From Rescuer to Coach

4 min read

I recently listened to a podcast called the Antidote to the Drama Cycle1 and it brought to mind an incident with my daughter.  It was snowing and an accident had closed a portion of Hwy. 401.  That’s huge.  A major highway closed.  I’ve been stuck for hours on a closed highway and it’s not fun.  My then 20-year-old daughter was planning to take a bus from Toronto to Waterloo via the 401 – at least a two-hour journey at the best of times. 

I went into mommy mode.  I told her about the accident and suggested that she cancel her plans to travel that night.  She, in turn, went into obstinate child mode – “I don’t want to cancel, the road should be open by now” and my personal favourite, “people are stupid and shouldn’t get in accidents.”  I didn’t feel confident that she was using her adult brain and fully understanding what she was getting herself into. 

However, in trying to help, I overstepped and tried to take control of a situation that wasn’t mine to control.  While I was on the phone to GO Transit and hearing that it was likely best to stay home if possible, she had already taken the subway to the bus station.  The situation turned out all right.  The bus driver took a slightly longer alternate route and she got to Waterloo safely.

The podcast discussed a model of social interaction and conflict called The Drama Triangle2.  The triangle is made up of three roles: persecutor, victim, and rescuer.  At times we can each take on a different role.  This time I took on the role of the rescuer and tried to put my daughter in the victim role.  I acted as if she was not capable of helping herself and tried to rescue her. 

Fortunately, there is an alternative social interaction model called The Empowerment Dynamic3.  This triangle is made up of three, in my opinion, healthier roles: challenger instead of persecutor, creator instead of victim, and coach instead of rescuer.

A rescuer, the podcast explained, is attached to the outcome (wanting my daughter to be safe) and they think they know what is best for the other person (staying at home).  A coach, however, sees the other person as resourceful and totally capable of navigating their own journey.  Rather than telling us what we should do, a coach asks questions when they see behaviour incongruent with what we say we want for ourselves.  Coaches hold us accountable to ourselves and help us find our own wisdom through questions, not advice. 

So, does that mean that I can never give my adult daughter my opinion or advice?  Dr. Harriet Lerner4 writes that “There is nothing wrong with giving another person advice (“This is what I think . . .” or, “In my experience, this has worked for me”) as long as we recognize that we are stating an opinion that may or may not fit for the other person.  We start to overfunction, however, when we assume that we know what’s best for the other person and we want them to do it our way.”

I overfunctioned in this interaction and my daughter was justifiably not happy with me.  Fortunately, I had some time to think about it and came up with a three-part apology:

  1. I apologized for overstepping my bounds and trying to take over when my help was not welcome and ultimately not needed.
  2. I explained that the reason I overstepped was that her initial childish response did not give me a great deal of confidence in her ability to safely navigate the situation.
  3. I asked her how I could handle a similar situation in the future.

We decided that I will give her whatever information I have and ask if she wants help with anything.  And then the situation is hers to do with as she pleases.  I walk away from it knowing that she is a totally capable and resourceful adult who will ask for help if she needs it.  We agreed that she will remind me when I overstep, remembering that I only want what is best for her and that I am adjusting to my new role as the mother of an adult.

Dr. Lerner5 says “We all do better in life when we can stay reasonably connected to important others; when we can listen to them without trying to change, convince, or fix; and when we can make calm statements about how we see things, based on thinking, rather than reacting.”  That’s what I’m hoping for in all my relationships – a coach when needed to help find our own wisdom and no one being afraid to discuss what’s on their mind.


1 Podcast series “Relationships By Design” with Dan and Carol Ohler – Episode 9: Antidote to the Drama Cycle

2 Drama Triangle

3 The Empowerment Dynamic

4 The Dance of Anger: A Woman’s Guide to Changing the Patterns of Intimate Relationships by Harriet Lerner, Ph.D.

5 The Dance of Intimacy: A Woman’s Guide to Courageous Acts of Change in Key Relationships by Harriet Lerner, Ph.D.

About Lisa Ivaldi

Lisa loves sharing information that will have a positive impact. is a personal growth blog that uses personal stories and expert theories to share ideas and perspectives. Sometimes looking at things slightly differently can make a huge difference.
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12 Responses to From Rescuer to Coach

  1. Julie Lugosi says:

    So true Lisa! Julie

    Sent from my iPhone


  2. Love that you are posting again :~)

  3. Thought-provoking post! Thanks for sharing, Lisa 🙂

  4. Sharon says:

    Thanks for sharing Lisa, I also struggle with the transition to coach, good to know I’m not alone 🙂

  5. Dan Ohler says:

    Ohhh, Lisa, you are a wise and wonderful human being. Authentic, honest and vulnerable. I love how you share these experiences, your lessons, and the ongoing application. That’s what helps us all in our similar situations (that often we’re not courageous enough to face).
    When I grow up (if that were ever to happen) I want to be like you. I love you.

  6. Lea Tran says:

    This post was full of so many goodies for the mind, heart and soul, Lisa. Thank you! I love the explanation of the healthier roles: the challenger, creator and coach. Brilliant.

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