I have a tendency to rescue people. I want to protect them from negativity and emotional hurt. As a sensitive person, it is easy for me to empathize with anyone falling victim to sarcasm or cutting remarks. If I perceive someone’s light being dimmed or snuffed out, my claws come out and Mama Bear arrives. I know a certain amount of confrontation and teasing is normal, dare I say even good for children, to develop confidence and a thicker skin, but consistent over-powering, pointing out of mistakes and put-downs are harmful. They promote a bullying cycle.
All of that is fairly old news. Bullying is bad and should be dealt with. We know that. What I am realizing now is that rescuing can also be detrimental.
Rescuing people isn’t always the answer
I believe that it’s critically important for sensitive souls to learn how to protect themselves and to clear away the energy and emotions of other people.One key aspect is setting good boundaries. Many of us get into trouble when we try to take care of other people first.
— Jenna Avery, Let Go of Taking Responsibility for Others
I’ve been studying Motivational Interviewing in order to be a better personal coach. One of the sacred premises of Motivational Interviewing is to give the client autonomy by not providing solutions to their problems but guiding them to figure out their own motivations and action steps. This means no rescuing, no telling someone exactly what to do. It’s harder than you think. I have to remind myself to pull back, ask helpful questions, let my clients feel their own ambivalence and come up with ways to assuage the anxiety themselves. This way, the solutions are more meaningful and more likely to be carried out. The client is empowered.
Rescuing your own children
I have a history of jumping in to protect my daughter, who is the youngest and only girl, from her two older brothers. My boys are logical and critical thinkers. Their knee-jerk reaction to most things is to critique or judge. My daughter is a bleeding heart with a creative mind. It is easy for me to empathize with her way of being. As much as I’ve learned to appreciate my sons’ way of thinking, it’s still hard for me to agree with sometimes. Nevertheless, I value their processing and verbalizing as long as it does not harm or stifle someone else’s.
Over the years, my sons have accused me of favoring my daughter. I think they’ve felt misunderstood and undervalued by me (Although, neither have directly told me so).
These, of course, were not my intentions. My intentions were to rescue my daughter from emotional or psychological damage and teach my sons how to be thoughtful and compassionate.
Over-empathy could feel like a vote of no-confidence
But there is disservice in jumping in to protect and rescue all the time. For one, it is emotionally taxing and unhealthy for me. I am not keeping my emotional energy separate from that of others. Collecting all that worry and negative energy is draining. Secondly, I am in essence saying I don’t believe my daughter can take care of herself. I’m not even giving her the chance.
My teacher, Sonia Choquette, says: Ultimately, an overly empathic heart may be a vote of no-confidence in those you love and care about. — Jenna Avery
I may be interfering with her path of personal growth. Her older brothers may be just the inspiration she needs to become an expert in child psychology or they may teach her how to speak more assertively and concisely. The tough time they give her may even inflame her compassion more for other people in similar positions.
What to do instead of rescuing
I am most definitely not condoning bullying. I am advocating for empowering victims instead of rescuing them.
One of the best things I can do for my kids, clients, friends, family members, etc. is have firm boundaries, take care of myself and not allow myself to be overpowered, held back or bullied. I can be true to myself, keep moving forward and be kind to others along the way. I must speak up and let someone know if they are violating a core value of mine. I can be the example of wholeness, someone not dependent on others’ views.
In a way, this is empowering or rescuing myself.
With my daughter, I’ve tried to let her fight her own battles more. I’ve given her tools to use such as telling her brothers to, Buzz off! Which they think is corny and old fashioned but diverts them enough to de-escalate a negative conversation. I also tell her it is OK to leave the room. Walk away. She doesn’t have to stay where she is uncomfortable. I am also a big proponent of humor or levity. If she can redirect the conversation to something funny, she’s golden.
I’ve also tried to truly listen to my boys’ points of view and validate their way of being. I’ve shown more appreciation for their contribution to conversations and the importance of logic. I am not perfect and have a lot of work to do but awareness of my tendency to rescue and protect and its pitfalls has given me a new perspective.
Do you always fight for the underdog? Could you be inadvertently undermining someone’s developmental path? How can you empower instead of rescue?
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