Monday, 23 January 2017

The Temptation to Rescue

As a Psychotherapist, friends often ask if I'm ever tempted to step in and solve problems for my clients.  The truth is that sometimes I am tempted.  Of course, that's not what a Psychotherapist should be doing, but it doesn't mean I'm never tempted.  New clients sometimes ask me if I will be providing them with advice as to how to live their lives better or to 'fix' them.  I usually respond with something like, "Who am I to tell you how to live your life"? Most people seem to appreciate that because in an instant it hands back a large portion of control to the client.

Are you a 'Rescuer'?  We all enjoy doing nice things for others when we can but do you regularly find yourself doing this, often at your own expense? Perhaps you keep finding yourself lending money that you don't have, giving up time that you don't have, being emotionally available for everyone but yourself or drawn to partners who need to be 'fixed'?  Maybe you tell yourself, you love to help others and that's just the kind of person you are?  Altruism is a wonderful thing BUT I'm willing to bet that even despite the toll this 'self-sacrificing' might take on you, you'll keep doing it because there is an anticipated or actual pay-off. That's not to say that you engage in this pattern of behaviour because you want something from it - you probably engage in it because unconsciously you are being driven to have needs met that have been lacking elsewhere, either in the past or the present.  "No way, not me", you might say; "I'm just doing this because I'm a really kind person".  I'm sure you are and I'd believe that kindness was your sole motivation if this happened only occasionally but when this becomes a pattern of behaviour which often leads you to feeling depleted in some way - a part of your 'script', if you like, then it's most likely that you are seeking something that will fill an emotional hole of some sort.  Maybe you fear being rejected or disliked, so you do everything you can to be 'liked'.  Maybe you are trying to prove something to someone else.  Maybe you weren't able to help or 'fix' someone in your past but now you can make amends by doing that for someone else.  There are many reasons why people do this and the answer usually lies in the past.

So, apart from the emotional toll this kind of behaviour can take on us, how else might it affect our relationships?  Firstly, has someone actually asked you to fix something or have they merely shared a problem with you?  Sharing worries or concerns might be all the other person wants to do - they might feel that you can support them best just by listening.  By really listening and asking appropriate questions, you show that you care and that you are interested - maybe that's enough. We can often figure things out by ourselves just by naming a problem out loud to someone else.  There is healing to be had by relating to another human being.  When someone isn't asking for your opinion or an answer to a problem, they can feel judged or disempowered - no, that's not your intention but that won't change how they might feel.  Telling them a story about yourself that 'trumps' theirs is also unhelpful because then it becomes about you, even if your intention is to make them feel like they are not alone. If you are going to share your own personal experience, timing is everything.  Showing empathy is everything when people are struggling with an issue - I mean genuine empathy, not just telling them how awful a situation is, while you type away on your keyboard! Simple responses like, "that must be so hard for you right now" or "I can see you're really struggling right now", show a desire to understand but hold back from full-on rescue mode.  You might ask them if they have any thoughts on what they will do.   It's good to note that sometimes, when we see someone's distress and we feel a strong desire to save them, it might be more about our discomfort with our own emotions.  Maybe they need to feel what they are feeling in order to process what is happening for them?   

Now back to my own temptation to rescue.......there are rare occasions when someone needs to be rescued (at least a little bit); that could be a child from an abusive environment or someone who is in such a vulnerable place that they do not feel capable of supporting themselves.   In the case of adults who are particularly vulnerable, where possible, the goal should always be to work towards a point where they can learn to support themselves.  These cases are pretty rare but sometimes we have to dig deep to find those resources to support ourselves.  Sometimes my job is to help my clients in seeking out the resources that are available to them.  I know that when I start to feel slightly anxious before a session with a client or feel inclined to rack my brains for solutions to a problem, then I am veering off into rescue mode.  Sometimes it takes a bit of reflecting on my part to figure out what's going on but once I do, then it's a massive relief for me because I can acknowledge what's going on for me and because it's now in awareness, it has little control over me - years of therapy and training do come in handy sometimes!  I also reflect on whether or not, I've been subtly 'invited' by my client to rescue them.  I have asked some clients (where appropriate) if they felt they might have been looking for me to rescue them and usually they have; once we acknowledge that co-creation, we can get back to the task at hand, which is me supporting them to support themselves, NOT 'RESCUE'.