Are you a rescuer? If someone is in physical danger, to rescue is heroic.
But there is another kind of rescuing that is neither heroic nor productive.
If a toddler was learning to walk, and every time he wobbled Mom rushed in and picked him up, it would be a long time before he developed any confidence about making it on his own.
If we see someone struggling with some aspect of their lives, we often feel like rushing in to help them solve the problem.
Sometimes this is very appropriate. But it becomes counterproductive when the person begins to rely on your opinion before making any decisions on his or her own.
They begin to become dependent on the views of others, and lose faith in their own ability to make good decisions for themselves.
Furthermore, the advice we give to others is often what we would do if we were in that situation, and it may not be the best for someone else.
This can be like telling someone what kind of clothes to wear, or what kind of furniture to put in their living room.
Rescuing in this sense is like picking up the toddler instead of allowing him to learn to fall and get up again.
If he’s about to tumble down the stairs, of course it is prudent to jump in, but otherwise it is only through trial and error that he learns.
Sometimes there is an urge to save others from the same mistakes that we may have made. “Take it from me, this is what you should do!”
But remember, this individual, and her situation, are not identical to ours. No matter how much wiser we think we might be, it is still more helpful to pose the kinds of questions that will get the person thinking herself, than to simply provide answers.
Ask how they feel about their situation, and how they feel like handling it.
Explore the consequences of various courses of action. If there’s a lot of anger involved, and they might do something drastic like quitting a job or ending a relationship, it’s wiser for you to stay calm than to jump in and be angry too.
Once the anger is expressed, they may begin to see things a little differently.
Emotional rescuing is often motivated by the desire to prevent pain in another, and yet sometimes our most profound learning comes out of our pain.
Often the most loving thing that we can do is to allow others to experience their pain, assuring them that we are there beside them.
Experience their pain, gently supporting them through their labor, assuring them that they will get through it.
Gwen Randall-Young is an author and award-winning psychotherapist.