Rescuer: Someone who engages in relationships, with an uncontrollable need to help, give, rescue, fix and recreate that person into the image that they desire.
If you see yourself in the above definition, raise your hand. Have you ever tried to fix someone and it actually worked? I’m guessing that the answer to this is no.
I’m not talking about two relatively healthy people, who together make each other better, but are both functional as individuals. I’m talking about two unhealthy, possibly broken people; one giving and one taking, one responsible for everything and one responsible for nothing, and one trying to change the other into something they are not.
In a nutshell, once they’ve found someone that shows interest in them, someone with a Rescuer mentality becomes determined to make it work, regardless of how unhealthy, broken or just plain wrong for them the person is. It is like choosing the proverbial square peg to fit into a round hole and hammering in that peg until it fits.
So what does is behaviour really saying? It says something along the lines of, ‘I don’t think anyone else will want me and I know you are less than what I deserve. I know better, so you do what I say and I’ll make you into a better person (for me).’
Let’s explore this thinking in further detail. I believe that the Rescuer knows, on some level, that the partner is broken, knows that they deserve better and knows that the partner exhibits poor behaviour which needs to change. In spite all of these red flags, someone with a Rescuer mentality will consciously and/or subconsciously ignore all of this and set about doing all the work for their partner, in the hope of transforming them into the person that they believe that they should be. You can’t make a silk purse out of a pig’s ear.
When I have posed the question of ‘Why do you do this?’ in my work with clients, the response is always along the lines of being afraid that no one else will want them and not wanting to be alone. Moreover, whilst being so focused on the problems of others, the rescuer does not have capacity to focus on their own issues.
Those with a Rescuer mentality may get confused in thinking that what they are doing is good, kind or even altruistic. However, at its base level, rescuing others, whilst not taking care of self, may be symptomatic of a lack of self-worth and self esteem issues. In my experience, what generally ends up happening is that one goes into a full on Florence Nightingale mode, trying to come up with solutions to their problems (most Rescuers or Fixers become excellent armchair psychologists). Once the answers to their problems have been found, a Rescuer or Fixer then imparts a great deal of energy trying to make them ‘see,’ that if they just do what you say, then you can both live happily ever after. If only.
Get ready for the Game to Switch Up at this point. It may go a little something like this. Those being ‘rescued’ will not ‘see’ because the truth is that most aren’t interested or even capable of ‘seeing’. The Rescuer ends up getting frustrated because the recipient of all of their hard work is simply not behaving or doing all that they have been told that they should do. The person being ‘fixed’, in turn, becomes resentful and defensive to the repeated attempts at changing them. They may get defiant and act out by doing the exact opposite, because the type of broken people, that need to be fixed, generally have an anti-social personality traits and they excel in resisting being told what to do. They become a Rebellious Child to what they experience as your Critical Parent.
Throughout this dance, the needs and your emotions of the Rescuer are pushed aside. They have been so focused on their partner’s problems, that they have no energy to attend to their own. Their interests, hobbies, family and friends are all been put on hold indefinitely. What does a Rescuer get in return for their trouble? Arguably, a whole lot of nothing. When you become fixated on an intimacy dodger, they may start to feel trapped and obligated. For the final act in this drama, expect a disappearing act, a withdrawal, or at least a cold front to blow in.
Those with a Rescuer mentality are really good at accepting and even creating excuses for the poor behaviour of others. Many feel comfortable giving and sharing their resources and they’ve been conditioned to put the interests of others ahead of their own. Broken Downs seek out those with a Rescuer mentality because they don’t want to put in a lot of effort and Rescuers are used to living off of bread crumbs. It’s the perfect fit.
When you give and give and give with little to no return, it’s exhausting. You may feel hopeless, drained and like you’ve failed again. You then collect yet another Stamp, yet another example showing that you just weren’t good enough. You have just reinforced a deeply held belief.
How does a Rescuer mentality develop? Many became Rescuers because it was the only way they could get attention and affection in their family of origin. When children do not receive good enough parenting, are not attuned to or are neglected, they gain a hyper-sensitivity to the cues and the needs of other people. They learn that the best way to get their needs met is to know when it is safe to approach and when it is best to be invisible. By the time they reach adulthood, this fixing has become an integral part of them and how they relate to others. So much so, that it feels natural and normal to neglect their own feelings and make someone else your priority.
In its purest form, Rescuing and Fixing are about control. When you try to change someone, you are trying to control their behaviour so they don’t hurt themselves, hurt others and most importantly, they don’t hurt you. Understand that you can’t shape someone into your idea of what they’re supposed to be. Instead, try to accept people for what and who they are and if what they are isn’t what you’re looking for, maybe it is time to find what you are looking for. If you keep saying to yourself, “if only he did this, he’d be perfect” or, “if only she didn’t do this, then it would work out” and you keep trying to fix or to rescue someone from themselves because you think you know what is best for them, then you are engaging in fantasy relationships.
Love isn’t a riddle to be solved. It’s two people with both of their feet planted firmly in reality and fully accepting of each other’s flaws. It’s about giving each other the space to grow and accepting that you each have separate interests and separate friends, as well as common ones. Love is about finding the right fit, not trying to turn someone into something they’re not.
“When we protect ourselves so we won’t feel pain, that protection becomes like armor that imprisons the softness of the heart.” – Pema Chodron
For many years, I kept people at an emotional distance. I didn’t realise this at the time. Subconsciously, I believed that if I didn’t let myself get too close to someone then it wouldn’t hurt me when they left. If I didn’t let them get too close to me then they would never really know me, so when they did reject me, it wasn’t really me they were rejecting, because they did not get to know the “real me”. People that were generally interested in me were to be avoided, because they would want to get too close and that I just couldn’t risk, even though this was the type of relationship I said I wanted all along. Having experienced and worked my way out to the other side, I can empathise fully with clients who come to me, expressing the same kind of fear.
I believe that this way of thinking is something that is learnt early in childhood as a means of protection. We learned how to interact with the world through our interactions with our parents and other caregivers. If we couldn’t trust them, then we couldn’t trust anyone fully. We learned to keep people at arm’s length, because the more someone meant to us the more power they had to hurt us, so it was safer to care from behind an emotional shield of protection. This was our coping mechanism; our strategy for dealing with intimacy.
During my twenties (prior to training as a therapist), I believed that I was truly caring and had a big heart. I thought that I wasn’t the one with the problem in my relationships and that I was normal. The truth was that I would choose partners that were selfish, with lots of baggage so that the focus would always be on them and what was wrong with them. In Transactional Analysis, we call this the Game of “Blemish”. That was my favourite Game. Why did I do this? Quite simply, so that I didn’t have to feel uncomfortable with me or deal with my own drama. Dealing with my own fear of intimacy was never even something I considered as one of my issues. Through my own therapy and the deeper that I progressed on my journey, the more I learned about myself and the more proof I found. This fear is a huge obstacle and it’s what keeps people locked into making the same relationship choices.
I’ve watched clients with whom I have previously worked run for the hills when someone liked them too much, or too soon. I’ve watched them blow cold when someone they initially chased, was getting too close. I’ve seen the same clients sabotage a relationship that for all intents and purposes looked like it was developing into something good, citing one or two trivial reasons as to why it could never work. When it comes to intimacy, we can be full of uncertainty and anxiety, with no clue what to do, how to act, or how to control emotions.
In my experience, I have found that people who fear intimacy share similar behaviours. They include:
- Gravitating towards people that blow hot and cold
- Preferring long distance relationships
- Avoiding people that seem genuinely interested in you
- Difficulty trusting people when it comes to love
- Feeling uncomfortable when the focus is on you
- Volatile or tempestuous relationships
- An inner conflict of needing to be loved and a need to be alone where it’s safe
- A deep rooted belief that no one has ever truly loved you
- Feeling unlovable
- Fearing someone will see your flaws and judge you to be lacking in some way
- Preferring to be alone a lot
- You may struggle with letting any romantic partner truly in to get to know the real you
The good thing about a fear of intimacy is that it can be overcome. It is a coping mechanism, something you learned to protect yourself. The key to overcoming is to understand and feel that it is now outdated in your here and now relationships. A little insecurity is normal when we enter into the unknown of a new relationship, but it should never be so intense that it keeps you from letting someone in.
Allowing ourselves to be vulnerable was a luxury that many of us may not have had in childhood, so we instead learned to shut that part of us down and disassociate from it. Being able to love and be loved fully means allowing ourselves to be vulnerable. It means taking the right steps in new relationships – taking things slowly, getting to know someone before allowing yourself to get emotionally or physically attached. It is paying attention to red flags and acting appropriately to things that cause concern. It is watching how your potential partner reacts to your boundaries. Above all, it is about being okay with you, paying attention to your feelings, your needs and your wants and always making them a priority. When all of those T’s are crossed, it’s about opening up and slowly letting someone in. The more they show that they are trustworthy, with words and actions that match and are consistent, then the more you can begin to trust them.
I have found that the more you begin to love yourself the easier it becomes to let someone in, because you stop fearing the rejection so much and you’re less concerned with what other people think of you. When you love yourself you stop being afraid to let people see the real you, because you’ve already figured out that the real you is pretty fantastic