To The Rescue

Posted 16th of September 2020 by Bay Whitaker

Are you someone who finds it difficult to see a colleague struggle with a task?  Do you often find yourself with a list of little extra jobs you’ve undertaken for friends and relatives?  Have you ever found yourself doing something for somebody that they could perfectly well have done for themselves?

If so, you may be a habitual Rescuer.

”Rescuer” in counselling and psychotherapy has a different meaning from the firefighters or lifeboat operators we think of as rescuers in everyday life.  I have heard the term defined in different ways but to me the most helpful definition is this:

Rescuing behaviour is when we offer help without even having been asked.

Nearly all of us do this sometimes, because as a species we have empathy and can see when somebody is struggling.  My neighbour has Covid?  Here – let me do your shopping for you.  My loved one can’t get the TV to work?  Here – I’ve reset it before, leave it to me!  Kindness and empathy make the world go around, and I’m all for a little rescuing behaviour. 

The problem arises for particular people, or particular relationships, where one-sided rescuing becomes a habit.  In these cases, the rescuer can end up feeling burnt out, resentful and confused. 

Many habitual Rescuers have the idea that by doing kind things for others without being asked, they will earn back kind actions from those others in return.  While this may occasionally happen, it quite often doesn’t.  The crucial aspect here is that rescuers don’t wait to be asked.  Habitual rescuers assume they know what the other person needs.  In this way, rescuers infantilise those whom they rescue.  

Habitual rescuers sometimes expect others to know what their own unspoken needs are.  Whereas actually they are seen as very strong and resourceful, very far from needing help with anything. 

So how to change this pattern?

Notice When you are Rescuing

Because this definition is quite simple, it should be quite easy to start noticing how often you offer help without it being asked for.  There is no rule that says you have to completely stop doing this.  But giving yourself say a week or two, to notice how often you have gone into Rescue mode may help you get a sense of how much of a habitual rescuer you are

Invite People To Ask For What They Need

Rather than just guessing what somebody wants and doing that, if you sense somebody needs help, find a good way to get their clear request in words.  You could enquire “Is there something in particular you’d like my help with?”.  If they say “No” (because after all, many of us just like to rant and moan without expecting solutions), then respect that and allow the person to remain unrescued.

Experiment With Asking For Help Yourself

Is there anything you would like a little help with?  Do you feel resentful because nobody has noticed?  This is a perfect opportunity for you to think about what help you would specifically like, and to try asking for it.  Remember, everybody has the right to say “No” and that goes for Rescuers too.  A “No” does not mean that it was wrong to ask – it just means the person isn’t up for helping you that way on this occasion.  And you may get lucky and get a “yes” from somebody you never expected help from!


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