They say you can’t save people who don’t want to be saved.
But I’ve pulled people out of the bathtub who were trying to drown. Taken their fist away from their face. I’ve picked them up off the floor unconscious and taken the sharp object out of their hand. I’ve stayed on the phone as long as they needed. I’ve pulled them aside and said words that I thought could not be heard and years later I discovered, made a difference.
I misunderstood my actions in those moments to mean that I Have Infinite Power To Effect Change. And I was wrong. You can’t save people who don’t want to be saved. You can pull them out of a bathtub, but you can’t *make* them want to live.
I clung to the belief that you could save someone with force, action, and LOVE. But loving someone and saving someone is not the same. One is a god complex and the other is love.
I spent much of my life trying to reach the walking dead. I got into copywriting because I wanted to reach people who weren’t listening. I wanted to understand how you make people hear you. To wake them up (spoiler alert: you can’t).
Tres impossiblé, trust me I’ve tried.
All you can do is create the conditions for people to decide for themselves what happens next.
There are not enough words in the world to “make” someone listen to something they don’t want to hear or refuse to believe.
For copy to be effective, the trick is to speak directly and only to people who are listening. People who want to have the conversation you’re having. I understood this advice from a business perspective, but have always struggled with it on a personal one.
Do you quit on people you love? People who can’t, won’t, or do not want to hear? People who lie to themselves and others? People who are hurting themselves? To whom change is scary, impossible, and undesirable? Untenable?
Rock bottom for so many I know and love meant death. And since “failure is not an option,” I resolved that if I tried harder and did MORE, it would make a difference. That I could love so hard and so fierce it would save your life and inspire you to choose LIFE.
It did not.
Not even close.
I’d misunderstood what it meant to love.
I understood love as self-sacrifice and martyrdom – the more you suffer, the more you display your love. The smaller you become, the more you give, the less you need – the more you love.
I was wrong. This is not love. Love doesn’t shrink, it expands. Love doesn’t try to change you or anyone. It accepts you, fully as you are. Even if you are the walking dead. Love knows who you are is good inside.
To love someone and let them sit in their own consequences – that is love. To risk losing them (and I mean literally, soul death and physical death) if they want to be lost. That was my lesson.
To learn to sit in that pain. That helplessness. That powerlessness. That nothing I say or do can save someone who doesn’t want to be saved.
All those times I was trying to save and rescue and play god were my own false beliefs that I could control the chaos around me. But I can’t.
Inspiring someone to donate to your charity or buy a scarf using persuasion and tension, is not the same as restoring someone’s will to live. That comes from them. That comes from their choice, their insides, their heart.
All we can do is provide the container inside which love exists.
There are very very VERY rare situations in which self-sacrifice makes sense, and most of them involve infants; like your baby is about to fall, so you jump and catch them, hurting yourself but keeping the baby safe. But adults are not babies and if they choose to fall we have to let them.
It’s easy to try and play god. Thinking we can rescue and save.
Priding ourselves on it.
All we can do is choose life. A choice we re-make every single day. Live in integrity and feel the absolute soul-crushing pain of losing loved ones who are still alive and choosing death.
The only person we can really save is our self.
It is the most effective way of helping anyone else.
Margo PS: Here are some books that can help if you’re new to saving yourself:
- Daring Greatly
- The Body Keeps the Score
- The Inner Game of Tennis
- Codependent No More
- The Choice
- Man’s Search for Meaning
- Why Won’t You Apologize
- Rabbi Dayna’s Substack, honestly start here it’s phenomenal. Her book On Repentance and Repair is coming out soon and I am psyched.
To be clear “save yourself first” is not the same as “be a self-involved asshole.”
To save yourself first is to face your actions. And limitations. Even if they weren’t and aren’t your fault, even if you didn’t cause them or mean to do them, even if you feel ashamed of them. Sit in that shame – face it. And love. Yourself.
It does not mean “ignore my children and get a new boyfriend because I *deserve* this ok??” It does not mean “I’m getting a mani/pedi” or “I can’t do work today, why don’t you get it!” or “It wasn’t my fault!” or “I’m going to travel for 4 months and neglect my earthly responsibilities.”
It means loving the worst versions of yourself. So the people around you can love theirs.
That’s the only way we move forward. (Loving is not “justifying” – you’re still accountable. You are never not accountable for the harm you cause. And sitting with THAT truth and learning how to love <— that is the work of saving yourself.)
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