Feel responsible for others?
Anticipate other people’s needs?
Try to please others instead of yourself?
Stay loyal to persons or situations even it’s hurting you?
Feel insecure and guilty when others compliment or give to you?
Find yourself saying “yes” when you should say “no”?
Feel angry when your help isn’t appreciated?
If any of these statements cause you to pause, I have one last question:
Are you truly alive and free or are you shackled by invisible handcuffs?
When I look into the mirror of truth, I have felt some of the negative emotions attached to the aforementioned behaviors. But, after a few reality checks, and a fair amount of years, I stopped doing what I shouldn’t have been doing in the first place — cold turkey. I made a self-promise that I would not worship on the altar of they say or I should. Hey, I’m old enough to make my own decisions and mistakes. To put it bluntly: I only do what I want to do.
If one is accustomed to being on call 24/7, this new attitude may be difficult at first to attain. We may have become co-dependents, caretakers, rescuers or enablers to the folks in our lives by attaching ourselves to their needs. We are convinced that because we love that person, we need to “be there.” But, sometimes, that love is more damaging than helpful and comes with a hefty price. Remember the invisible handcuffs?
But they need us! That simple belief inflates our fragile egos and creates the mega-god syndrome. We lament, we are the only one who understand their issues. Perhaps, but then we wonder why we feel like the life blood has been sucked out of us. What a precarious way to live!
In a very perverse way, those who seem weak and needy can, in fact, be very manipulative. Once we experience this epiphany, we may not feel the need to respond to every SOS call. Be prepared: You may feel like the villain who refuses to help the damsel in distress. But in reality, we are giving that person the gift of caring for themselves.
When my adult sons were school age, they wondered why I didn’t drive them to school like some of the other moms did. Working and going to college at night aside, I always felt that I should not do for my kids what they could do for themselves, with effort. Most psychologists agree that parents should become progressively obsolete so that their offspring can stand on their own two feet.
I became friendly with a gal when I was in college who suffered from panic attacks. (A little aside: The emergency rooms and cardiology practices are saturated with folks who are afflicted with this painful disorder.) Her husband, aka Mr. Enabler, would drive her to school, which was located two miles away from her home and pick her up. As I recall, this free ride went on for quite some time. But, free rides aren’t free. My friend felt inadequate and Mr. Enabler felt trapped.
One semester, I noticed that she drove herself to school. She shared that her parents lived in New Jersey and in order to visit them, her husband, who worked two jobs, would drive her. Her husband took the bull by the horns and decided to try and “teach” her to drive over the bridge from Staten Island into New Jersey.
One Saturday, months later, she had prearranged to visit her parents. When it was time to leave, she supposed that the hubby (her Mr. Enabler) would go. Surprise! Surprise! He told her to get going — alone. He was going hiking. She said she felt bewildered, then furious, yet she took the bull by the horns — aka the steering wheel — and drove herself to New Jersey. And that folks, was the beginning of freedom for both the husband and my classmate.
Some folks will stay in a less than healthy relationship and tolerate bad or abusive behavior because they are afraid of venturing out on their own. And stay they will, because their dependent nature lulls them into thinking they are safe. Really? What they fail to realize is that by allowing their partners to call all the shots, they have lost something irreplaceable: Their own identity.
On the other end of the spectrum are the rescuers, but here’s the thing, the rescuer always becomes the victim. Yup, that’s right. Some folks always have to be on the cross: poor me, look what I have to put up with! What a crock of foul smelling stuff. Victims usually blame their misfortunes on someone else’s misdeeds.
Psychologists point out that many victims receive a secondary gain by their self-inflicted martyr status.
With all this mishmash of emotions, anger is usually prevalent, even when it is not expressed. Some folks will not express anger for fear of rejection and abandonment. Research has proven that unexpressed anger is the gateway to anxiety and depression. You gotta give yourself permission to feel the anger when you need to; release it, talk it out then let it go. Dollars to doughnuts your relationship will thrive. Besides, anger will have its way, anyway. Some folks will stuff it down until, like a volcano, it erupts over an insignificant issue that leaves those involved scratching their heads.
We humans are complex individuals. We can show compassion and concern without rescuing. Most of us will help, comfort and be empathetic in times of trial. But when we find ourselves in situations that are repeat performances, we need to ask ourselves why we are doing what we are doing. And more importantly aren’t we sick and tired of doing what we are doing.
We own our personal freedom. I don’t want the moniker: co-dependent, rescuer, victim or enabler. I earned the title: “Queen of my Life” and I don’t intend on giving up my crown any time soon!
Celia Iannelli is a native New Yorker enjoying a second career — in ‘retirement’ — as a freelance writer. She lives in Jamesport.
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