The Hidden Truths About Rescuing: When ‘Helping’ Isn’t Helping

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The Hidden Truths of Rescuing

Sometimes we meet people who we view as slightly incompetent, vulnerable or in some kind of need for help, advice or support. Very often we don’t realize that our judgments create our reality of them. A reality that might not match the perceptions of others or even their own.

When we do not take the other person’s reality, perspective, and abilities into account, we solely rely on our own judgments and we may engage in the act of rescuing. We may believe that we are doing a kind thing, an honorable thing. But the truth is very different.

Rescuing is not an honorable thing. It is not something good we do for other people.

Rescuing is something we do for ourselves. It is something we do to prove something to ourselves or to gain something for ourselves.

In that process, we disrespect and disempower the other person. We act from a superior, judgemental and self-righteous position while creating a false sense of value, usefulness, status, and self-worth.

Here are 6 facts about rescuing we probably wish weren’t true:


Rescuing Is One-Dimensional

When we meet someone, we do not have the information they have and so we form our own version of them based on our judgments and preconceptions. We make up ideas and stories about them that influence the way we see them.

So if I meet a single mum of two, I can think to myself what a strong person she is and how well she copes without support. I can see her independence, strength, and competence.

Or I can see her as a failure. I can think about how she failed to keep a relationship going and to provide a stable home for the children. I can believe her to be struggling, vulnerable and lacking. The way I approach her will be very different in both scenarios.

“Just because you think something does not make it true.” Marlena Tillhon

Rescuing is based on the belief that my version of reality is a reality. I do not take anyone else’s perspective into account. I do not make space for any information other than the one I created in my mind. I then call it truth or reality. Nothing can change my mind – unless I allow it. And for the sake of rescuing, I don’t.

When we rescue we only consider our version of the other person. We create a one-dimensional view of them that is solely based on our judgments and beliefs.


Ask Yourself:

? How do others perceive this person?

? How might they perceive themselves?

? What have they achieved in their life without me?

? What could they do to help themselves?

? How else could I perceive this person or situation?

? How would I see this person if I viewed them through a lense of compassion, competence, and love?


Rescuing Is Selfish

If I come from a fear-based place, a place of lack, I will perceive the single mother of two as struggling, vulnerable and in need of support. I do not take her the reality of herself into account. I engage with my story about her. She may be the most capable and secure woman that has ever existed, but if I listen to my story about her, I will perceive her as lacking and failing.

None of what I do has anything to do with her but everything to do with the story that in my head that I’m responding to.

My agenda is rescuing in an attempt to maybe relieve my own anxiety or to make myself feel better about myself.

Providing any kind of support to her is not about me being a kind and generous person. It is about me wanting to feel better about myself. My motivation is entirely selfish.

Even if I did not have the motivation to make myself feel better, I might have the motivation to alleviate a false sense of guilt. I might just be re-enacting relationship dynamic I grew up with .

Rescuing is always about me and never about the other person.

If you are unsure whether you are rescuing or now, ask yourself the following:


Ask Yourself:

? Always explore your motivation for helping?

? What’s the intended outcome?

? Why do you want that outcome?

? Who is this outcome best for?

? Who benefits the most from this outcome?


Rescuing Is Fear-Based

When I am rescuing, my motivation to ‘help’ does not come from a place of abundance, kindness, and love. If that were my motivation, there would be nothing in it for me.

There is always something in it for me when I rescue and it is always rooted within fear.

  • The fear to feel a void in me if I don’t.
  • The fear of feeling guilty if I don’t.
  • The fear of feeling shame if I don’t.
  • The fear of judgment and rejection if I don’t.
  • The fear of criticism and abandonment if I don’t.
  • The fear of being seen as selfish if I don’t.
  • The fear of feeling guilty that the other person feels bad.
  • The fear of the outcome.
  • The fear of rising anxiety when things are outside of my control.

… and so on …

No matter how much we tell ourselves that it does, rescuing does not come from a loving and respectful place.

The truth might just lie in the dark recesses of denial.


Ask Yourself:

? What do I fear will happen if I don’t intervene and rescue?

? What do I fear others will think about me if I don’t rescue?

? What’s the worst thing that could happen if I don’t rescue?

? What is it that I am trying to control?

?What is it that I am trying to avoid?

Rescuing Is Disrespectful

If my motivation was truly loving, I would not act out of my frame of reference. I would try to understand the other person and see them as an autonomous person in their own right. A person who has everything they could possibly need to solve their own problems. This includes asking me or others for help and support.

The other person does not lack in ability or potential. The other person is equal to me even if they find themselves in a difficult or challenging life situation.

Their external circumstances are theirs to experience and learn from. I do not have to rescue them from what naturally occurs. I do not have to manipulate or control their life or external circumstances to make them feel any different to how they are feeling.

If this is my intention, my belief is that they are not capable. That they are weak. That they are incompetent.

None of this is respectful.


Ask Yourself:

? What are my judgments about the other person?

? In which ways do I see them as inferior?

? In which ways do I see myself as more capable and superior?

? Which boundaries am I violating by rescuing?

? What do I expect to get from rescuing?


Rescuing Is Disempowering

When I see someone struggle and feel compelled to help, I should pause and ask myself first if they actually need or want my help and what my intention for helping is.

Helping is very different from rescuing but we like to disguise rescuing as helping when it really isn’t.

If I believe that I should or have to help someone else, I elevate myself in power and status. I believe that my abilities and skills are superior to theirs. I believe that my way of solving their problem – which again, is a problem I perceive and who is to say that they perceive their situation as a problem? – is better, more effective, more helpful … somehow superior.

I put myself in a superior position of power and thereby disempower the other person. Automatically, I make a victim of them in my own mind.

The other person can now play along as the victim or set healthy boundaries by putting me in place. One will play right into my hands and the other will offend me if I have set out to rescue. If I intended to help and innocently overstepped any boundaries, I will not feel offended, rejected or ashamed.

Again, if I intended to help, it would not have come from a place of superiority.


Ask Yourself:

? How will I become more powerful if I rescue?

? How do I expect this situation to end?

? Am I doing things the other person could easily do for themselves?

? How am I enabling the other person’s sense of victimhood?

? Is it even my place to intervene?


Rescuing Is Disconnecting

Maybe we were led to believe that relationships are about rescuing each other from the perceived evils in the world.

Maybe we believe that in order to connect with each other we have to be a victim of something or someone.

If so, we will take turns in rescuing.

Sadly, there is nothing more disconnecting than rescuing. Healthy relationships require equality and respect. Rescuing contains neither.

If I want to have a healthy and respectful relationship with someone, I need to value them as the separate and independent person they are. I must see the strength and competence in them. I must allow them to feel their feelings and experience the circumstances of their life.

I must recognize my limitations. I must realize that I am not as powerful as I wish I was. I must see that my way is not necessarily the right way and that I do not know what’s best for everyone else. I can only ever know what’s best for me and even that sometimes goes wrong. So why do I think that I should be in charge of someone else? Who made me the boss of the world?

I must learn to respect other people’s boundaries. Without those, we will forget where one begins and one ends.

Paradoxically, when we respect our separateness, we realize our innate connectedness.

We will see the differences in which we handle life and others as differences rather than problems. We won’t have to judge anything as superior or inferior. Instead, we will connect our experiences.


Ask Yourself: 

? Am I trying to create a connection with the other person by being overly involved?

? Am I going in too fast or am full on?

? Am I being overly friendly, open or invested?

? What kind of relationship am I trying to forcefully create with the other person?

? Do I expect from the other person to provide me with what I am giving to them?


The Difference Between Helping And Rescuing

Many people struggle to distinguish between helping and rescuing. Helping others and contributing in positive ways to each other’s lives is something to strive for. It is the motivation that is the deciding factor.

Rescuing comes from a place of lack and fear, whereas helping comes from a place of compassion and love.

Rescuing comes from a place of superiority whereas helping does not. Helping is based on equality.

Only we gain when we rescue, whereas helping comes from a place of no-strings-attached contribution.


Letting Go Of Rescuing

It is likely that during our lifetime of rescuing we have adopted some extraordinary skills that will be valuable in many areas of life such as parenting or the work environment. We are probably great at attuning to others. We might be extremely competent problem-solvers. We might be very understanding, patient and tolerant.

We do not have to deny or shame those skills.

Instead, we can honor them by applying them in respectful, empowering, healthy and loving ways – to ourselves and others.

Letting go of rescuing means learning to focus on ourselves. It means learning to turn inward.

How loved and well looked after would you feel if you did for yourself what you have been doing for others? Turn the focus inwards and pay attention to yourself. Put your energy into yourself because that energy will overflow and energize others to do the same for themselves. Everyone is equal. Everyone is capable.

There is no need to make myself a slave to anyone. No one needs a slave. No one needs rescuing.

We have to learn to raise ourselves and in that, we will raise each other.

The aim is to support each other in our own growth so we evolve collectively.

No one is served by being kept down.
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Marlena Tillhon

Marlena is a progressive psychotherapist and relationship coach and passionate about helping people connect with their innate wellbeing.

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