I had one of the most spectacular moments ever in a therapy session last week.
I’m working with a mother and her 18-year-old daughter.
They have communication problems. The mother really cares about her daughter but she is controlling and wants to rescue her from all of the problems the daughter has in her life, particularly with men – not exactly a rare event!
The daughter is very sensitive and feels the mother’s anger and need to control her, which threatens the daughter and she withdraws.
This has been happening for many years.
Victim vs Mastery
Before I tell you what happened I want to give you little theoretical background.
Every moment of pressure and threat in our lives presents us with the opportunity to go into the Victim Position or the Mastery position. In the former, life controls us and we attack or retreat or try to rescue the other person
The Victim Triangle
I call this the Victim Triangle.
I adapted this from the Karpman Triangle which says that we do persecutor, rescuer and victim.
My model says that all of the positions are Victim Positions.
In Mastery we allow life to flow as it is, not trying to control it but moving with grace and joy and love and power simply influencing life and responding to it with a clear mind and open heart and a relaxed body.
The rescue position which I would like to talk most about here now, is what I call unskilful compassion. It is misguided caring. It is the heart reaching out to try and fix something, in the wrong place, at the wrong time, or with the wrong person.
Attack is just that. Aggression and hostility.
Retreat is passive and hiding.
Some time after creating this model I realised that attack and retreat are simply fight and flight – our response to trauma and stress. This is a perfect reflection of reality.
This is what we do in response to pressure and threat.
Back to the mother and daughter.
The daughter expresses anxiety in a really tearful and desperate way about her fear of talking about the boyfriend because the mother will get angry and try to protect her from his lack of caring, his lack of sensitivity and his selfishness.
The mother listens well and tries to reach out to the daughter, but her heart is closed and the daughter withdraws further, in pain.
I ask the mother if I can work with this and she agrees, telling me that she feels like the mother cheetah, who needs to protect her cubs and will fight to take care of them. Instantly I can see that this ‘fighting’ is rescuing her daughter from the attack position.
When I say that we are rescuing from the attack position, what I mean is that we are being angry in our desire to help. Many people rescue from a place of empathy and warmth. This can also be very irritating and push people away but at least it doesn’t have the aggressive component in it.
The mother is trying to help her daughter, but all the daughter experiences is the mother’s need to control her.
Welcome to the somewhat oversized mother’s club!
This is the endless litany of manipulation that I see enshrouding the love that parents have for their kids.
So I say to the mother, “Can you welcome your need to protect your daughter from pain at the hands of her boyfriend?” Once she has done this, I then say, “What would it feel like to let go of your need to protect your daughter from the pain experienced at the hands of the boyfriend?”
(I have devoted an entire chapter to the detail of this releasing technique in my book if you want to explore it further there).
The mother firstly welcomes and owns the desperate manipulative need to control and protect the daughter and then, when she starts to let go, the most extraordinary thing happens.
The Extraordinary Moment
All of her anger and controlling desperation dissipates and for the first time in the session her eyes fill with tears and she becomes sad and says, “It feels like such a relief.”
And then the next completely extraordinary and fabulous thing happens.
The daughter reaches out her hand toward her mother in love and compassion.
Contrast this with the mother reaching out to the daughter earlier and the daughter withdrawing!
It is the mothers need to control and rescue and protect her daughter, that is devoid of love, which keeps the daughter at a distance.
In essence, the mother’s caring is distorted by her fear and the need to control her daughter’s life.
After this moment the entire atmosphere in the room changes and these two beautiful people are on the road to having a potentially entirely different relationship.
The Next Step
Of course there is another step in this process. The mother is probably going to need to let go of her desire to control her daughter many, many times more and if she isn’t controlling and manipulating her daughter she is not going to know what to say when her daughter talks about the boyfriend.
In addition, the daughter needs to let go of the sensitivity and pain from the past and begin to trust and give her mother the opportunity to be different with her around the boyfriend issues.
This takes some work.
What the mother needs to learn to do when the daughter talks about how the boyfriend has been unkind, is learn how dialogue in a compassionate way with her daughter if she is not going to be rescuing from the attack position.
So if for example the daughter says, “He’s been ignoring me for the last week.” Instead of responding with, “I told you he was no good for you” or “You are far too trusting of men,” or “You’re naive and gullible when it comes to men, do you know that?” The mother needs to say, “Does it hurt,” or “How does that feel?” or “Are you sad,” or “Tell me more.”
This isn’t very complicated but very few people know how to speak in this empathic and compassionate way and it takes some work to learn how to do it.
“The Personality Doesn’t Love, It Just Wants” – Byron Katie
I frequently refer to Katie’s comment in my work because it is so devastatingly true.
The mother cheetah protects her cubs with aggression and yes, this is love. But when the homo sapiens mother gets angry to protect her daughter, the daughter’s experience is simply the mother’s anxious, controlling personality dumping her emotional baggage onto the daughter because she is so frightened and needs to control the daughter’s life, preventing her from experiencing pain and well, just experiencing life.
Unskilful compassion – the rescue position – is the personality trying to find its way into a place of being loving and failing dismally.
It’s Not Just About Mothers And Daughters
This rescuing from the attack position happens everywhere in all relationships, not just between mothers and daughters. Many people use rescue because they feel guilty, because they can’t handle conflict because they can’t handle other people in pain. It happens in businesses, in friendships, in negotiations, in conflict…everywhere!
This rescuing not only pushes others away, it can be very irritating and it disempowers them.
What was so special about this interaction is that I’ve never seen someone get out of the rescue position so quickly, with this instant energetic response from the other person.
When we are rescuing we are trying to help someone else but it doesn’t work. We are trying to be caring but we fail in the process.
In this example dissolving the need to rescue enabled the daughter to open her heart, the precise goal that the mother wanted, i.e. to help the daughter, but the kind of love that daughter wanted was not to be given advice or to be lectured to about the boyfriend, she wanted to feel the mother’s love!!!
We are so misguided in thinking that when we are rescuing we are loving someone. We are not.
So much of the time, all people want from us is to be acknowledged for who they are and to feel loved and accepted for what they are, after all, they’re not very good at doing it for themselves, which is the core of my Self-Esteem work.
Not to be fixed
I’m not saying that there isn’t a time for sharing a strong opinion, but there is a different way to do it.
Let’s take the rescuing options I mentioned earlier:
“I told you he was no good for you.”
Rather than say this is a critical judgement one could say, in the light and gentle and empathic way, “Of course you know his personality still makes me nervous.”
Instead of, “You are far too trusting of men,” you could say, “You do know that the amount of trust you give him concerns me.”
And then finally, “You’re naive and gullible when it comes to men, do you know that?” Becomes, “When I see your innocence I want to reach out and protect you but I’m not going to.”
We can still have opinions but we can share them in a truly loving way rather than doing the desperate rescue story.
If you would like to have a one-on-one consultation or a Skype session to work with any issues raised by this blogs please contact me at email@example.com