Relationship Advice Tips from Dr. Jeanette Raymond, Ph.D.

arrangement of helichrysum and red achillea1 - Managing family co-dependency - the first five steps in learning to support rather than rescue

photograph copyright Jeanette Raymond, Ph.D.

Trudy a twenty-nine year old local newspaper reporter and Max a thirty-three year old limousine company owner had endless fights about who was doing the lion’s share of parenting their two children. They argued about what to do, how to do it, when to do it and who should take the blame when things went wrong. Trudy’s sister Sophie got mad at Max when she saw her sister miserable and at a loss. Sophie rescued Trudy countless times, and usually felt heroic in the process.

The cycle of co-dependencies had been cracked

Trudy and Max became a more united pair and there were fewer frantic calls to Sophie to deal with the problems between the parents.  At first Sophie was supportive and encouraging. But within a day or two she started to make disparaging remarks about her sister. She criticized her choice of therapist. Sophie ridiculed the strategies that Trudy was operating. She accused her sister of being less caring when there was family tension with their mother.

Sophie was angry that Trudy was now taking care of herself and her family. It made Sophie feel like she wasn’t needed, unimportant and scared that she would be a lesser part of her sister’s life. What would she do if she didn’t have to rescue Trudy on a regular basis? How would she feel useful and worthwhile? How would she manage when she needed Trudy to mediate between their mother and her?

When Trudy stepped out of co-dependent role it upset Sophie’s apple cart. It scared her enough to make her fight to get it back – hence the accusations, ridicule and criticism.

arrangement with abutalon and dahlia - Managing family co-dependency - the first five steps in learning to support rather than rescue

photograph copyright Jeanette Raymond, Ph.D.

Trudy learned about co-dependency in family therapy and became stronger

Trudy felt guilty and feared that she would be split off from her family for taking a stance of self-care and self-empowerment. Without the consistent and reliable help of her therapist she would have caved in. But she began to feel better about herself as she noticed that she was perfectly capable of being a good co-parent. She started to respect herself and enjoy her accomplishments.

Here is how her therapist helped Trudy to be there for her family by caring about their plights, rather than fixing them time after time just to keep the bonds of the relationship intact.  It involved learning the difference between supporting family members and rescuing them.

taking the first step1 - Managing family co-dependency - the first five steps in learning to support rather than rescue

The first 5 steps involved in supporting family members rather than rescuing them

  1. Supporting a family member means listening actively and sharing the difficult emotional experience.
    Rescuing involves judging a family member to be helpless and taking over.
  2. Supporting a family member includes working on a current or future problem together by exchanging ideas and experiences.
    Rescuing takes the problem away from the family member and leaves them thoughtless, mindless and powerless to think for themselves.
  3. Supporting a loved one means acknowledging your wish for their well-being but not feeling entirely responsible for ensuring it 24/7.
    Rescuing a loved one involves preventing, stopping or shutting off any sad, angry, or fearful feelings in them because you would feel guilty about it.
  4. Supporting a loved one means expressing and taking care of your own emotional needs using a variety of resources, so that you act as a good role model.
    Rescuing a loved one gives the message that no one can or should own their own emotional states but rather look to their family member to accept responsibility for them.
  5. Supporting a loved one includes accepting responsibility for your own changing emotional states as part of life, rather than looking for someone or something else to blame.
    Rescuing a loved one means apportioning blame on someone or something else for their emotional challenges, removing the incentive to take charge of and manage their feelings.

In the final part of this trilogy on family co-dependency I will tell you what happened between Sophie and Craig when he went to a support group  to learn how to manage his small landscape business.

 I will also outline the next five steps in distinguishing between supporting versus rescuing family members.

copyright, Jeanette Raymond, Ph.D.


You might also like:

How to repair family relationships


How to communicate without fear of upsetting loved ones


Four ways to manage the excitement and dread of family reunions

Disclaimer: this article is for informational and educative purposes only. There is no liability on the part of Dr. Raymond for any reactions you may experience while reading the article or implementing the suggestions therein. Interacting with this material does not constitute a therapeutic relationship with Dr. Raymond.