By Safe Call Now’s Dr. Laura Brodie Ph.D.
As I think about how those in helping professions were raised, it was a message of doing your best and making sure you take care of others. Often this was taking care of a vulnerable family member. The person was a substance abuser, a depressed individual, an anxious parent or a parent who needed you as a child at a level you were ill equipped to handle. You became what we in the profession call a “parentified child”. In talking to individuals who have taken on this role it is obvious they did not realize it. They saw the path they traveled as having great parents who had no problems and they simply helped or listened. I think it is the same in First Responders. Who else runs into danger when everyone else is running away?
I get worried anytime I hear a client say, “My parents were great/perfect, no problems.” Let’s face it, none of us were raised perfectly and our indoctrinations of the past can control our reactions to the future. The child learns to blame him/herself early in life if there is any conflict. The result is a highly responsible individual that believes he/she is without a self. He/she strives to become someone who helps humanity, but also is oblivious that they have little coping skills available because of the caretaker life they have lived.
Wait, you would think the parentified child adapted to adults at a young age so they should be ahead of the game. Nope. As a child there is a need for guidance, not caretaking. A child does not need to rescue yet they do. It is instinct. The child has to make sure his needs are met or he does not have a chance of thriving. The rescue the child does is to stay alive.
The rescue idea of the “parentified child” although now in an adult body never leaves this concept. Losing people during a rescue, a hostage situation or a suicide scars deep because as a child you were supposed to save someone you cared about. A task a child could never accomplish. As an adult, this drama is replayed in the death of the person you tried to save but could not or the person who did not love life as much as you. You are set up in a no won situation but your brain still looks for solutions many months or years after the event.
You have to look at the job of a First Responder as flying in the face of all instincts in humans to survive. You run into burning buildings, you run into shots fired, you go where no one else fears to tread. You need to understand you may do it because you’re trying to save the one you could not save in the past. For those, you are doing amazing work but the one who led you to your career got lost and it hurts and you cannot fix it. No matter how many lives you save. Just let you lose one and it eats at you as somehow in your imperfection you were bad.
You are not perfect. Hard to accept but it needs to be accepted to allow grace in your life. You fought, you struggled and you wanted it all so differently and unfortunately it did not happen. You did not let down the person you tried to save. You were the only one there in the trials of their pain. As a child we’re expected to be God and save the ones we love. As an adult, if you expect yourself to be God, you’re missing your calling.
Keep fighting the fight and cursing the evil out there, but realize, you tried your hardest with the one you loved and you learned to rescue. The rest of us benefited from your struggle. You’re inability to save all hurts you, but you have to remember, you’re not God and the life lost will not be a chit held against you by anyone but you.
If you. someone you love or know needs help, call:
Safe Call Now: 24 Hour Confidential Hotline: 206-459-3020
For more information on the First Responders program: Click here
Or call Shannon Clairemont at 661-466-6352 or Vanessa Stapleton at 304-651-3008