We are shown another Savior, Aladdin, in flashbacks, and he could barely stand.He'd become a bed ridden invalid, but the drive to help hadn't gone away. The only problem was that he could no longer control his body and any time he attempted a heroic action his sword hand would begin to tremble. Jafar (the bad guy) describes this as happening because Aladdin "gave it all away," where "it" is his strength.
"It's the fate of Saviors. You give and give and give... and for what? They pick the fruits, they cut the branches, and all that's left is this... shaky stump. That's why you never ever hear these words abut a savior, 'They lived happily ever after.'"
Jafar might be creepy and evil but he makes a good point. People who only give of themselves, over and over and over again will have nothing left over for themselves eventually lose. They lose their strength, their stability, their happiness, potentially even themselves. And the people who most often become the Saviors (the lone wolf type who save the day) normally have few close relations and very little family. They embark on their journey of heroics alone and then continue on until they use themselves up.
Jafar's analogy to Aladdin was fitting (in Storybrook world particularly and the reality by parallel), using the Giving Tree. Any one (or thing) which only gives of themselves and always allows others to take with no limitations or stipulations, will become nothing but a stump. While a stump is still useful, it is lessened and stunted, no new tree or leaves will ever be able to grow from it again. The very thing that made the Giving Tree special is the very thing that ends up killing it. The same is true for Saviors. The traits that they possess (unburdened love, determination, perseverance, sense of duty, etc.) and their unique position in life (few personal attachments) lead them to become people who will give fully of themselves time and time and time again with no rest until they are spent out and there is nothing left to give.
The tree of Emma's life/life-force/ability is dying. For 5/6 straight years she has done nothing but defend and give, helping everyone and constantly saving the day. Slowly chipping away at herself. Denying her emotions, denying her desires, denying her needs. There was nothing but what was needed from her. And that was always everything. All. The. Time. And she always had to go it alone because she was the Savior. She had the burden to bear. She would protect everyone and do everything. She lied, she denied, she hid herself away from others because "it was necessary". The very traits that made her a good Savior are the the traits that are leading to her downfall.
Only now, as her tree dies, Emma realizes that she can't do it alone, not anymore. She isn't yet ready to admit her weakness to her family and close relations but she does begin to seek help. She starts caring for herself more and more and when the truth about her condition does come out, she accepts the love and support offered to her by her family and friends. She accepts their understandings and their support. Only she is still determined to make her own decisions and to live her life. By accepting her family she also accepts herself. By doing so, and by remembering how much she is loved, she is able to begin to rebuild (not completely but she can control her trembling for a time). The support and acceptance of her family has allowed Emma to say, "I am still the Savior and if this is the price of my magic then I will accept it but I am also a member of a family and so if there is another way to do this I want to find it." Emma's support base gives her the option of finding another way by proving that she doesn't have to do this alone, she can find a new solution a new approach because she has others helping her, giving her strength. There are people caring for her tree so it has an opportunity to prosper.
I am guilty, as I am sure others are as well, of making the "Savior's mistake" of trying to carry the world, only to be crushed by its weight. In healthcare we are taught to care for our patients but that it is most important for us to care for ourselves because if we fail then there is no one there for our patients to rely on at all. Storybrook needs a Savior because there is magic and darkness and evil there and it is tangible and deadly but the savior needs a relief squad, a support base, a friend, a lover, someone, to help share the burden, to caution restraint, to stop them when the job is done until they learn to do it themselves.
We all, Saviors and laymen alike, need reminders that it is alright to walk away sometimes, to rest, to recuperate, or to just care for ourselves in general so that we have the ability to get up again and fight another day. We need to allow our roots to grow and our branches to leaf and our fruit to hang low before we offer it away again. or there will be nothing left of us to offer.
We should all strive for this:
Rather than this:
No one should ever have to stand alone. If you feel like you do, you're wrong. Just reach out and be honest. There are people waiting there for you, you just have to be willing to look for them or to let them find you.