The Rescuer’s Delusion
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). If you are stuck in the Rescuer role, you may deny that you have any needs and your internal dialogue may be: “I would rather be helpful to others and fix the world’s problems than focus on my own needs.”
There are at least three central delusions that explain the Rescuer’s obsessive focus on others and their circumstances:
- When in the Rescuer role, the deep longing is that, by helping others, you will someday get your own needs met.
Rescuers are proud to be a helper and fixer of other people’s problems. Inwardly the Rescuer loves being a hero and believes this is the only way they will feel worthwhile as a human being. Eventually others will love them for their good deeds and being so helpful. The ultimate fear is ending up alone and not being needed.
- Rescuers believe that, ultimately, a Victim will learn to take responsibility for their own needs.
The Rescuer sees the Victim as temporarily unable to take care of themselves, which justifies their intervention and can unknowingly create a cycle of disempowerment for the person in the Victim role. But why should the Victim take responsibility if the Rescuer is going to do it for them? The more the Rescuer intervenes, the less accountable those in the Victim role will be for their own life.
- Rescuers fail to recognize how they become a magnet for more Victims.
When in the Rescuer role it is amazing how often you may attract needy people. The person playing the Victim role may say to you: “I really need your help because no one else can fix this like you can.” If this is music to your ears, you may become unconscious to how often you scan the environment looking for people who need your help. This explains why there are often people with a Victim mentality who become irresponsible and chronically disempowered with Rescuers surrounding them that feed their disempowerment.
When you relate to others through TED* (*The Empowerment Dynamic)® you see everyone as a Creator — as being ultimately resourceful, capable, and whole. While lending a helping hand, you can do so based upon what they tell you they need for themselves, 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 help you to transform your identity as a Rescuer.
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.