Am I a rescuer?

Rescuers might very well desire to be in relationships with people who are independent, who don’t need their ongoing help. However, subconsciously Rescuers oftentimes find themselves building relationships with people who are needy.

Do you try to fix, rescue, or protect people in your life from their own choices? You might be “The Rescuer.”

Rescuing, also called enabling, happens when a person feels the responsibility to minimize the consequences of someone else’s bad choices. Rescuers don’t always recognize it in themselves but they have a psychological need to feel needed and tend to attract people who need rescuing.

While it is right and good to rescue people who are in dangerous situations and cannot save themselves (Proverbs 24:11), the emotional need to rescue is not healthy.

Rescuing people has the effect of emboldening them in their sin, empowering their ability to sin, or making it easier for them to sin. When we remove or lessen the natural consequences of bad behavior, we encourage and facilitate repeated offenses. Rescuing is often mistakenly called mercy. But how merciful is it, really, to continually bail someone out of jail (for example) and never allow him to learn from his mistakes?

We learn to play The Rescuer role in childhood when we feel responsible for the emotional state of our parents. This can look like: cheering parents up after marital fights, meeting their needs, or feeling like you’re the person who keeps them going. We continue these same behaviors to feel: loved, needed, and important.

Rescuers might very well desire to be in relationships with people who are independent, who don’t need their ongoing help. However, subconsciously Rescuers oftentimes find themselves building relationships with people who are needy.

Why? Because they are accustomed to helping as a byproduct of their relationships. Rescuers might have difficulty making their own life choices, but find it easy to advise or help others in their decision-making. It’s ironic how we are really good at helping people in areas in which we oftentimes struggle.

For the Rescuer, the driver for helping someone else is a desire that comes from an emotional or spiritual place, a lack of their own, a learned behavior, or a weakness masked in “The Rescuer” role. A rescuer is unaware of the harm that consistent intervention can cause. It can inhibit spiritual growth and overall maturity. Sadly, some learn their greatest lessons when they flounder, when they hit rock bottom.

For example: someone in active addiction (real harm) or someone making a choice to leave their job for another job (perceived harm). Rescuers are typically well-intentioned in their desire to “help” other people. They might also be rewarded externally by society for their seemingly selfless behavior. They often cannot see that their behavior is enabling, and has a negative long-term impact.

For example: Jess is there for her best friend Serena every time Serena has a toxic fight with her boyfriend. Serena and her boyfriend have been together for 5 years and regularly throw each other out of the home. Jess picks Serena up and listens to her vent for hours each time it happens.

John’s father has had a lot of health issues since his childhood and refuses to change his habits. He’s been told to walk and make some shifts in his nutrition, but demands his son gets him fast food on the regular basis. John, seeing himself as a “good and respectful son,” complies.

Jess and John have their lives disrupted on a regular basis. They seek (short-term) solutions while creating (long-term) issues with themselves and the people they rescue.

Rescuers find themselves exhausted, overwhelmed, and experience feelings of burnout. Over time, they can also feel taken advantage of which makes sense because they lack boundaries.

They’re “on call” often, disrupting areas of their lives for other people. Sometimes they feel resentful that people are so dependent on them, but they continue the same behaviors that created the dependency.

If you are a rescuer, the first step in healing is being aware of this pattern. Next is to prostrate yourself in prayer before Almighty God, asking Him for freedom over the behavior to rescue. As a Rescuer, has it dawned on us that someone has already come to this world as savior? His name is Jesus. He didn’t ask us to be co-saviors. His Holy Spirit can and will work in the lives of people making “unwise” decisions, just like He is working in our lives.

We must trust the Holy Spirit to work in these people’s lives. If we want better for them, The Holy Spirit wants better for them far beyond what we want for them. After seeking the Holy Spirit, we should ask ourselves: “What do I get from this behavior (also known as the emotional payoff)?” For example:

- I get to feel needed
- I get to escape my own life problems
- I get to be “busy” to avoid myself
- I get to feel like a “good” friend, daughter, son, or parent

Once you’ve confirmed the answer, then take that answer to the Holy Spirit. Tell Him, “This is what I “get” from being The Rescuer. Holy Spirit. I ask you to set me free from this need.”

Then, we must remove ourselves from the equation of running to someone’s rescue. Refer them to someone else who can help them beyond what we can offer as a listening ear, an emotional outlet, a temporary solution, or an enabler. If we really love them, we must make the right decision for them - and for ourselves.

The final step is gaining control of our time and energy through setting boundaries. Boundaries are limits around how we spend our time and energy. They allow us to take care of ourselves and teach people what we will allow within our relationships. Boundaries protect us from trying to be “a savior” to another person.

Jesus paid the price for that responsibility. We should be wise when we’re a rescuer. Let’s make sure we’re not enabling. With practice, we can shed the role of The Rescuer and create healthy relationships.

Leave a comment