In the 1960’s Dr. Stephen Karpman first described the three reactive and problem-focused roles of Victim, Persecutor and Rescuer that he named the Drama Triangle. One role—-that of Rescuer—-is especially familiar to us. We often say that we are both “recovering Rescuers.”
The Rescuer role is the “pain reliever” in the Drama Triangle and focuses on those who need help (or so the Rescuer interprets). Denying that they have any needs themselves, a Rescuer’s internal dialogue may be: “I would rather be helpful to others and fix the world’s problems than focus on my own needs.”
While this may appear to be a laudable desire, there are at least three central delusions that explain the Rescuer’s obsessive focus on others.
- A Rescuer’s deep longing is that by helping others they will someday get their own needs met.
Rescuers are proud to be a helper and fixer of other people’s problems. They love – even crave – the praise they get for their ongoing acts of kindness. Inwardly the Rescuer loves being a hero and feels this is the only way they will feel worthwhile as a human being. By focusing on others, they deny their own needs and refuse to take responsibility for self-care or set appropriate personal boundaries. Their ultimate fear is they will end up alone. This fear fuels their delusion that they will eventually feel love and appreciation from the Victims they spend so much time and energy helping.
- Rescuers believe that, ultimately, a Victim will learn to take responsibility for their own needs.
The Rescuer sees the Victim as unable to take care of themselves, which justifies their intervention. Their intervening methods can unknowingly create a cycle of disempowerment for the person in the Victim role. Why should the Victim take responsibility if the Rescuer is going to do it for them? The more the Rescuer takes responsibility, the less responsibility is taken by the Victim that they are trying to help. Many managers fall into this delusion and can breed dependence in their employees for the manager to have “the answer.”
- Rescuers fail to recognize how they become a magnet for more Victims.
Rescuers attract needy people. If the Victim says to a Rescuer: “I really need your help because no one else can fix this like you can” —- it can be music to a Rescuer’s ears. A Rescuer is unconscious to how often they scan their environment looking for people who need their help. This explains why there are often Victims in the Rescuer’s world who are irresponsible, addicted or in trouble. The delusion is that Rescuers do not recognize how their need to be needed feeds the dynamic.
Rescuers are helpful people and are often perceived as excellent co-workers and family members. Their willingness to participate and be useful means they are often first to volunteer to “help out.”
The key is for Rescuers to learn to be helpful and supportive without insisting that the Victim be a certain way. Otherwise, the Rescuer’s attachments reinforce the three delusions.
When you relate to others through TED* (*The Empowerment Dynamic) ™ you see everyone as a Creator – as being ultimately resourceful, capable and whole. People may need your momentary support as a fellow co-Creator. While lending a helping hand, you can do so based upon what they tell you they need, not what you decide for them.
As a co-Creator, you value the right of others to choose their response to life’s challenges. You know that sometimes people stumble along the road of learning and growth. Slowing down and learning to pause, knowing the world will go on even if you are not rescuing it, can be very difficult for a Rescuer. This new belief alters the very nature of the Rescuer’s self-identity.
If you observe yourself in the Rescuing role, check to see if one or more of the three delusions are operating in your life. If so, take note and allow yourself the compassion to understand the nature of the Rescuer role that takes root, from time to time, in all of us.
Learn to see others as genuinely resourceful with their own unique gifts. Ask them what they might need from you, and then be ready to assist them in their time of temporary need—-as the co-Creators you both are.