ASK ABDI: HOW DO I LET GO OF MY FANTASY OF A SAVIOR?
QUESTION: I am a relatively new mom, coming off of three failed nanny relationships. For all of my friends and acquaintances, finding a good babysitter is a tough, albeit non-life threatening, challenge. So much seems packed into deciding who is a right fit - namely our own baggage and process along with the candidates’ baggage and process. You, yourself, described the search to me as akin to finding a romantic partner, and it is, in terms of what we psychically bring to the table.
I’ve noticed that the role of overly competent caretaker, the pattern I’ve worked so hard to break in my other intimate relationships, keeps getting in the way of my choice and management of the caretakers for my son: in search of warm and kind individuals to care for my son, I find myself drawn to those who are emotionally needy, and even if they’re not, ultimately, in my handling of them in the day-to-day, morph into unruly children or entitled brats. My basic needs go unmet, i.e. I end up doing most of the work, they misbehave or their needs end up being the priority, then I end up resentful.
At this point, I am ready to take full responsibility for having the ability to turn even the most competent person into a needy, incompetent nightmare. But, it’s a tricky, shadowy business when it comes to managing a household and child. I’m so tired and so afraid to let anything go, for fear the whole machine will catch and then explode. So with the martyrdom and perfectionism comes the unreality: I want a savior to swoop in to save me from the exhaustion and difficulty.
Beyond choosing carefully and well (not from fear or desperation, and with a keen sense of the barely audible signals that go off as you inhabit space with a person), how do I begin to stop myself in the moment from turning every new babysitter or nanny into a monster child? How do I let go of this fantasy of a savior? And my perfectionist ways that scream, “she’s got it covered and doesn’t need any help”? How do I get and stay clear about my true needs and desires? How do I remain respectful and kind, while also strong and grounded when I’m feeling exhausted and vulnerable all of the time?
ANSWER: You have amazing clarity about your issues, and your intent is clear. It sounds like you are hitting bottom emotionally, which is the only place from which we can make lasting change. Obviously, the welfare of a child is one of the most important issues in one’s life. One has to make room for the anxiety that sharing caretaking duties with another can bring. As well, the mere presence of another in one’s personal space can bring up all kinds of friction, regardless of why they are there.
Taking these facts into account, the issue here is no different than setting up any other type of healthy relationship. You have succinctly described your issues. The one connection that you might not be aware of is the piece about caretaking of another (whom you are paying to help care for you) and the part that fantasizes about a savior. Some of us who had to tap dance for love as children (due to narcissistic or emotionally immature/unavailable parents, etc.) learned at an early age that in order to be taken care of - we had to take care of those who were in charge of taking care of us. Of course, the care never came in the way that we needed/craved, so the loop became us performing/altering our needs and tap dancing for our dinner, so to speak, while always going hungry. The psychic belief was/is that at some point those in charge of our care will be healed enough by our sacrifice that they can, in turn, care for us. The deep need for control comes from this environment of despair and terror: it never felt safe enough to have needs, since they were never met. One needs to have true compassion for this control freak behavior in oneself, since it points to the utter lack of perceived safety as a child.
This behavior carries on into adulthood, where we continue to trespass so deeply against ourselves that we truly do not know where the demarcation for serious psychic and emotional injury begins. This is where the hidden rage keeps building and can catch us and our intimates by surprise. The savior piece is the inner child still feeling that if she does enough, sacrifices enough, is sweet enough, then some care will come her way. The always dashed and never appearing decades-old hope that enough self-sacrifice will lead to some care coming our way, now becomes a fantasy. We openly fantasize about someone coming in that will save us as a last resort. Of course, the adult can only heal that wounding by caring for the inner child directly and teaching her that begging for love directly or indirectly has never or will ever work. Begging will only lead to more frustration and to turning potentially positive relationships to one of codependence, as you have experienced. We have to love ourselves directly and learn to ask our intimates for help. Of course, this is not easy, since after decades of not getting needs met, we have become strangers to ourselves. We have to re-establish an inner dialogue with our self.
So set firm boundaries for yourself. Be conscious of your language when first meeting a potential helper. Learn to be okay with having to go back and renegotiating certain promises that you automatically made at first, and later realized that you are not emotionally ready to compromise on. Learn to recognize the things that will set you off on a path of unconscious people-pleasing: fatigue, feeling happy, etc. I have found in my own experience that certain, specific states of mind will make my boundaries way too porous for my own well-being. I treat such times in my day as a coiled venomous snake, I tread gently and consciously. You do the same. There is another child in this deal besides the one that you are seeking a babysitter for, your own inner child. Tend to her with the same kindness, gentleness, and patience that you lovingly foster on your outer child. And be patient, as much as this has caused you pain. These patterns are ancient and truly do take a tremendous amount of time and energy to shift. You are well on your way. How wonderful that you are, in fact, the savior you have been waiting for.