The Danger of Rescue Fantasies


Do you struggle with over-giving? Yes, it is admirable to be loving, compassionate and generous with your time and resources. However, do you give to the point of exhaustion, resentment and even self-destruction? There is a big difference between helping out those we love and rescuing them. Helping includes providing someone with the tools and skills needed for THEM to succeed. Rescuing involves doing all of the work for them. For example, helping means coming alongside and providing instructions such as teaching a child how to ride a bike. Rescuing looks like you jumping on the bike and riding it for them.

The Oxford Dictionary defines rescue fantasies as: “a subconscious belief or fantasy centering on rescue, especially a belief that one is needed or able to save another person from something, posited as a motive for certain actions or choices.” The desire to be saved and rescued is very natural and these dynamics often show up in our romantic life and most intimate relationships. Likewise, rescue fantasies are strongly reinforced and even romanticized by society. From beautiful Disney princesses who are saved by a prince, to the millions of romance novels we read today, (women in particular) are taught to idealize stories in which a hero rescues another in distress. According to a study of romance readers, “protective” was cited as the #1 most desirable quality of the hero. This is not surprising, given that 35 percent of women worldwide have experienced intimate-partner violence and non-partner sexual violence.

Inside of a patriarchal culture and violent world, rescue fantasies are encouraged and often are scripted as ‘love stories.’ Some of us more strongly identify with the role of the rescuer, while others of us crave receiving rescuing in the forms of money, codependency, enabling and/or love. Regardless of the illusion of rescue fantasies, they are harmful as they often involve codependency, addiction, unhealed trauma and a lack of responsibility for one’s own well-being. Enabling is defined as the unconscious encouragement of an other's dis-ability. Not an other's disability, but an other's dis-ability. In other words, whatever it is that the other person is refusing to do for him or herself, that's exactly what the rescuer will do. This encourages the other person to continue to refuse to do it for him or herself.

Our unhealed childhood trauma shows up in our adult relationships and plays a big role in rescue fantasies. For example, if someone grew up with self-absorbed or self-involved parents, then that individual will often assume that their needs aren’t important and may recreate a cycle of abuse by seeking out those who also crave rescuing. When we are starved for love and affection, we will only feel good about ourselves when we give excessively to others. Enablers often prove their worth and value through care giving and addicts will also often express their unresolved pain through self-inflicted abuse through excessive gambling, spending, sexual addiction, drug and/or alcohol abuse.

Can you relate to the challenges of rescue fantasies? If yes, the good news is that there is a way out of this trap! However, we first need to STOP idealizing the rescue and/or enabling abusive behaviors and calling it love. If you struggle with rescue fantasies please read my 5 tips below on how you can avoid this trap. I leave you with this quote:

“Ultimately, co-dependency ends when you make the choice to stop relating in co-dependent ways and by developing a healthy, harmonious relationship with yourself.”

- Victoria L. White, Learning To Love: And The Power of Sacred Sexual

5 Strategies to Avoid Rescue Fantasies:

1. Work on Your Childhood Wounds:

Childhood trauma causes long-term pain and distressing emotions. It’s very common for us to recreate the unhealed childhood trauma in our adult lives through re-enacting similar situations that remind us of our past. Accordingly, if we don’t process these emotions, they can become stuck in our mind and body. It’s common to become preoccupied and even obsessed with our current circumstances. However, healing happens when we go deeper and look at our past. Through working on healing our childhood wounds we can see our present differently and create a new future.

2. Self-care Is Number 1:

Within a codependency model, codependents and love addicts will sacrifice and deny their own needs in order to appease a partner. Codependents often believe that loving someone enough will allow that person to love and rescue them back. Self-care doesn’t come easily to codependents and is an essential part of healing from codependency. Self-care includes getting rest, eating healthy meals, setting safe boundaries, having compassionate friends, speaking kindly to yourself and doing things that make you feel good.

3. Give Yourself the Love You Are Craving:

Quite often we will crave love from others when we are not fully loving ourselves. As human beings we all benefit from love and healthy attachment. Love addiction, however, is a compulsive, chronic craving and/or pursuit of romantic love in an effort to get our sense of security and worth from another person. During infatuation we believe we have that security only to be disappointed and empty again once the intensity fades. The negative consequences can be severe and yet the love addict continues to hang on to the belief that true love with fix everything (https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/healthy-connections/201012/how-break-the-pattern-love-addiction%3famp). If you are questioning or believe you have traits of love addiction, I strongly recommend attending at Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous Meeting. For more information on local chapters please visit: https://slaafws.org.

4. Never Use Trauma to Excuse or Minimize Abuse:

Many people have trauma and mental health challenges and DON'T act abusive toward their loved ones. If an abusive partner is dealing with a mental health issue, ask yourself: have they been diagnosed by a professional? Are they seeking help or taking medications? Do they act abusively toward others (friends, family, coworkers), not just you (https://www.thehotline.org/2014/01/15/blame-shifting-and-minimizing-theres-no-excuse-for-abuse/)? Regardless of our past, we always have a choice over our actions. Trauma is never a valid excuse to mistreat another.

5. Build Your Self-Worth In Ways The Don’t Involve Rescuing:

Many rescuers never had a chance to value themselves outside of how much care they gave to an ill family member. It’s been said that “the codependent needs the addict as much as the addict needs the codependent.” It’s very important for those who struggle with rescue fantasies to understand and value who they are away from being a constant rescuer . Ways of self discovery can happen in therapy, through professional arenas, friendships, book clubs, engaging in a hobby and/or challenging yourself with athletic or academic pursuits.

Can you relate to this post? If yes, please send me an email and let's set up a complimentary phone call.

Sending you peaceful thoughts and wishes for brighter days.

#rescuefantasies #codependance

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