If Rescuer Was A Person, What Would They Be Like?
We are delighted to share this week’s TED* Works! blog, written by our long-time colleague, Paul Wyman.
When I first learned about the Drama Triangle, I firmly believed that my Victim, Rescuer, and Persecutor were my enemies, determined to sabotage my relationships, career, and happiness. I’ve since come to see them as allies in disguise.
By applying the principles of parts-based psychology—the framework behind therapeutic models like Internal Family Systems and coaching approaches like Inner Team Dialogue—I was able to find a far more compassionate and empowering perspective.
These frameworks propose that we don’t have one single personality, we have many. A statement like, “a part of me wants security, and a part of me wants adventure,” needs no translation. This inner conflict between parts, each representing different drives and needs within us, is the normal state of being human, not a pathology.
These multiple parts within seem to have their own thoughts, feelings, and rules of behavior. Each has a mind of its own. They feel like whole people within, who sometimes talk to us.
These parts are always within us, companions for life. The powerless feeling of the Victim, for example, never goes away, no matter how much therapy we undertake or mediation we practice. But we can change our relationship with these parts.
That requires a counterintuitive move: to turn towards a part with real curiosity and appreciation. I discovered, for example, that my Rescuer was trying to protect me from feeling powerless in the face of someone else’s pain. I discovered my Victim was crying out for help, in the only way he knew how. This awareness instantly generated compassion for these parts of me. Far from trying to sabotage my happiness, they were acting on my behalf, protecting me in the only ways they knew how.
The fear we all carry is that if we turn towards these parts and listen to them, we give them more power. The opposite seems to be true. When parts feel heard—and particularly when they feel appreciated—they de-escalate. Their grip on our behavior loosens. We feel at choice again.
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Think of a recent time when one of your DDT roles was activated, ideally in the last week. What thoughts and feelings were present? What actions did you take, prompted by this inner state?
Now imagine: if these thoughts, feelings, and behaviors were a person, what would they be like?
- What do they look like? Tall or short? Younger or older? Posture? Clothes? Facial expression?
- Notice where they’re standing: indoors or out? Bright or dark? Spacious or crowded? What else do you notice in their environment?
Now that you have created a vivid picture of one of your DDT roles as a person, imagine yourself walking up to them.
You greet them warmly, explaining that you’d like to interview them to get to know them better. You want to take a walk in their shoes. You have no agenda to change them or evaluate them, just to understand their world.
Ask each of the following questions in your mind and listen for the response. If you like to journal, grab a pen and paper, and write down their response.
- What’s your role in my life?
- What are you trying to protect me from?
- If you weren’t around, what bad thing do you believe would happen?
- What do you wish I knew about you?
Notice how you feel towards this person within.
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Now when my DDT parts show up in my consciousness, it’s like meeting a familiar friend. My Rescuer still wants me to rescue. My Persecutor still wants me to point fingers. But now, I can acknowledge their protective intentions, offer a little internal bow of gratitude, and choose whether the actions they propose align with the outcome I am trying to achieve.
Paul Wyman has been a coach since 1998, and a TED* practitioner since 2010. He is the founder of the parts-based coach development program Inner Team Dialogue. You can reach him at email@example.com