Do You Feel the Need to Rescue the One You Love?
How being a fixer and a rescuer can actually take you down
It seems noble, doesn’t it? Almost altruistic to sacrifice ourselves for another’s well-being. Like it’s the right thing to do. To run towards the injured individual rather than away.
No matter we might exhaust ourselves, deplete ourselves, and deprive ourselves. It is a small price to pay to hold onto the one we love. Or even more importantly, keep a family together.
We are rescuers. And rescuers are really good at one thing. We are problem solvers. “Ain't no mountain high enough, no valley low enough” kinda people. We will overcome. We will persevere.
We are overly caring and empathetic. We are loyal, tenacious and above all we are fixers. We make things happen. We believe in the impossible. We believe we can defy the odds. Did I mention we also lack self-protective boundaries? But no matter. We find satisfaction in coming through for people.
We see human ‘need’ and can’t resist the urge to provide.
We even rationalize it. We feel ‘solving’ problems is fairly easy for us so why not be of assistance?
And in many areas of our life that serves us well.
Some even admire us for it.
My ex-husband used to say, “Everyone calls you when they want to make the impossible happen.”
Remember “Ain’t no mountain high enough, no valley low enough.”
I could get someone on television, in an article, secure a celebrity spokesperson, throw together a fundraiser, reverse business losses, get someone a job, connect the right people. You name it.
It made me happy.
My background in business, public relations, and journalism certainly helped.
But in truth, what made these things happen was the natural rescuer within me. I was a proud fixer. The bigger the challenge the more tenacious I would become. I found it intrinsically motivating. The desire to come through for other people superseded any desire I had to come through for myself.
So while the phone calls may have annoyed my husband they bolstered me.
What might be considered a personal weakness was actually a professional strength. As long as I didn’t let someone take advantage. Insert some laughter here. Because obviously when we lack boundaries we invite some to overstep.
Interestingly, my husband lacked the ability to see how my rescuing comfortably spilled over into our marriage. And how often I defied the odds for him.
When he couldn’t afford office space I found him prime real estate for a quarter of the going rate. When he couldn’t figure out how to afford a new employee I solved that as well. And on and on.
Now you have to think like a fixer. I did not believe I was rescuing my husband. I believed I was being a part of a team. Which would have been the case had it not had such far-reaching extremes. And if every once in a while my teammate was helping me solve a problem.
While things were good in our marriage this worked for us. But as our relationship began to deteriorate and my husband began behaving badly it no longer did.
One day our marriage counselor said, “Colleen, our greatest strengths can often become our greatest weakness.”
My overly caring and empathetic nature was a strength. But it led to certain weaknesses. The fixer, the rescuer, the enabler. The lack of self-protective boundaries.
But the pendulum had definitely shifted.
The professional side of me did well as a rescuer. I accomplished things. However, the personal side was taking myself down while attempting to rescue the man I loved.
I convinced myself my husband was a good person in a bad place. He had to be experiencing some type of mid-life crisis. There had to be a reason, aka, ‘an excuse’ for his current ‘men behaving badly’ status.
I was doing the right thing. Relationships are a partnership. You don’t just abandon a marriage.
But I should have left and long before I did.
It’s not our job to rescue people. People are responsible for their own behavior. Shockingly simple, yes?
But rescuers run deep. It’s ingrained in our DNA. It follows patterns and roles we played in childhood. Thus, we are ‘in it to win it.’ And the worrier within us, convinces us bad things will happen if we don’t keep throwing a lifeline.
To emphasize this…I remained even with a counselor explaining my own personality to me.
Believe me, I am respectful and could see my own faults. I definitely heard his words. But I was attempting to reverse who I had grown to be my entire life.
It wasn’t easy to let go of the rescuer within me. I had grown to like her. She was after all, responsible for some of my better achievements. The girl people called to move mountains.
Somehow it felt as if I was losing my husband AND a part of my own identity. One which I had just now learned was less than favorable.
It is NOT our job to rescue people. People are responsible for their OWN behavior.
I should not have begged my husband to stop drinking. I should not have begged him to address whatever was making him behave this way. I should not have begged him to save our marriage, to remain in counseling, to care what he was doing to our children.
It was his responsibility to be accountable for his own bad behavior. Not mine.
I failed to heed my marriage counselor’s warnings.
I both embraced and resisted learning about myself. I would say that is probably not too uncommon in self-discovery.
I was a contradiction. I read, researched, and went to counseling. I fueled personal growth. And then I fell back into old patterns. I stayed, I begged, I pleaded, I talked too much. I lacked self-protective boundaries.
The better part of me destroying both myself and my happiness. Allowing another person’s problems to overtake my life.
The same person who didn’t care he was hurting my children and me over and over again. The person who watched the rescuer fling herself off the mountain repeatedly to save him.
That is who I ruined myself for.
Thankfully, there came a day when the fixer finally abandoned the rescue.
“You have a lot of patience,” I said to my marriage counselor. “I heard every word you said. I just couldn’t help myself.”
Sometimes things can’t be fixed. Sometimes people can’t be rescued. Sometimes people don’t want to be saved. Sometimes the worrier has to let go of fear. Sometimes the tenacious must give up. Sometimes the loyal must rethink their flock.
Sometimes we have to have boundaries.
Even when we are “Ain’t no mountain high enough, no valley low enough” kinda people.”