Tag Archives: lifesaver

Be a Lifeguard, Not a Lifesaver: The Benefits of Avoiding Rescuing Behaviours

Posted by: Anna Coutts on February 24, 2015 3:31 pm

It’s hard to not be a rescuer. Very few parents, therapists or generally empathetic people I know can stand idly by and watch someone they love drowning in emotional pain, getting choked by waves of sadness, anxiety or shame. It’s not to say that rescuing is a bad thing- saving someone from a painful struggle is absolutely necessary sometimes.

Unfortunately, however, it’s easy to get trapped in a rescuer role that eventually puts both of you at risk. I see parents getting caught in this trap all the time in my work with youth dealing with complex mental health issues. Parents witness their child’s emotional turmoil and bend over backwards to find a way to dive in and save them from suffering. Who can blame them? No one wants to see their child in pain and every parent wants to protect their child.

Balancing Stones - 36428104The problem with rescuing is that while it provides immediate relief, it doesn’t yield long-term results. It dis-empowers the person being rescued and they never learn how to swim. Instead, you get caught in an infinite loop, as they become reliant on you to rescue them over and over again. Even the healthiest lifesaver, the strongest swimmer, can only pull someone safely to shore so many times before they too become exhausted and are unable to keep their head above water. Not only can this lead the person rescuing to struggle to stay afloat themselves, it can breed resentment. How many times can you rescue someone before you get frustrated with them for always jumping in? It can also stir up negative feelings for the person being rescued. They may begin to see themselves as a helpless victim and feel ashamed or angry that they always need someone to help them get to shore.

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