If a person picks up stray animals, is always substituting for colleagues and always supports loved ones, he seems good to society. However, sometimes the desire to help can turn into an addiction. We tell you what rescuer syndrome is, how it affects the person and how to get rid of it.
What is lifeguard syndrome
Rescuer syndrome is not an officially recognized disorder, but it really does overshadow people’s lives and needs to be seriously addressed. Unlike other people, the “rescuer” does not help out of a sincere desire, but as if he were forcing himself. He is convinced that the only way to get something is to fulfill the wishes and requests of others. So explain the basis of the syndrome the authors of the study prepared by psychotherapists of the French business school INSEAD and the European School of Management and Technology. Dependence on the desire to help is even compared with food, alcohol, nicotine and drug addiction.
The syndrome was first described in 1968 by psychotherapist Stephen Karpman in an article titled “Tales and Script Drama Analysis.” In it he presented a psychosocial model of relationships, the so-called Karpman Triangle, where he identified three roles that people can occupy in different life situations: Victim, Stalker and Rescuer.
The Stalker, or Aggressor, tries to control, blame, and threaten others.
The Victim feels influenced by the person or situation, does not take responsibility for what happens because she thinks she cannot change anything.
The rescuer seeks to help the victim or the aggressor, but his or her actions are driven not so much by concern for his or her neighbors as by a desire to assert himself or herself, to feel full and meaningful. As a result, the Rescuer takes on someone else’s responsibility, forgetting about his or her own needs, while not solving the other person’s problem.
In an article for a British therapist matching service, psychotherapist Amy Lender points out that the rescuer chooses this role to have a view of herself and a way to connect with others. When a rescuer has not had the opportunity or means to help for some time, her self-esteem is likely to suffer greatly, she says. By immersing himself in the problems of others, he avoids his own unresolved issues.
Rescuers are not happy about their own role, either. Coach and supervisor Andrea Durban writes in her book, Pure Coaching, that rescuers may enjoy helping, but they find it difficult to achieve full satisfaction. They run the risk of facing disappointment if they don’t get the response they expect from people. Also, rescuers are afraid to say no and perform certain actions to their own detriment for fear of being rejected.
How Rescuer Syndrome Can Occur
The person grew up in a dysfunctional family. American psychotherapist and supervisor Andrea Mathews writes for Psychology Today that a child who has no support but feels loved ones’ problems tries to be a hero to them and takes on overwhelming responsibility. Over time, this rescue may become the only behavior pattern by which he feels connected to his parents.
There was an adult in the family who made sacrifices. Psychotherapist Sharon Martin explains in an article for Psych Central that children can also adopt the behavior of loved ones who constantly acted in the interests of others and did not care about themselves, their desires.
The child was forced into this pattern of behavior. Martin tells us that if children are constantly indoctrinated to think about the importance of helping, taught to be helpful and praised only for selflessness, then caring for others can become their primary way of getting attention, which will persist as they grow older.
A reaction to a traumatic experience from the past has emerged. According to Martin, such an experience could be the death of a parent due to illness. The person may feel guilty about it and try to save someone else, so they will target those who need saving when they look for friends or romantic partners.
How to detect lifeguard syndrome
Rescuer syndrome can be distinguished from altruism by the reason a person helps. Mary Lamia, M.D., a clinical psychologist, explains in an article for Psychology Today that healthy helping is built on a desire to improve the life of another. The rescuer’s activities relate specifically to his emotional needs, the need to assert himself, to feel validation.
The rescuer perceives and evaluates himself through caring for others, but he can’t always tell if that caring is needed. And if someone is in a really difficult situation, the rescuer’s actions can even hurt. The rescuer suppresses and underestimates the initiative of the person being helped and expects the person to simply follow his or her instructions.
Psychotherapists and coaches have prepared a checklist of 25 questions to identify the syndrome. If a person answers “Yes” to most of them, there is a high probability that he or she is prone to rescue. Here are some of the questions you can use to assess your condition:
- Do you have difficulty finding time for yourself?
- Are you always willing to help people in need?
- Do you have a tendency to take responsibility for people in need?
- Often you can’t stop talking, thinking, and worrying about other people and their problems?
- Do you have a tendency to help everyone around you, whether they ask for help or not?
- Do you feel uncomfortable getting help from other people?
- Do you sometimes feel angry and/or resentful about giving all the time?
- Do you sometimes feel taken advantage of?
Clinical psychologist Dr. Karen Keller says that over time, rescuers may feel frustrated because they don’t do well with the tasks they’ve taken on. Or they may begin to feel resentment because of the indifference and lack of gratitude of those around them who they tried so hard to help. Negative thoughts arise at this point, which can also be used to track your condition and understand what dragged you down to the rescue:
- I get tired of taking care of everyone.
- I help even though I wasn’t asked and then get upset when people don’t appreciate it.
- I go through the stress of caring for others.
- I get jealous when I help people achieve their dreams.
- It’s okay for me to give up on my own dreams while my family succeeds.
- I get tired of trying to solve several problems at once, none of which are my own.
Rescuer syndrome can have a serious impact on my work as well. For example, in the so-called helping professions: nurses and doctors, including psychotherapists, teachers, nannies, caregivers, lifeguards, police officers. As stated in a study on burnout in these professions, rescuers can feel frustrated because they don’t get the gratitude they think they deserve or can’t save and help everyone. This ultimately leads to burnout and an inability to provide the help that is truly needed.
How to stop being a rescuer
Dutch psychoanalyst Manfred Kets de Vries in his article for the blog of French business school INSEAD writes that to realize that there is a problem is the first step to getting rid of the rescuer syndrome. However, it is not easy to do, a person is not always able to understand that he helps others because of his own internal difficulties.
Psychotherapist Andrea Mathews in her column for Psychology Today says that often people come to a specialist to get rid of stress. And only during the sessions do they realize that it is caused by a rescue – repressed many years of desires and unrealized need for love and support, which is not compensated by the solution of other people’s problems.
If the rescuer has been able to recognize their problem, psychotherapist and coach Adam Matthew Day at the Counselling Directory, a website for recruiting counselors, gives some advice on how you can monitor and control the craving for rescue in relationships:
- Remind yourself daily of your tendency to rescue your partner, but do so without reproach or demeanor.
- Try to keep track of how you feel and feel in your body in those moments when you want to help, to take on someone else’s responsibility. What do these feelings look like? At what moment and why do they arise? How
- powerful are they?
- Try not to react to these impulses: stand up straight, don’t move, restrain your impulse to intervene, and let the person figure it out on their own.
- Try to spell out or write down what you experienced when the urge to rescue arose, but you suppressed it.
- Ask yourself how you want to build a relationship with your partner.
- Tell your partner what you want your relationship to be, and from that point on, trust them to work on it and on your problems.
However, the people cared for by rescuers will not always be supportive and helpful in getting rid of the syndrome. Psychotherapist Sharon Martin writes in an article for Psych Central that people may take advantage of rescuers because they don’t want to take responsibility for their lives. Martin advises rescuers on several tricks:
- Determine the range of problems that are realistically within your area of responsibility. Remember that other people’s feelings and actions are only their concern.
- Try to stop giving help and advice if you have not been asked for it.
- If there was a request for help, before you act, consider whether it is in your interests and plans.
- Focus on your needs, ask yourself “What do I want?”, “How will this action help achieve my goals?”
- If you realize you don’t want to help or you don’t have the time or energy to do so, learn to say no to people.
- Martin explains that co-dependent behavior cannot be overcome in one go, it’s a long process. In order to track changes, you need to pay attention to your emotions as often as possible, talk through and write down your feelings.