NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Thursday, December 28, 2017

Overcoming a Need to Rescue Your Loved Ones as Part of a Codependent Pattern

Many people attempt to rescue the people in their lives, especially family members and romantic partners (see my articles:  How to Stop Being the Rescuer in Your FamilyOvercoming Codependency: Taking Care of Yourself First, and Overcoming the Need to Be Everyone's Rescuer).

Overcoming the Need to Rescue and Fix Your Loved Ones as Part of a Codependent Pattern

I believe most people who try to rescue others have a genuine concern for their loved ones and want the best for them.  Their intention comes from a good place within them.

At the same time, there are problems involved with rescuing.  One problem is that there are usually underlying emotional issues involved for the rescuers which causes them to feel compelled to fix others. They avoid dealing with their problems by focusing on others instead of themselves.

Another problem is that this dynamic often causes problems in relationships because the person, who is the "rescuee," often doesn't want to be rescued or fixed.  This is bound to cause friction.

Even if they do want to be rescued, the problem is that this dynamic keeps both people from facing their problems and growing and developing as mature, responsible adults.

Usually people who try to rescue others have developed this pattern first with their families and then it carries over into other relationships.

Let's take a look at a fictional vignette which illustrates this dynamic:

Fictional Vignette: Trying to Rescue and Fix Your Loved Ones:

As the oldest in her family, Nina's parents and siblings relied on her to resolve family problems from the time she was a young child.

From the time Nina was seven or eight years old, Nina's mother, who was a single parent, often confided to Nina about her problems.  She treated Nina as if she were a close friend rather than a child (see my article: Why Your Child Can't Be Your Best Friend).

Even after they were grown, Nina's siblings relied on Nina to bail them out when they got into trouble or needed money.

Helping her mother and siblings often meant that Nina would put herself in a financial bind, but she found it impossible to say no to them.

When she started dating Ed, Nina recognized that he drank too much, but she liked him a lot and she thought, "I can change him" (see my articles: Relationships: "I'll Change Him After We Get Married.")

Little did she know that Ed didn't want to stop drinking, and he resented her suggestions that she could help him.  After a few months, Ed's resentment led to his breaking up with Nina, which upset her.

A few months later, she became friendly with Tom, who worked in the same restaurant where Nina worked.  At first, they were friends.  But, as time went on, their friendship turned into a romance.

Shortly after Nina began dating Tom, she discovered that he had serious financial problems even though he did well as the bartender at the restaurant.

When Nina offered to lend him money and make a budget for him, Tom felt ashamed and told her that he didn't need her help.  But Nina persisted, which resulted in Tom ending their relationship.

Soon after they broke up, Tom left the restaurant and took a job somewhere else because it was too uncomfortable for both of them to work in the same place after they broke up.  This saddened Nina because she felt she lost a lover and a friend.

Right after Tom ended their relationship, Nina began getting headaches and backaches, which she never had before.  Her doctor ruled out any medical problems and suggested that it might be related to emotional problems.  He suggested that she seek out help from a psychotherapist.

As Nina described her family history and her romantic relationships, she and her psychotherapist discussed her need to try to fix others--even when these people didn't want it.

Nina said that she felt she could see others' problems much clearer than them could, and she wanted to help.  She took pride in being the "go to" person to be relied upon, "I'm the one everyone comes to for help in my family."

When her psychotherapist asked Nina who she went to when she had a problem, Nina acknowledged that she usually didn't go to anyone--not even her close friends--because it made her feel too uncomfortable.

Over time, as Nina and her therapist continued to discuss these issues in their psychotherapy sessions,  Nina realized how much she was neglecting herself by trying so hard to help others.

Since she gave her adult siblings so much money, she had little for herself.  She had not even bought herself a new coat in several years because her youngest brother had a gambling problem and she was constantly giving him money to bail him out.  She thought it would be "cruel" to allow him to face the consequences of his actions.

She also paid her mother's bills, even though her mother had a good job and could afford to pay her own bills, "Ever since I began working, I've just always paid my mother's bills."

When her therapist asked Nina to think about her situation as if it were someone else's story, Nina thought about her it for the first time, "It's just what I've always done, and I've never thought about it before."

But as she considered the personal sacrifices that she was making, she realized that she couldn't continue to do this.  She knew it would be hard for her to stop and for her family, "How will my family get along without my help?  They're not used to taking care of themselves."

What really convinced Nina that she needed to change was when she realized that she was focusing so much on other people so that she wouldn't focus on herself.

Nina's psychotherapist provided Nina with information about codependency so Nina could understand this is a dynamic and the ways to overcome it (see my article: Why It's Important For Psychotherapists to Provide Clients With Psychoeducation).

Nina's psychotherapist also told her about how Al-Anon  meetings can help to overcome codependency.  Nina tried a few meetings, but she felt too overwhelmed by what others shared, so she decided not to continue and read the literature instead (see my article: The Early Stage of Recovery: What to Do If 12 Step Meetings Are Too Overwhelming For You?).

As difficult as it was for Nina, she and her therapist came up with a plan to deal with her codependency:  Over the next several months, she would gradually stop contributing as much financially to her family so they had time to work on becoming more independent and she had time to learn how to stop rescuing them.  Nina realized that, although she thought she was helping them, she was really fostering an unhealthy dependency and they would never learn to take care of themselves.

She was aware that her mother and siblings would protest because this would be a big change for them, and they wouldn't like it.

At the same time, Nina and her therapist began to explore the underlying reasons why Nina felt compelled to take care of others.  She discovered that she felt a need to have control over her siblings and her boyfriends because things were so chaotic when she was growing up.  Taking care of others and feeling in control helped her to have a sense of stability.

She began to understand that her intention for wanting stability in her family was a good one, but the codependent dynamic was hurting her and her family and her former boyfriends.

As part of Nina's plan, she told her family about the plan.  Initially, Nina's mother and siblings were angry with her and they refused to talk to her. They felt like she was being cruel, even though the plan would take place over several months.

But things gradually turned around.  During that time, Nina's mother became more conscious of how she spent money and took over her own bills.  After a several months, she told Nina that she felt a sense of pride that she could manage on her own because she never thought she would be capable of doing it.

Her brother, who gambled, got help from a psychotherapist who specialized in working with people with compulsive gambling problems.  He also began attending Gamblers Anonymous and got a sponsor.  He had a few "slips" along the way, but he took responsibility for them and felt better about himself.

Nina's other siblings got more serious about finding work and, after a few months, they were each employed and taking more responsibility for themselves.

Even though Nina developed insight into her codependent patterns, she had to remain aware of her problem at first or she knew she could easily fall back into her old ways.

Nina and her therapist worked on the underlying issues related to her childhood trauma, including how overwhelmed she felt as a child by the chaos in the household, using EMDR therapy (see my article: What is EMDR Therapy?).

As Nina dealt with her own underlying issues, her headaches and backaches went away.  As her doctor suggested, what appeared to be solely medical problems were related to her emotional problems.

Overcoming the Need to Rescue Your Loved Ones as Part of a Codependent Pattern

Working through her early trauma helped Nina to make healthier choices in her relationships (see my article: Choosing Healthier Romantic Relationships).

Trying to rescue and fix others is damaging to the rescuer as well as the people the rescuer wants to help.

A pattern of rescuing behavior usually involves codependency, which keeps the rescuers from focusing on their own problems because they're so busy trying to rescue others.

This pattern is often a blind spot for people who are codependent, but it can be worked through in therapy (see my article: Overcoming Your Blind Spots).

Changing patterns isn't easy or quick, but when people begin to see how beneficial these changes are for themselves and others, they realize that it's worthwhile.

Getting Help in Therapy
If this article resonates with you, you could benefit from getting help from a licensed mental health professional who specializes in helping people overcome codependency (see my article: The Benefits of Psychotherapy).

Dealing with the underlying issues at the root of the problem and freeing yourself from a traumatic history allows you and your loved ones to grow and flourish.

Rather than suffering on your own, you could get the help you need from a skilled psychotherapist (see my article: How to Choose a Psychotherapist).

About Me
I am a licensed New York City psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist (see my article:  The Therapeutic Benefits of Integrative Psychotherapy).

I have helped many clients to overcome their codependent patterns as they work through the traumatic roots of their problems.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me