of encouragement, a hand of example, a hand of connection, just to name a few. So, I am wondering dearest one, if providing and teaching others the fundamental life skills that will improve their quality of life is a form teaching autonomy?
    Also, I am slightly confused when I read “codependency or cold detachment”. Are these two behaviors opposites of one another? To choose another choice rather than codependency, does that mean that detachment has to be emotion-less?

    Lynne, I enjoy the spread of pictures that you choose for each of your blogs, I find myself looking at them and pondering with more curiosity.

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