The Rescuer role is one of the three roles that make up the Dreaded Drama Triangle (DDT).   When in the Rescuer role you feel the strong urge to help others, so they don’t suffer or feel bad.  In a nutshell, Rescuers are the helpers.

Of the three roles in the DDT, it is the Rescuing role that may be the most difficult to transform.

As a society, we appropriately spread affection toward professional rescuers.  Firefighters, health care workers, first responders, and many more are essential to a civil society.  The world watched with hope and appreciation as the amazing divers rescued the 11 boys and their coach from the Thailand cave.

The psychological identity of a Rescuer stuck in the DDT is different than the essential roles of professional rescuers.  We are writing about a compulsive desire to focus on and please others, hoping to receive love and approval in return.  Here are a few characteristics if you are this kind of Rescuer:

  • You take on more work or duties, even when others are responsible;
  • You may attract others who seem incapable of helping themselves;
  • There’s always some crisis needing your help;
  • You feel as though you have let others down if you were not able to take away their suffering or fix their problems; and
  • The feeling of being indispensable may be intoxicating, while at the same time you feel inadequate or unable to meet your own needs.

When stuck in the DDT, the Rescuer’s job is to help everyone else and not focus on themselves.  Because their job is to support others (and avoid their own needs), Rescuers believe they have failed if they ask for help.

The double bind Rescuers face is their belief that the only way to be worthy of support is to not need it.   A Rescuer might silently say to him/herself: “If I ask for help I am needy and helpless, therefore asking means I am unworthy. I will find my worthiness in others.”  If your focus is on filling-up other’s needs, you will never be enough.

With this psychological underpinning, plus the cultural approval of professional rescuers, it is no surprise that transforming out of the Rescuer role in the DDT is not easy.

It is important to understand the psychological compulsion to help that leads to the double bind.  (If you do not identify with the Rescuing role, then you may not “get” this double bind.)

To simply say, “Just stop it,” doesn’t usually work.  As two recovering Rescuers, we can attest to that truth!  Here are a few tips we have learned that begin to interrupt the Rescuing cycle:

  • First, understand the harmful effects of Rescuing behavior. When you do for others what they can do for themselves, you limit their learning and growth.
  • Second, learn to ask for help or support. It might be a task at work or asking a family member to do the dishes.  It is especially good to ask for help with the tasks you have declared, “Only I can do.” (This is not asking to be rescued, but to ask for assistance.)
  • Third, as you ask for help, notice if uncomfortable feelings arise. This is good!  It means you are attacking the core of your Rescuing identity.
  • Finally, because Rescuers deny their own needs to help others, you can begin to untangle the Rescuer’s bind by creating moments of genuine self-care. This could start with scheduling more work breaks or taking the three-day weekend that you had previously denied yourself.

To get out of the Rescuer’s double bind, you must know that you are worthy, not isolated and alone, and have a right to a good life.