Are you a “Rescuer”? When helping doesn’t help

Posted on: April 16, 2018

Jane is a typical coaching client of mine – early 40s, middle management role and looking to progress to a senior role in the next couple of years. She has 3 kids and she’s the main family earner. Her team at work find her very supportive but her peers tell her she needs to push them more. She’s juggling alot of balls and at times it can feel overwhelming.

It feels good to help others, but at what point does helping become unhealthy?

In the 1960s, Californian psychotherapist Stephen Karpman came up with The Drama Triangle: Persecutor – Victim – Rescuer. It’s a handy model to explain dysfunctional patterns of behaviour in groups – whether families or teams at work.

Persecutors are easy to spot – they are the bullies. Likewise, a person who is playing the Victim role wallows in seeing themselves as powerless even though they have options to change their situation. Think Eeyore in Winnie the Pooh.

The Rescuer is harder to spot. These are the people who look helpful and supportive but may be stopping others from developing by doing things for them that they could – and should – be doing for themselves.

Is this you? If so, you could be heading for burnout.

Warning signs to watch out for are:

  • Do you feel uncomfortable making demands on your team and instead try to plug the gaps by working extra hard yourself?
  • Is your helping motivated more by your desire to be liked than by the need of the other person?
  • Do you secretly feel only you can do the job properly and left to their own devices others will make a mess of it?

Ways to change are:

  • Ask yourself “Can this person do this for themselves?” If yes, be willing to stretch them.
  • Notice how often you act from a sense of guilt and learn how to tolerate the feeling rather than acting on it.
  • If someone in your life is playing the Victim, encourage them to see how they have power in their situation, and to take action.

Paradoxically, when you drop being the Rescuer you’ll find you empower those around you and get far more done.

Drop me a line with your Rescuer confessions – I’d love to hear.