5 Things You Teach People When You Try to Rescue or Fix Them

We teach people who they are by how we treat them. If we are constantly trying to rescue and fix people, we may be inadvertently teaching them what they should believe about themselves and their capacities.

Why We Do It

Our compulsion usually comes from an innocent place. We are caretakers! We want to see others succeed. We “know the way”, and we want to show it to our struggling loved one. We usually believe we are “helping” or “supporting”. We are defensive and self-righteous when told we are actually “enabling” bad behaviors. We think to ourselves, “I can’t help it. They’re my friend.” My mom. My brother. My lover. “You would do the same in my situation.”

The Real Problem

The real problem here is not our intention. Our intention is admirable. The real problem here is that if you do something for someone over and over, you unintentionally teach them that they are not capable of learning or doing it for themselves. And worse…you never allow that person the opportunity to fail. And failure is the compost (the shit, literally) from which we all grow. There is no growth without pain, failure, or loss. That’s life. When we constantly save someone from experiencing this part of life, we deny them the potential growth that these experiences offer.  Here are 5 unexpected effects of trying to rescue someone from themselves:

  1. You teach people that they are in need of rescuing and fixing. You teach them that they are broken. You may unwittingly contribute to their sense of hopelessness.

  2. You teach people that they aren’t capable of managing their own feelings. And the unfortunate truth is that they aren’t saved from these feelings forever. Only until you - or someone like you - stop doing their work for them. The second you stop, they still have to feel those feelings to be able to heal and grow. And now they are exponentially bigger because they didn’t get to process them in real time.

  3. You teach people that you don’t believe in them. Which translates to them continuing to not believe in themselves. You can’t tell people they are great and expect them to believe you. You have to give them the chance to show themselves they are great, and to rise into that greatness by conquering difficult things.

  4. You teach people that they can’t trust themselves. So long as we can’t trust ourselves, we feel insecure and lack the confidence to step forward.

  5. You teach people that they are dependent on others to meet their needs. Again, you may be reinforcing a lack of confidence and lack of trust in themselves. You inadvertently feed the merry-go-round of *bad* behavior, rather than offer a hand to step off the ride.

What To Do Instead

First, you have to realize that your efforts, while perhaps noble, are truly misguided. You have to stop. I know it’s painful, and feels impossible, and I know this because I’ve been there. But listen friend, if it feels truly impossible to step out of the rescuer role, then it’s time to take a good hard look at yourself and figure out what rescuing others does for you that is meeting a need of yours. Because I’m here to tell you that you’re doing absolutely nothing good for the other person in this dynamic.

Instead, show people you care by being a witness to their experience. Listen to them and hold space for their emotions, but don’t try to change them or their journey. They have something they need to learn here. Otherwise they wouldn’t be on the path to begin with. Think about it: wouldn’t you be pissed if you hadn’t been given the opportunity to learn one of life’s tough lessons the first time around? Instead, someone keeps rescuing you from the lesson, from the growth - and it’s now the 87th time around and you’re older and more exhausted and the pain hurts 87 times worse because you’ve lived that much more life? Whew! Yeah, I didn’t think you’d want it to turn out that way. And hint, neither does the person you keep rescuing. They might not know it yet, but they will. Get out of the way and let them fall, so that they might then have the opportunity to rise.

Speaking of the insanity that comes from trying to fix people, have you checked out my free guide for “6 Self-Soothing Techniques for When You’re Losing Your Shit”? If not, you can grab it right here. You could also check out my guide to “Dealing with Conflict for the Conflict Avoidant Person” if that feels more applicable to your situation! Get your free copy here.