It’s summertime, and as one of our stay cool strategies, we’ve spent a lot of our time at various pools. The Florida heat is no joke. I’m sure many of you have done the same. Every pool, without fail, has some version of a life raft on the side, to assist with someone who is having trouble swimming. Imagine this for a moment.
You’re at the community pool when you notice someone struggling staying afloat. You start to pay attention and ask them if they need a hand. They don’t respond. It’s increasingly obviously this person can’t get to safety by themselves. Unfortunately, you are the only one around, but, you can’t swim. So you toss the life preserver out to the person struggling, but instead of grabbing on they just look at it right next to them as they flail about. “Grab on,” you plead them! I’m trying to help you! And they just stare back at you as they furiously wade in the water. “Come on! You’re going to drown if you don’t grab hold of it!” Yet, despite it being right at their fingertips, they don’t use it to stay afloat. You pull the life preserver back and throw it at them again from a different angle, hoping that makes a difference. But nothing.
This is what it’s like to be in a relationship with someone if you’re a codependent. Whether an addict or a narcissist or just someone that doesn’t do what they need to do to get by in life, being in a relationship with someone that doesn’t want to help themselves is a futile effort. And maddening in its level of frustration.
You see, these people don’t want change. Even if they did, they can’t change. And even if they tried to change, 999/1000 times they’d fail. They are wired differently. They may let you try to help them, or they may shut your down entirely— either way, whether they allowed you the opportunity to try or not- that effort is wasted. A relationship with someone like this is destined for failure, often spectacularly so. They. Don’t. Want. Change. They. Don’t. Want. Better.
And thus we get to the takeaway for today. Admittedly, I had started writing this post about not being able to help those that don’t want to help themselves last week when I was planning content, and then I saw this quote from one of my favorite intstagram feeds in this subject area- @narcissticabuse101– and I had to tweak my takeaway because hers was just a bit better. So read this once and then read it again. And, if you’re the codependent that has a savior complex or rescuer tendencies (this is me to a “T”), then read it every day.
I am going to tell you, learning to get past this was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. I went so far into my savior complex at two different stages of my life- once when I was in law school and again with my marriage- I bought my own bullshit so much that I actually thought God wanted me to physically save these people. Particularly with my marriage. I thought God sent me to my husband because it was my job to help him make it through. And I did, don’t get me wrong. He’ll tell you that- I probably saved his life any number of times. But that actually wasn’t my job. That actually isn’t what God had intended for me. And if it was, he didn’t need me to marry him for that to be true.
What I did was enabling. If this is you, what you are doing is enabling behaviors. Whether you’re in a relationship with someone you’re trying to save, they’re your parent, or heck, even your kid… “saving” someone is codependent behavior, and allowing the problem to continue. Arguably, and I know this is hard to hear, you are making it worse. Because they start to think (if they didn’t already), that they are invincible. That they can keep engaging in whatever their destructive behavior of choice is without consequence. Or with minimized consequences.
And I know what you’re thinking, because I thought it too- “Well, I’d rather be enabling their behavior then have them end up in a ditch somewhere.”
Yep. I thought that. For years. I was a strong woman, so I could deal with the havoc that it wrought on my life. So I did deal with it. The lies. The abuse. The cheating. The betrayal. The manipulation. The lack of any fulfillment that you’re supposed to get from a relationship.
Here’s the thing that you HAVE to listen to. Don’t just take away the graphic above. You CAN’T save them, but you CAN save yourself. You can save yourself from a life of unpredictability, unreliability, and unhappiness.
You are worth it. Your life is worth just as much as theirs is, and the one thing that I do know for sure- God doesn’t want you to live anything less than the best, most full life possible. He does not want you to make someone else your living idol – so don’t fall for that trap door.
You cannot save someone who doesn’t want to save themselves. A relationship with a narcissist is a sinking ship, so keep the life preserver and get the hell of the boat. YOU are worth it.