Rescuing Our Adult Children—Is It Wise?
As parents our hearts go out to our kids getting themselves ready for The Big World. Having grown through our own battles, of course
we want to pass on the wisdom and the experience to protect and to help. But … here’s the big BUT.
Sometimes our heartfelt effort of helping becomes an all-or-nothing rescue mission. Instead of being enabling helpers, we become all-out Rescuers.
ISSUE: Rescuers can invalidate growth and maturing by believing that the troubled individual is unable to work through their problems alone.
Rescuers can go overdo it and create their own deep anxiety by believing that the other person (Victim in trouble) cannot deal with his own pain. Rescuers often avoid their own pain by depending on their Rescuer role to create a sense of “I’m-the-one-to-help-you” identity. Yes, it very selfless, but it can become destructive and counterproductive if the Rescuer feels she needs to be needed.
ISSUE: Are you trying to lessen your own anxiety by becoming a Rescuer? You have to come to terms with your own pain separately, and allow the Victim work it out and go through her own growth and maturing.
Sometimes (and this is where your wisdom comes in) you gotta let them fight their own battles. Oversight, not overrule. And as a father of four, I’ve come to realize what a subtle dance it can be. And you have to be careful not to project—what turns out to be—your own pain and anxiety onto the Victim.
Rescuers will unwittingly sacrifice their own health to “see the troubled soul through” … alcohol, drugs, depression, aggressiveness. Rescuers feel that health-care professionals and other family members aren’t ‘good enough’ to provide the love and caring needed.
ISSUE: Rescuer can become the primary enabler for an addict or alcoholic, but she can also become the primary enabler for the Big Baby.
— Andrea Mathews LPC, Ph.D.
Rescuers feel the need to be needed because one of their fears (often stemming from own childhood experiences of utter powerlessness ) that they really don’t make a difference, they don’t really matter or they don’t have value.
Rescuer is not playing Rescuer because she’s “stronger and more capable” of solving Victim’s problem but playing Rescuer lessens the feeling of utter powerlessness (possibly the feeling the Rescuer has tried to escape ever since a childhood experience).
All rescuing is self-rescuing. “I have been in counseling for over 30 years now and I haven’t helped a single person yet,” —Andrea Mathews, PhD.
REFOCUS: How would you feel if you were convinced that you absolutely could not rescue this person?
The Rescuer can provide the tools, but people get help because they choose to get help. It is the Victim’s choice to use the tools or find their own tools.
Your own feeling of Utter powerlessness should not be a response to someone else’s problem. Victims have to grow by owning their problem themselves, and the Rescuer must dance with them by providing the tools but not increasing their own anxiety.
When you, as the Rescuer, hear the siren call of “Help Me”, throw them all the tools you have, and tie yourself to the mast like Ulysses. The best way to help them may be by not becoming a Rescuer.
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