When I was a kid, I went to the public pool almost every day. One particular day, my friend Sheri Lou Green went with me. At ten years-old Sheri Lou was an awkward swimmer, slapping the water and fighting for every stroke.
The lifeguard noticed Sheri Lou flailing about and thread her a life buoy. It almost hit her in the head, (which would have made her circumstances worse than they already were). After being initially launched, Sheri Lou ignored the gesture and continued to thrash about until she reached the side of the pool.
The lifeguard was furious and kicked both of us out of his area. Instead of being happy that Sheri Lou did not need his help, he was incensed that she did not accept it.
This childhood memory parallels with the rescue role on the Karpman Drama Triangle: When you participate on the Drama Triangle from the rescue position, everyone looks like they are drowning. It's difficult to distinguish the difference between helping when it's genuinely needed and rescuing, which enables the other person to remain the victim.
How to Spot The Rescue Role
The rescue role shows up in sub ways. It is the need to make things right while taking ownership of problems that do not belong to you with the belief that no one can solve the problem but you.
Perhaps the easiest way to spot the rescue role is to see how often you give advice. If you are starting your sentences with phrases such as, "If I were you …" and "I'll tell you what you bought to do …" that that a good sign you're a rescuer.
When you give unsolicited advice, you might sooner get a fix by feeling like the hero who has simply "shared a good idea" but as it has been said, ideas are easy and action is hard.
If everyone (including your family) actually request "free" advice, you are playing the rescue role with those who are willing. Spending time counseling others is completely harmless until you get angry because you spent time on someone else's problem only to have them discount your suggestions and repeat the same mistakes.
When you get angry because someone else ignored your well-intentioned advice, you are just like the lifeguard that mistook poor swimming skills for drowning. You continue to throw out the life buoy only to have it returned.
There are other, more sub ways the rescue role shows up in the business world: The worker who always holds late for everyone else, the boss who continues to cover for a bad employee, the CFO that skews the numbers in order to meet Wall Street Standards. When you keep trying to rescue those who can save them, the result is that you will feel an energy drain which can result in physical illness or loss of productivity.
How To Break the Rescue Role Pattern
Identifying the patterns is the first step to breaking them. It may take a while for you to identify your rescue tendencies. My urge to rescue appears when a meeting gets out of hand or goes overtime. The rescuer starts to emerge as I feel the strong almost irresistible urge to step in and take charge of the meeting. By the way, another word for rescuer is control freak.
Rescuing is easy to identify at home. You do more than your fair share at home. You take over when trying to teach your child something new because it's just easier to do it yourself.
You keep loaning money to your relative who never has had any luck. You lie for your spouse when he or she does not follow through on commitments with the kids.
Rescuing makes you feel helpful and important, in fact it can even give you the self-concept of having all the answers or being a hero in a time of need.
Leave the Rescue Role Behind
In order to leave the rescue role behind you will probably be perceived as a candidate. You will not always get the approval and you will not outshine others all the time. You may have real suffering as you try to break the addictive habit of watching a victim struggle, a coworker face his own in competencies, or others nodding in disapproval when you change and set new boundaries. People may be incensed if you start charging for your advice instead of having your time and energy consumed with other people's problems.
You have to decide if the payoff of more energy to create the life you deserve is worth jumping off of the Triangle. Just remember when a victim comes knocking at your door: It takes two to play games, except you're playing solitaire.