Have you ever tried rescuing someone who doesn’t want to be rescued?
There’s the itchy frustration of being able to see they need help. You do everything in your power to help them, but they want none of it.
We had the following teachable situation take place in our household recently:
My daughter loves birds and started feeding the sulphur crested cockatoos in our garden. Word of the new food source got around. Each day more arrived. One morning the cohort included a scruffy straggler. He was bullied by the others. His point of difference was a plastic cone around his neck, almost identical to the Elizabethan collars we put on dogs and cats to prevent them chewing out their stitches.
But this was a school sports marker. The cockatoo had poked its head through it. I assume out of curiosity or to get to food in the middle of it. And now it was stuck. It could still eat, but not well. We thought hard about how we could help this bird. I suspected removing the cone wouldn’t be difficult if we could only catch it.
It flew off as soon as we got anywhere near it. My daughter phoned Australia Zoo who referred her to a wildlife organisation, who referred us to the RSPCA. I explained the dilemma and sent pictures of the cone headed bird. The RSPCA delivered a large metal dog crate and we rigged the door with string, so that we could close it remotely.
We put the crate in the area where we fed the cockatoos and filled the bottom of it with seed. On the first morning four cockatoos went into the crate. The cone headed one visited and hopped around on top but didn’t go inside. The bird gradually continued to lose weight. The knowledge that my daughter could solve this bird’s problem but it wasn’t cooperating, ate away at her.
As we watched our cone headed friend come excruciatingly close to entering the cage, only to flap away time after time, my daughter’s levels of frustration and anxiety rose.
She came to me one night, distressed:
‘Mum, he is going to die if we don’t get that cone off him.’
‘Yes. Unfortunately, you are probably right.’
‘But we can’t let that happen!’
‘We’re not. We’re doing absolutely everything we can. But It’s not up to us anymore.’
‘If he ends up dying, I won’t get over it.’
I struggled for the right words.
‘If that happens, it would be very sad and very frustrating. But it wouldn’t be your fault and I know it would be difficult, but you’d have to remember that you could not have done anymore for him.’
For most of us when we see distress, we want to solve it, or at least be helpful. At the extreme end of the spectrum, people with Rescuer Personality Types whose self-worth is dependent on rescuing others, can have dysfunctional relationships because of their need to rescue. In these cases, feeling powerless over not being able to save the day is excruciating.
But even for people who just want to help when they see someone hurting, it is worth remembering that sometimes the recipient of our efforts is reluctant to help themselves. And that limits our ability to control the outcome.
At times I recognise people with mental illness or whose mental health is compromised who are yet to acknowledge they aren’t well and need help. I see them suffering. I know they can be helped. I can point them in the direction of that help. But unless they take the final steps towards their own rescue, all my want in the world won’t be enough.
Watching my daughter’s response to the coned cockatoo reminded me sharply of one of my worst fears:
Either of my children inheriting my Bipolar Disorder, and me doing everything right to help them, while knowing that ultimately, I would not be in control of whether they took their medication or made healthy choices. The knowledge that I could possibly be forced to watch them succumb to this illness despite my best efforts, is too painful and pointless to dwell on, but may be a heavy reality in my future.
Thankfully my daughter didn’t have to deal with the emotional torture of standing by helplessly while her feathered friend starved to death.
Eventually our little cone head entered the crate and we managed to trap it. The RSPCA picked it up and took it back to their clinic, where it was relieved of its collar, and released in our area. Four or five days later we recognised him or her back in our garden for food (even without their cone) by their missing crest feathers.
For more on rescuer personality types you can go to: http://www.josephchris.com/rescuer-personality-type
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