What happens when we stop looking for someone to save us, or for someone to save…
Save Me Syndrome or the Princess Trap can be attractive — two sides to the same “rescue” coin.
On the one side, the Cinderella side, there’s the idea your handsome prince or princess will come riding over the horizon on a white horse (or just fall into your lap, lucky you) to save you from a lifetime of hardship and loneliness.
On the other side, the Belle (Beauty and the Beast) side, you’re caught by all the “dandy potential”¹ you see in your current relationship. If only there were some way you could nurture them, help them blossom into the wonderful person hidden inside…
Side One — the ‘Rescue Me’ side
Being rescued from your life — one of those ideas lurking in the back of your mind, way down deep. And heaven knows, some of us need rescuing. Really. But for most of us, it’s probably a hang-over from when you still almost believed in fairy tales.
“Someday, my prince will come…” Thank-you, Snow White.
The idea still lingers, whether we care to admit it or we believe we’re all grown up and self-sufficient (at least, most days).
But really, what’s the attraction of a handsome prince?
- Well, for one thing, he’ll hopefully be a rich, handsome prince, so you’ll never have to work again. Unless, of course, he’s one of those with a “damsel spinning straw into gold” fetish. In which case you’d better start looking for a new prince, or the phone number of your nearest Rumplestiltskin.
- He will be handsome, by definition. That’s always nice to wake up beside. You might have to lay in a supply of sticks to beat off the hordes of predatory maidens looking for their handsome prince, so I’d put a rush on the nuptials.
- He’ll sweep you off your feet and love you forever, or for however long “happily ever after” actually lasts — apparently, not so long as we might think according to Stephen Sondheim’s, “Into the Woods”.
- And just the teensiest part of the attraction is a longing for perfection — for what you know is unattainable, but still, a star shining forever just beyond your grasp.
The downside is maybe not a downside for some, at least, not right away…
- You’ll be safe from whatever dragons may have held you captive, or were stalking you when your prince first appeared. As there are no statistics available on Dragons Appearing After-the-Fact, we’ll have to give them a big “maybe.” DAAFs tend to be glossed over in the “happily ever after” thing.
- You’ll have lots of lovely rose gardens to admire. Every day. Lovely roses. Gardens full of them. Did I mention the rose gardens? Roses.For the rest of your life. Forever. Yawn — oh, sorry. Better wake up and smell the roses.
- You’ll be expected to raise lovely, well-behaved future heirs-to-the-throne. In the public eye. And have your parenting skills constantly scrutinized and critiqued. Just check the tabloids by any supermarket checkout for the latest update on the current royals. What fun.
I suppose in the harsh light of reality, facing the world with your prince by your side can be far more appealing than being on your own.
You’ll have someone to split the rent, expenses, grocery shopping and laundry duties. Someone to kick back with and share a glass of wine or a few beers. Watch a movie — no, wait, isn’t that your room-mate?
But laundry, dishes and kiddies aside, being “saved” just ain’t all it’s cracked up to be.
Depending on the circumstances from which we are being saved, we may end up in an even worse state than what we’re escaping from — out of the frying pan and into the fire…
I thought, after my first relationship went sideways, I’d learned a lot about life. I’d grown as a person. I knew what I needed from a relationship. And I sure as hell knew what I didn’t want any more of.
In fact, and what took three more disasters to bring home, was, yes, I had learned and grown. Just not enough yet to have a healthy relationship. And wanting to be saved or rescued is actually a symptom of not being ready. A little warning sign — a red flag on the play…
One of the harsh realities you have to face is, especially if you’ve been traumatized, you’re only going to attract someone who’s as healthy as you.²
Sobering fact. Hard truth. Not Prince Charming, though the guy who’s interested may seem to be your prince at first. Probably not the Big Bad Wolf again, if you’ve grown a little. But, usually, he’s just a different kind of ‘not-what-you-really-wanted’.
When I was first recovering from past traumas, I soaked in all the help and information I could find like a happy little sponge. I didn’t want any re-runs.
But predators come in all shapes and sizes and disguises. And, sad to say, one of the easiest places to find damaged birds, ripe pickings for a kind, handsome prince, is in a recovery group.
I met a real charmer who turned out to have long track records of such things. He convinced me I was being all grown-up and liberated — yeah, liberated right into his recovery fantasy.
But you live and learn. Chalk up another one on the growing list of “things you don’t want in your life” ever again.
And while being rescued may seem attractive from the outside, you’re not doing yourself any favours by giving up one kind of wrong for another, even though you may not see it right away.
And once you recognize it for what it is, you can deal with it effectively — either by getting out again, or attempting to go the distance.
Which often leads to the realization you may, in fact, be dealing with the other side of Cinderella’s coin — the Belle side.
Side Two — the ‘Dandy Potential’ side
How many times have you dated someone and been hooked on their potential? You catch little glimpses, flashes of the wonderful person you just know they could be. And you think maybe you’ll be the one to help them bring that out — to realize their full potential. Well, move over, Svengali.
“I actually don’t think girls like a guy who treats them bad. But I do think they — we — get off a little on the idea of changing someone for the better, or the idea of having the power that someone loves us so much that he’ll change or sacrifice something for us …
A nice guy doesn’t need to change … he’s already nice to everyone. How do you know that you’re special if he treats everyone else with as much kindness and respect as he treats you? The “bad boy” type, though? You are an exception to his very nature. [You’re the one] to bewilder and melt [him]. That’s the fantasy.”— Cleolinda Jones
And you can feel it in your bones — how great it could be. And sometimes it is. Magic. It’s frustrating, watching them throw it all away, when if they tried, just a little…
You think, no, you absolutely know there’s so much there. So many really great things about this person. And you know they just need a little support. So you invest more in the relationship; more time in trying to help them reach some of that dandy potential.
It’s hurtful and confusing. Seeing the wonderful, warm, funny, caring person they can be when it’s just the two of you.
You can’t help but think how wonderful life would be for both of you if only your family and friends could see them this way. Why won’t they change? Don’t they love you? After all, you only want what’s best for them…
But would it be “best” for them? Or just you? Is it really what they want?
At this point, before you continue to beat your head against the wall of their refusal to change, you might want to consider a few handy relationship tips:
- You can certainly help and support your current love on their journey to become their best self.
- But you can’t make them take the journey.
- And you can’t take it for them. No matter how much you care.And this goes for spouses, partners, friends, buddies, significant others…in short, anyone you care about.
- Who said it was part of the deal? Hi, I really, really like you except for a few things you need to change about yourself. But it’s okay — I’ll help you. Where was that ever written down or spelled out?
- Did he/she even ask for your help?
All the potential in the world can be staring you in the face, but it’s their potential. Not yours. Hands off. It’s not up to you to do a darn thing with it. It’s up to them. Really.
You might begin a relationship with someone new in part because you can see the wonderful person they could be. But if you have any ideas about changing them into that better self, you need to give your head a shake. And if you’re considering a relationship, hoping your latest charming fling will develop into someone you’d like even better, you might want to give the relationship a serious, hard pass.
We are who we are.
And if you’re attracted to a new relationship you already know isn’t a good fit, because you’re enchanted by what could be, then you need to take a serious look at the “why” of it.
- You may not be ready for a new or serious relationship at this point in your journey. You might need to back off and work on ourselves first, so you’re ready when the little cupid in the toga comes fluttering by with his quiver full of arrows.
- You may feel, deep down, you’re not worthy of the kind of relationship we crave. Maybe you need to do some work on your own life first. See above…
- You may be attracted to the darkness or a little (or a lot) excited by the danger. A little bit of danger, anyway. Nice guys/gals are nice but they’re, well, boring. Safe.
Honestly, I’ve never been attracted to someone’s dark side. One whiff of that brand of sulphur is enough to send me running in the other direction. I have enough demons of my own, thanks. I don’t need yours as well.
But, show me an attractive, warm, intelligent guy with a great sense of humour, who’s emotionally unavailable, and I’m all over that one. Eye-candy plus pain. I now recognize my weakness for what it is. But I fell hard several times before I learned.
But there is hope. Even for the worst, repeat offenders.
You can avoid Save Me Syndrome
If you give yourself a chance, you can find healthy ways to fill your need to be loved by learning to love yourself, first. You learn to accept others for who and what they are, not for what you’d like them to be or what you imagine they could be.
After the initial attraction, a solid relationship is built, among other things, on mutual acceptance and trust. Not on how much I need you, nor on how much you need my help.
And you eventually get better at recognizing your impulses. Realizing life doesn’t turn on a flip of the Princess Coin. Am I Cinderella or Belle today?
But first, you have to know what you’re doing. And become willing to change it. And then tackle the ongoing work such a change will need.
It could be the hardest thing you’ve ever tackled. I know it is for me. But, the rewards will be worth the work, when real love blossoms in a relationship in which you’re both committed to being full partners.
¹ Act 3, Scene 1, The Exorcism, “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” by Edward Albee, 1973
² Alanon Family Groups, Personal Stories, “From Survival to Recovery”
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