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The Victim Triangle and their Toxic Behaviors in Relationships: The Rescuer

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Characteristics of the Rescuer’s “Let me help you!” Role:

  • Helpers/caretakers in the relationship

  • Because of their general helpfulness, it might be confusing to understand why there is a feeling of manipulation or dishonesty about them -it might make you feel crazy trying to figure out why the Rescuer gets under your skin. But your senses would be right.

  • There is a tendency to keep you small and in need so they can fulfill their need to be needed through helping you -otherwise they do not feel good about themselves (so, not a completely honest motive)

  • Neglectful of their own needs, and do not take responsibility for meeting their own needs

  • Problems with healthy boundaries -can not say “no”

  • Co-dependency issues -others must remain helpless in order for them to serve their purpose

  • As such, they are enablers, protecting others from taking responsibility for their own lives -again, to sustain that purpose of helping

  • The ones who want to “fix it”, who are compelled to fix it

  • Over-protective with the mentality, “They can’t handle it, but I can.” -Can you imagine how much that enforces the Victim’s core belief, or triggers the Persecutor’s fear of vulnerability by suggesting they need others to help them?

  • The over-protectiveness can lead to obsessively intervening and interjecting themselves into other’s lives, taking complete responsibility for them

  • Use of guilt to keep others dependent

  • They feel guilty themselves if they aren’t rescuing

  • They take on so much for others that they are typically overwhelmed, overworked, and exhausted, and give the message of “so busy, just can’t stop”

  • Because they are so focused on others and neglecting their own needs, they eventually become resentful, and then what is born from that combination are the martyrs of the world (which is the victim role for Rescuers)

  • “I care about everyone, and nobody cares about me!”

  • Often come off as better, stronger, smarter, or at least more-together than the Victim

  • Magic words to a Rescuer: “You're the only one who can help me.”

  • Core beliefs: “My needs are not important” and “I am only valued for what I can do for others,” which is reinforced by constantly finding people to save

  • So, the logic is, “If I take care of others well enough, then I will be fulfilled. It’s the only way I will be loved.”

  • The danger in that thinking is that Rescuers are involved with Victims who can’t love or care for themselves, let alone anyone else

  • This only reinforces the Rescuer’s belief that they shouldn’t have needs, their needs won’t ever be met, creating more shame and ultimately the thinking that, “I’ll just work harder, I’ll just do more!”

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How did the Rescuer come to be?

Maybe in the Rescuer’s childhood there was a parent who was incapacitated in some way (drunk, high, undiagnosed mental disorder), which prevented them from being a fully present parent. The child in that scenario takes on the role of parent to care for the helpless adult. With the roles reversed, the child learns that not only is their responsibility to care for others -that there is no one else to do it- but also that self-worth comes from doing that care. It also signifies that the child’s needs go unmet, because there is no capable adult to meet those needs. This becomes the child’s primary way to relate to others, as well as, the motivation behind their choices in life.

Rescuers are generally proud of how good they are at this role. They receive accolades and awards for what looks like “selfless acts” of caring. They believe they are necessary and right in what they give to others. There is no higher value than that of a savior. Which only enforces this motivation. But it also might confuse them, because at the core they don’t feel good.

A Rescuer’s biggest fear is ending up alone. If they don’t keep up their “do-gooding”, they might mess up their chances to have relationships. They unconsciously encourage dependency because they believe, “If you need me, you won’t leave me.” They race to make themselves indispensable in order to avoid that abandonment.

Here’s one way that plays out:

Your spouse gets laid off, and sinks into a depression, making you the sole financial supporter. Initially, you feel energized by this new level of importance. You can help your spouse get back on their feet, support the household, and keep everything running smoothly.

Years go by and your spouse has become too comfortable with the arrangement. Likewise, you have gotten into a flow and have loved the feeling of being needed, but you have really tried to get your spouse back on their feet, to no avail. That defeat lands you in the Victim role. But you can’t have defeat, so now you’re seething just thinking about your spouse being so weak, lazy, and needy. (Persecutor) But now you feel guilty for failing them and go right back to Rescuing, a cycle that will leave you utterly exhausted and depleted in life.

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So here’s what you do:

You might be wondering how being so helpful and caring could possibly be a bad thing, but there is a difference between being truly helpful and supportive and being a rescuer who inhibits growth and autonomy in the other person.

Genuine efforts to help are acts done without expectations for reciprocation. They are done out of the kindness of our hearts and need nothing back in order to be valid. They empower rather than disempower. They lift people up to a position where they can move forward on their own. And they instill faith that the other does not need to be saved but has the strength to handle their own life.

This requires healthy boundaries. Saying no when it infringes on your needs being met. Not crossing the line when efforts might lead to dependency or expectation from the other. Refraining from interfering when it might cause conflict in the relationship.

Feeling used, at the mercy of, betrayed, and hopeless are the cyclic feelings of a Rescuer's turn at Victim -and also a clear sign that healthy boundaries have not been enforced.

The more you feel compelled to rescue, the more you enable a victim to need rescue, but no one ever gets saved. The cycle just goes deeper and deeper, until you realize you really will end up alone if this pattern doesn’t stop.

Please read further for more information on, the Victim, the Persecutor, and the intro to the Victim Triangle.

Adapted from Karpman's Drama Triangle and Lynne Forrest's The Victim Triangle.


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