By Ox Drover
I was thinking about a blog post and reply that had gone on between another poster and myself on Lovefraud about trying to “help” others see the “light” and get away from their own personal psychopath.
I mulled over what I had done in my life in trying to “fix” others by coming up with a solution that they could take to ease their pain from their prior bad choices. I would wrack my brain up and down, left and right, to try to come up with a “plan” that would help these people “fix” whatever mess they got into of their own free will.
Some people would call this “co-dependent” and others would call this “enabling.” Whatever term you want to apply to it, I called it “helping,” but the bottom line is that this behavior on my part was not “helping” these people, it was me trying to take responsibility for the consequences of their bad choices or bad behavior.
Many times these people would say “That’s a good idea, but …” and would not take my very best suggestion that I was sure would work. So, as a consequence, I would get frustrated at them or angry with them for being so stubborn or stupid! (How arrogant of me!)
Other times, they would take part of my wonderful solution and it would not work because they didn’t use all of it, and then they would get mad at me for giving them such bad advice. It was all my fault because it didn’t work and they were still hurting.
The point is, that they got into the fix in the first place, and it is not my responsibility to get them out. I am not “helping” them by trying to take over running their life. I can, if they are willing, support them by saying “Boy, you must be feeling bad/sad/mad about that situation.” That is validating their feelings and is a true statement and is supportive.
Suggestions on Lovefraud
Even here on Lovefraud when we give “advice” about what we would do or what idea we think would work, it should be on our part, a suggestion if asked, or noted as our opinion. We all must make our own choices, our own decisions, and live with the consequences. Lovefraud is a supportive place, and the people here are very validating because they too have lived through the chaos with a psychopath in one way or another.
Sometimes we have bloggers come here for advice and we freely give it, and those bloggers do not take our advice, they make excuses for their dysfunctional relationship with a presumably dysfunctional or psychopathic person and stay with or go back to that person, or in some cases, go into another dysfunctional relationship. Of course we are disappointed that that was their choice, but it was their choice. We have not failed when they do not take our advice. It is not our fault that they did not get away from the danger.
We can still feel empathy for these people, but we should not feel that we are failures because our compassion and/or advice was ignored. We can only do what we can do.
Can’t save the unwilling
Back “before enlightenment” I used to feel really badly if my advice was refused or didn’t work, but I think I have turned a corner in my compassionate nature and in my desire to assist or help someone in their recovery from entanglement in dysfunctional relationships. I no longer feel that it is my responsibility to “save” someone if they are not willing to give it all they have got as well.
To use an analogy of swimming, my late husband was a very experienced swimmer and a lifeguard certification instructor. He had a situation once where he had a victim trapped inside a turned over helicopter in the water. Every time he would swim down to try to rescue the man, the man was hysterical and kept trying to pull him under with him. My husband quickly saw the situation and went back to the surface until there were no more bubbles coming out from the water. Then he went back to get the unconscious man and brought him to the surface. If my husband had tried to rescue the man while he was still consciously fighting him, they would have both died. By waiting until it was safe to do so, my husband saved them both.
When we are trying to “save” someone who is floundering in the flood waters of a miserable and dysfunctional relationship and they are asking for help, yet fighting that help at the same time, sometimes we can only wait until they are no longer fighting the help we offer them. We must firmly set a boundary that “I will not allow your problems to drag me under as well.”
My late husband wanted to rescue that man, but he was not willing to let the man pull him under as well, and he set a boundary. “Until you stop fighting me, I am not going to come back.” What would my husband have felt if after he did pull up the man and the man could not be revived and he was dead? I don’t know, of course, for sure, but my bet, knowing my husband, is that he would not have spent the rest of his life grieving for not having rescued that man in time. He would have said, I think, “I did the best I could, but I couldn’t let him pull me under and drown me as well.”
I have tried unsuccessfully to rescue my psychopathic offspring and my enabling maternal DNA donor, and for years let them pull me under the “water” until I nearly drowned in the process. Every time I would “fail” to rescue them because they fought me tooth and nail, I felt guilty, I felt inadequate, I felt that I had failed, and threw myself right back into the water of despair. Now, I realize I can’t rescue them against their wills, and I am no longer willing to risk my own life to try to do so. I can’t help them, and they won’t allow me to rescue them. I no longer feel disappointed, sad, grief-stricken or inadequate because of that. They have the choice to swim if they want to, and I have the choice not to risk my life in a futile attempt to save them from themselves. The best part of it all now is, though, that I no longer castigate myself for “failing” to rescue them. I no longer feel guilty or inadequate for their choices. I can let them be responsible for themselves and I am responsible for myself. That is freedom; that is peace. We can only do what we can do.