An example of rescuing in relationships.
Case study demonstrating how we can rescue our partner and take responsibility for their happiness.

January 13th 2009 - Brad is a quiet and socially anxious person. A computer geek, who at an early age, had fled into the comfort of his monitor and the impersonal interactions with friends he found on line. He felt a sense of protection that way. Whenever he was in someone’s presence he felt exposed and scrutinized.

He had not been in any committed relationship until he met Susan, in fact he had not really had any more than a couple of dates which usually just didn’t go anywhere, even though on a number of occasions he would have liked it too. He felt too self-conscious to pursue anything and always assumed the other person was not interested. Susan was the first person who pursued him vigorously enough to convince him that someone did in fact care about him.

Susan was his opposite. She was gregarious and a social butterfly. On the outside she seemed confident, but as anyone tried to get close to her she would cut him or her off, and move onto the next person. Neither Brad nor Susan was comfortable with conflict. Susan needed everyone to get along and be happy and pleasant. Her father had left suddenly when she was young and she never saw him again. In her family negative feelings were not expressed to each other, instead, you just walked away. Conflict meant being hurt and helpless, and it was just too frightening to attempt to go there. In her involvements with others she would make it her mission to make them happy and fix any problem.

Brad experienced conflict as a beacon to his shame and discomfort with himself. A very good reason to not rock the boat.

Susan’s relationships were short lived before she met Brad. She had gone through a very difficult time that year. She had been fired from two jobs, and everywhere she went people seemed to be upset with her, why couldn’t they just accept her for who she was? Brad was quiet and seemed to do just that and they didn’t fight or have disagreements. They quickly developed a relationship where neither voiced their unhappiness or disappointment with the other, apart from an occasion comment under the breath. Both carried unvoiced misgivings about the relationship that they dare not admit even to themselves. Susan would be in the habit of letting Brad down and then pursuing him to make up for it – he always forgave her, and issues were not addressed. Susan was constantly disappointed that Brad did not want to do more social things.

They moved in with each other and settled into a home life. As time went on Brad would go in and out of depression and Susan would try to make him happy. They began to have separate lives, have little to talk about, and less sexual intimacy. It had been two years now since they had been sexual, and Brad had fallen into a deep depression for the past year struggling with feelings of suicide. Susan had also become depressed as she witnessed her efforts to make Brad happy, clearly failing.

Both Susan and Brad rescued each other. Brad rescued Susan from a downward spiral she was heading in when they met. He provided her with consistency, the security she had always wanted, and to escape the feeling that everything could fall apart at any moment. This feeling that things could fall apart, is what drives her to make everyone happy. Brad didn’t mind doing this, as he felt just as fortunate to find someone who wanted to be with him. Susan rescued him from his isolation and lack of desire to live. He could have social interaction that was the result of her efforts, and he could hide behind her centre stage. Through Susan he felt a connection to life and people.

Initially this was all well and good, they both helped to ease each other’s fears and wounds. Susan was able to find some stability in her life and begin to make headway in a career. Brad was able to keep at bay the deep depression that had begun to plaque him. However, as time went on that initial connection did not mature into a deeper intimacy and they both drifted apart, held together by the feelings of responsibility for each other, rather than a real desire to be with each other.

One of the problems with rescuing is that it is just a band-aid. Because it is the result of efforts from an outside person the effects are short lived. The person being rescued doesn’t feel a sense of achievement or competency; they may get a temporary relief from feeling taken care of, but essentially they are being given the message from the rescuer that they are unable to do something that other people can do, and need help. Now we all need help sometimes, and there is nothing wrong with reaching out, but one of the hallmarks of rescuing is that it is unsolicited help. It is the result of the rescuers anxiety about something being wrong, and possibly the need to be needed.

Lets take the case of Brad and Susan. Both acted unconsciously in response to perceiving the other as needing them. Susan saw in Brad a lost puppy that needed help with expressing himself and connecting with others. Brad saw in Susan someone who’s life was out of control who he could give stability to, and he was going to be the one to stay when others had left. The unconscious motivation may be a lack of trust in the other person, or a fear that they will leave if they don’t need you.

There is always a way that the person who is being rescued is buying into it – after all if you feel offended by someone’s intrusion you may challenge that, or just walk away, or take charge of that area of your life. The rescued person tends to acquiesce to the rescuers efforts because they can abdicate responsibility, or they don’t want to cause conflict. It also avoids the need to ask for help in a direct manner.

There is a difference between caring for someone and rescuing. Understandably, people want to identify with being caring, and it is difficult for people to consider the possibility that their desire to help may be motivated by a desire to possess or invade the other – only the experience of your motivations will cause you to transform them. When I experience myself as fearful of loosing control, and dishonoring others control over their life by rescuing them, will I want to change it. If it is simply a matter of caring about someone, and that is all I allow myself to experience, why would I change it? When people challenge you regarding your rescuing behaviour then you can simply see it as a matter of not being appreciated for your caring. People can remain out of awareness for a long time until things reach a critical point, as it became with Brad and Susan.

For Susan and Brad it is difficult to address the issues in their relationship because the basis of the connection is responsibility for each other’s happiness, and if they change that, will they have a connection at all? In addition, if they focus more on their own happiness and decide the relationship is not what they want, leaving is hard when you are responsible for the others happiness.

Deep intimacy requires honesty about how you feel in relation to the other. Most critical at times when you are resentful or disappointed in them. When issues are not voiced, however small, it creates distance. Respect of another, requires a vigilance about ones motivations, and an inhibition of any desire to invade.

Please note the case study does not represent any actual persons but is a composite of typical experiences I have worked with.

Contact Member:
Delyse Ledgard MA RCC
608 - 402 W. Pender St
Vancouver, BC V6B 1T6