Stop Saving and Start Loving: The Healing Power of Relationships

Children are born with needs that are hard for adults to meet. And so, deep inside, there is a part that waits for those needs to be met by others.
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We all have an inner child who is waiting to be rescued. It doesn't require something awful to happen in our childhoods. At some point in our childhoods, we were not treated fairly and our needs were not met. This is natural. Children are born with needs that are hard for adults to meet. And so, deep inside, there is a part that waits for those needs to be met by others.

This insatiable and global desire for a hero to rescue us manifests everywhere. We see it in our movies and books about superheroes of all shapes and sizes. We see it in co-dependent relationships that never seem to meet our expectations. And we see it in the anti-trafficking movement.

So many advocates want to experience a rescue. They want to save a victim from a life of hell. They want to experience the gratitude of the victim when they generously offer to make everything better. I think some advocates believe that maybe, just maybe, if they rescue someone else, they will save themselves. It is a projection that will never be fulfilled.

I am often asked by others how they can get through to the victims. Advocates want to know why the victims won't let themselves be saved or rescued from their painful situation. But I understand something they don't. There is no quick fix. There is no miracle solution. There is no fairy tale or super hero. The only person who can save that trafficking victim is the victim. (And no, I am not talking about an 8-year-old child. I am talking about adults and older teenagers.)

So what can we do? An amazing advocate, Sandy Skelaney, spoke in a TED talk about a concept called the "transformational relationship." This relationship is about showing the victim that we care about them. This relationship is about empowerment, safety and understanding. This relationship is not about convincing the victim that they must leave their situation. This relationship is about showing them what they have never known.

And that doesn't happen overnight. A transformational relationship has staying power, endurance and tolerance for the ups and downs that come with trauma. It requires us to be there when they leave and come back, when they deny victimization, when they are confused and when they want nothing to do with us anymore.

I went through my own transformational relationships to get where I am today. And those relationships did not come from a rescue organization. I was lucky to have a long-term therapist who never gave up on me. She refused to participate in my projections. She maintained healthy boundaries. And she empowered me to chart my own course. And I am eternally grateful for her.

But most of my transformational relationships came from the "real world." They were friends who chose to help me when I thought they wouldn't, stay with me when I thought they would leave and understand me when I thought that was impossible.

One such relationship came in a form I never expected... of course.

Since my memory recovery started, I have avoided intimate relationships. While this was mostly caused by my concern for the cycle of violence that had encompassed my life (and my absolute insistence of keeping my children safe), I was also concerned about re-traumatizing myself with intimate experiences. I was not convinced I would venture down that road again, but I was also concerned about the lack of a positive male influence in the lives of my children. I knew I could raise them well regardless, but I had concerns.

So in walked a man who was willing to be my friend through the chaos of trauma recovery and be a male role model to the kids. And while the projections have been many and the boundaries have needed clarification, I have had the ONLY healthy relationship with a man in my life, a six-year friendship. Many times, I was convinced we would not survive the latest misunderstanding. Many times, I was sure we would not come to terms with our differences in perspective. But yet, we persevered. We kept it going. And the seemingly impossible has become possible. And we are both transformed because of it.

In my young adult years, I have also struggled with maintaining friendships with women. I kept everyone at a distance. I would isolate when things got bad. I never expressed an opinion that I thought would be upsetting to others for fear they would leave. I would allow friendships to fade because I didn't want to be too needy. It was a pipe-dream that I would have a friend who would stick by me and know me at the same time. I never considered that an option.

So, in walked a woman who was willing to change that. Not only did she know I tended to isolate, but she called me on it. I can even tell her when I disagree with her and she doesn't storm out of the room. She supports me when I come up the craziest ideas. And she has never once nagged me about improving my life in any area. It is a different kind of relationship. It is a relationship based on unconditional acceptance and trust. It is the seemingly impossible. And we are both transformed because of it.

So, stop looking for the rescue. Stop saving others to save yourself. And ask what we need to grow. What can we do to show others that people can be trusted, loved and unconditionally accepted for who they are? Show them the real fairy tale. Go deep and love somebody. Their world will never be the same. And neither will yours.

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