Rescue Remedy (July/Aug 2001)

Friday, 01 April 2011 07:43

OpenMind - Journal of the mental health association MIND

July/Aug 2001


Dorothy Rowe

Two years ago my friend Anna went through a very bad time. Up till then she had been happy, and with good reason. She had an interesting, responsible, well-paid job, a light, airy modern loft, a glamorous social life and Nick, her handsome, loving partner. She and Nick were talking about marriage and a family. Then suddenly it all went wrong. Her firm was taken over by a large organisation, Anna was demoted, and her new boss issued orders and didn’t listen. Then Nick left, saying that he wasn’t ready for commitment. What he was ready for, as Anna found out accidentally, was a much younger woman. Anna’s social life vanished because it was based on couples, and Anna couldn’t bear being the odd one out.

Anna withdrew into herself. Her mother phoned me and asked me whether I thought Anna was depressed. I said I didn’t know. Anna insisted to me that she was fine, though her eyes told another story.

Six months went by, then out of the blue Anna phoned to tell me that she had changed her job to something completely new, and in another city. She had a buyer for her loft, and I must visit her once she was settled in her new home.

Which I did. She’d bought a little house with a garden. She’d taken up gardening and cooking, and, most astounding of all, she whose longest walk had been fifty yards to her favourite bar, had joined a rambler’s group.

Anna talked to me about the changes she had made. She said, ‘I did go through a really bad time, and then one day it dawned on me I was waiting to be rescued. I thought, “That’s not me, I’m not that sort of person,” and so I rescued myself, I suppose.’

We all long to be rescued. We want that a good parent to banish everything that oppresses us and makes us frightened, to fight our battles and make sure we are safe from harm. Some of us when we were little did have a parent like that, and some of us longed for a parent who did look after us, but, whichever, we all came to know that parents are fallible and no parent can rescue us from every danger and disaster. Some of us put our faith in a God who would watch over us, but then we discovered that even an all-good and all-powerful God doesn’t protect us from suffering. Some of us went on believing the fairy stories we were told as children, that, if we were good, one day Prince Charming, or a powerful king, or a beautiful woman would see our goodness and save us. It was a hard lesson for us to learn that, though other people can help and support us, the only person who can rescue us is ourselves.

Some people refuse to learn this lesson. They cannot bear to let go of the illusion that one day they will be rescued. They look to this drug, this day centre, this therapist, this self-help group, not as a tool which they can use to rescue themselves, but as a rescuer. When this particular would-be rescuer fails them they feel betrayed yet again, and at the same time they blame themselves for not being worthy of rescue.

Some people enjoy the process of being rescued and they become quite skilled in attracting would-be rescuers. There are always lots of people around who want to rescue poor unfortunates, and getting attention from such people is easy and can be pleasurable, but would-be rescuers never get it right. They never understand just what you want to be rescued from. You don’t want to leave your partner who’s so horrible to you. You just want him to become nice. You don’t want to become self-confident because then people will expect you to do things. Would-be rescuers don’t understand that, while you enjoy being rescued, you don’t want to change. You want to go on just as you are, only not being miserable. These rescuers suggest changes – think well of yourself, get out more, take up yoga – and sometimes you carry out one of their suggestions, but, as you know it will, it all turns out badly. Then you can have the pleasure of complaining about how you’ve been let down and how other people don’t understand you. 

It takes courage to recognise that the only Prince Charming who is going to save you is yourself.

Openmind July, 2001.