***The below is one “crutchprint in the sand” of my personal life. I am not an expert or a therapist but am only speaking from personal experience and observation. I do not expect complete resignment to the statements below. My plan for the below is that it become a work in progress as I grow and learn! The intention of this writing is for reflection only.
Do Relationships Require Rescuing?
Everywhere we look we hear a lot of bitterness towards others, anger towards others, and blame-shifting. I feel we are coming to a time when we all need to have the proper skills in our toolbox of life to move above these things and into the call God has on our lives.
One of the things that strikes me about our society is the root of codependency. According to Melody Beattie codependency is described as: “…one who has let another person’s behavior affect him or her”. The reality is that no one can control how you feel. If you feel a certain way and that feeling lingers then you need to take a step back and look at why this feeling or anger is lingering. Based on experience and research I hope to provide a visual for working through some practical situations where we allow others to affect us in a negative way.
Typically when we discuss codependent behavior it is in the context of abuse, alcoholism, addiction, and the support thereof. But when reading the book by Melody Beattie titled “Codependent No More” I learned that codependency is very deeply engraved not just in our society but in our every day lives. It is the very art of not being responsible for your own feelings and actions but rather assuming responsibility for others’ feelings and actions. Darlene Lancer (Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist) explains on PsychCentral that the majority of people who come from dysfunctional families are codependent in one degree or another. Because we live in a fallen world no matter how great our families were there is some level of dysfunction in all families.
As a result many people I speak with are wrapped up in the vicious cycle of codependency. By being the victim and seeking a rescuer; or being a rescuer for others and then being angry after giving too much with no return.
What does this cycle look like? There is a name for it: Karpman’s Drama Triangle. It has been taught in psychology circles for many years.
It looks like this: Draw a triangle on a piece of paper. The Bottom will be labeled “Victim: I’m Blameless”. The Top Right will be labeled: “Rescuer: I’m Good, Accepted, Capable”. The Top Left will be labeled: “Persecutor: I’m Right!”
It doesn’t take three people to move in this drama triangle. It can happen with two people where each person moves into the different roles as the drama unfolds.
Let’s use a basic example:
- A friend calls and is stressed out. She needs a babysitter because she really needs to get her nails/hair done and just can’t ask her husband to watch the kids one more time because he will make her “pay” for it later via his attitude. (Victim seeking a Rescue from Persecutor)
- Not wanting to hurt her feelings or upset her I offer (without being asked) to step in and babysit but because it does not fit in with my schedule I rearrange my entire day to fit around her poor planning. (I am the Rescuer)
- As the day continues I even offer to drive her children home for her to help in “rescuing” her from her own drama. But by the time I take the children to her home I feel like I have given above and beyond and am feeling exhausted and irritated that everything in my schedule has been shuffled around. (At this point I feel like the “victim” in the situation because “I have done ALL of this for a friend and she can’t even come pick up her children”.) (I become the Victim)
- So now, being angry I move into “persecutor” mode and have a bit of an attitude with my friend. I attempt to let her know subliminally that her incompetence has caused me grief. (I am the Persecutor)
- She immediately picks up on this attitude and becomes a bit miffed at me in return. (She moves from Victim to Persecutor)
- Now I am the “victim” again and leave wondering why she didn’t recognize all I had sacrificed in helping her. Within a few days of being in the Victim role I will be worried and anxious that my friend may think poorly of me so I will call her up with another unwanted offer to get together for consolation. (Inviting my friend to join the triangle as a Rescuer)
- And now the triangle will start again with a new situation.
In the above situation there are many things that one may pick up on that should have and could have changed about this codependent behavior. It all began with the invitation (phone call) to join the triangle. I could have chosen to explain that I am sorry my day is already planned and I cannot meet her needs. I could have simply asked, “What is it that you need from me?” and allowed my friend to ask me for a favor while I decide if it is something I have the capacity to fulfill. Both of these responses would have been healthy and at the same time I would have declined the invitation to join the drama triangle.
It seems that so much of what we do for others whether it is our family, our spouses, our children, our coworkers, etc. is operating out of this triangle. Psychology Today states: “The reason the triangle is so strong and works is because the roles are complementary. Each sees in the other what he is unable to see in himself.”
How does codependency start? What causes us to behave in a way that we feel responsible for other people? It begins with lack of intimacy. One source stated that intimacy is defined as “in to me see”. Getting to know yourself and establishing your own personal identity at an early age is key to not developing codependency. Learning you are not an “extension” of your family but an individual with ideas and personality and character. Traumatic events can cause lack of intimacy because a child/person is forced to conform to how the traumatic incident defines them or controls them. Assuming responsibility for your own actions and not being controlled by problems or the reactions of others is something a healthy child will develop at an early age.
Getting to know yourself and allowing God to penetrate your heart with love and acceptance for who you are can break the power of codependency.
We assume the responsibility for so many others around us. We attend events for fear of hurting feelings. We say yes when we mean no. We feel angry and frustrated and burnt out. We don’t understand why others cannot see our own needs as we meet theirs so well. All of this is assuming presumptuously that the “other party” cannot handle their own feelings and somehow we are responsible for how other people feel and react. Then we become angry that we think they are incompetent!
The reality is, we are responsible for us. There are things that we can control in our life and those things include our decisions, emotions, and well-being. These things are our circle of jurisdiction. There are then things that only God can control like the weather and provisions. Lastly there is the jurisdiction of “other people” and only they can control how they react, live life, handle emotions. Only they can “man or woman up” and make the choice to be responsible for their own choices. We are not responsible for others. We are responsible for ourselves.
A therapist once told me, “People treat us like we allow them to treat us”. As we all become more aware of our role and responsibilities in life we can break the pattern of entering these triangles. We can refuse the subtle invitations to rescue people from things that they must learn to rescue themselves from.
We had a chick a few years ago that couldn’t seem to burst through its shell before hatching. I simply could not stand to see it suffer after about 12 hours. I had to rescue the chick and give it just a little help by pulling a little bit of the shell back for it. After I did this I became afraid that the chick was incompetent and it would hurt itself on the sharp shell so I went back to the incubator and pulled a little more of the shell off for the chick. Wouldn’t you know, the chick was much weaker than the other chicks that hatched by pushing their own way out of the shell and within a few days the chick that I was so sure couldn’t survive without my help died. It died because I rescued it when God designed the struggle of a chick breaking out of its shell to strengthen it for the future.
“Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance…” Romans 5:3
Consider and pray for one another. Bless one another with kindness and a helping hand as the Lord intends for us to do! But remember, Jesus didn’t heal everyone. He used wisdom and did not give beyond his jurisdiction to give. To rescue others from something they are meant to go through is stepping out of our bounds. Only God can rescue and when He does it will be through whom He chooses and through His love. “Rise up and help us; rescue us because of your unfailing love. Psalm 44:26”
Let’s let go of the drama.
*Ashly P Ash