The Rescuer’s Dilemma
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 helpers.
Of the three roles in the DDT, it is the Rescuer role that may be the most difficult to transform. There is plenty of cultural approval for those who are helpers. As a society, we appropriately spread affection toward professional rescuers. Firefighters, healthcare workers, first responders, and many more are essential to civil society.
The psychological identity of a Rescuer caught in the DDT is different than the essential part that such professionals play in society. We are writing about a compulsive desire to be helpful and please others, to be the hero, hoping to receive love and approval in return.
Here are a few characteristics that describe the Rescuer role in the DDT (see if you identify with them):
- You take on more work or duties, even when others are responsible;
- You attract others who seem incapable or unwilling to help 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 unimportant or unable to meet your own needs.
In short, when in the Rescuer role you focus on everyone else. You see your job as supporting others, so you avoid recognizing or meeting your own needs. That is the dilemma Rescuers face. You can’t acknowledge that you even have needs. If you do, you’re not focusing on others and therefore “failing” as a helper.
You might silently say to yourself: “If I ask for help, I am needy and helpless. Therefore, asking means I am unworthy. So, I will find my worthiness by helping others.”
If your focus is on filling others’ needs, you will never be enough, avoiding any recognition of what you need or want. What a dilemma!
With this psychological underpinning, combined with society’s approval of people who help others, it is no surprise that transforming the Rescuer role is not easy. If you do not identify with the rescuing role, you may not “get” the strong need to please by those who primarily respond to life from this role. It is likely however, you have someone in your life that does identify with this role. Compassion and understanding for what they are facing is essential.
To simply say, “Just stop it,” doesn’t work well when entrenched in the Rescuer role. Here are a few tips we have learned that begin to interrupt the rescuing cycle:
- Understand the harmful effects of Rescuer behavior. When you do for others what they can do for themselves, you limit their learning and growth.
- 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.)
- Notice if uncomfortable feelings arise as you ask for help. This is good! It means you are confronting the core of your rescuing identity.
- Create moments of genuine self-care. Because Rescuers deny their own needs to help others, true self-care helps heal the Rescuer’s dilemma. Start with something simple like more work breaks or, taking the three-day weekend that you had previously denied yourself. It is your intention to genuinely support yourself that is important.
Knowing your innate worth as a Creator and embracing your right to a good life is the first step toward transforming your Rescuer’s dilemma.