On vacation for the week and while shopping in Hilton Head, I saw a t-shirt that read “Lifeguard off duty. Save yourself”. I laughed as I purchased it for someone at home. I was tempted to get another one for myself, but I resisted. I was a lifeguard in my 20’s in Willingboro and even more than 30 years later, I still occasionally practice ‘savior behavior’.
I have come to accept that despite my sometimes erroneous beliefs that I know what is best for someone else, I have no clue what goes on in his or her mind and heart and the reasons they feel as they do about certain experiences. If I lived their lives, I might think and act as they do. What has me believing otherwise is that I had long believed that I was responsible for the happiness and healing of others in my life. I was asked recently about the helplessness I feel when I see someone I know, acting in counterproductive and self neglecting ways.
Perhaps they have jumped in to waters that were too deep, unprepared to swim. Maybe, feeling bold, they deliberately paddled out too far to get away from the shoreline where it felt safe. One thing I recall when taking my Red Cross WSI training was that it was important to wait for someone to stop struggling and go under before attempting to rescue them. Although it seems counterintuitive, it makes all the sense in the world, since if I went in to get them, in panic mode, they would likely pull me down with them. I can’t tell you how many times outside the water, I have allowed that to happen. Friends, partners and family members were sometimes willing and occasionally unwilling recipients of my well meaning, but potentially misguided attempts at protecting them from internal and external perils. When they had sometimes lovingly told me to ‘bug off,’ I would, but feeling miffed, wondered why they wouldn’t want Mighty Mouse to come and save the day.
That’s when I realized that it truly isn’t my job to fix, save, heal and cure anyone. I can be of support and encourage self efficacy. I can love them and model self love. I can offer ideas if they so choose to use them. I can help them make the best decisions possible for themselves, without thinking that I know better. I can remind them to wear literal and symbolic sun screen. And I can wear it myself.
I laughed as I watched this, since I can relate to some of the images and lyrics.