prevent conflicts in relationships: understand the rescuer role
Updated: May 9
The rescuer plays an important role in the Drama Triangle (by Stephen Karpman). This role is one where the person gives until it hurts. As everyone has a predominant role in the Drama Triangle, which consists of the rescuer, victim, and persecutor, there are lots of people who engage in this part. You can probably see it in those around you once you learn about it.
What does a rescuer look like? Rescuers can be thought of as the dark side of the mother. It is more about character traits. Rescuers prefer helping others rather than helping themselves. They are secretly hoping others will come to save them. The problem is they are too busy supporting others to see help coming to them. They also don't know how to accept help which is a problem for them because they desperately want it deep down. Accepting help is likely weak to them and they don't want to appear that way.
They live a life where they help the victim, those who are feeling helpless and hopeless in the world. They need the victim to feel important. Rescuers need others to help because that is how they define their self-worth. If they aren't helping then they aren't of value. They need someone to rescue so they can feel good about themselves. That means they need someone else to feel important.
Rescuers grew up in a childhood where their needs were not met by their parents. Because of that, the rescuers learned to prioritize other people rather than themselves. Deep down, they are hoping if they help someone enough, they will get the assistance they want. The problem is the victim, the person in the role they are traditionally helping, doesn't want aid. The victim wants to stay in their hopeless and helpless loop. So the victim will resent the rescuer for trying to help them. Since the rescuer's help is not being accepted (because the victim never wanted the help) the rescuer can become resentful. The rescuer can project their anger of people not accepting their help onto others. I was once talking to a man who illustrated this perfectly. One of his employees was a drug addict. He decided to help the employee without the employee asking, but the employee kept using drugs. The man would go to the hospital on Thanksgiving rather than spend time with his family. He would make sacrifice after sacrifice trying to help this employee, but the employee kept using. The man talked about how frustrated he was with the employee not accepting his help. That is a perfect example of how rescuers try to help others who don't want it.
A major problem with the rescuer is that they enable those around them. They do not let others take responsibility for their actions. They keep people from learning hard lessons. If someone's parent is a rescuer they kept them from learning the lessons you needed to learn. It was too painful for them to have the child be accountable for their actions. Rescuers manipulate those around them to get their fix of aiding others. They keep others down so they can have someone to save.
Another loop the rescuer is in is that they are dying for others to help them. But their problem is they don't know how to accept help. They never learned. So deep down there is a yearning to stop being the one to do all the stuff around the house. Or to be the one always coming to help the kids. But their problem is they don't know how to get themselves help. They may not even see other people wanting to help them because they are so focused on saving others. So rescuers create this loop that keeps them away from what they deeply desire.
The way out of the rescuer role is learning to put their needs first. The rescuer is putting others' needs before theirs. This creates resentment. Their needs are last and they start detesting others for them putting their needs last. They need to learn what their needs are and how to ask for those needs to be met by others. That is the way out. It is simple but can be quite terrifying if the rescuer is new to this. They are the only one who knows their needs. Others don't know them and will not understand them unless they tell someone. Much like being in a plane, they have to put their air mask on before putting on someone else's.
Boundaries are also something the rescuer needs to work on. For rescuers to have a healthy and mutually respectful relationship they need to say no to others. That means learning how to say no in a supportive way (not an angry way). The kids might be able to figure out the answer by themselves. It might make them more resourceful, independent, and confident. The husband can learn to do more work at home, it might make him better at contributing to the household.
Moving out of the rescuer role, the person needs to put their needs first. They need to understand if they are helping when they are tired, hungry, angry, etc that they won't be helpful in a healthy way. When someone helps others when they are tired and frustrated they often project their frustration on others. They equally need to practice setting boundaries with others. Saying no to others is like saying yes to themself.
An exercise to help move them out of this role is to say no to others' requests for a week. This does not mean saying no to activities that are vital for you to live. It does mean saying no to things that others have asked them to do which involves the continuation of the rescuer saying yes while others could be doing the job. This will help show where others can do things. Saying no in new ways can be scary. It is important to remember until someone starts taking action nothing is going to change. Something else a rescuer can practice is meeting their own needs. Often rescuers have no idea what their needs are. One exercise to help with this is to write down what one's needs were during the day. People get hungry, tired, frustrated, and so on. This will help them identify what their needs are in the moment.
Through learning what the rescuer's needs are and learning to say no the rescuer will understand to only help people who want the help. They will start to see those who don't as a waste of time. They see themselves as important and learn they are of value.
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