The rescuer personality is driven to help others. When someone has the need for help, the rescuer is there, just like a superhero, ready to save the day. They combine a flood of cortisol, the stress hormone, with a flood of connective emotions, to create a role for themselves in this world.
We all know the rescuer personality type. Some who will read this are rescuers. They are the people who work hard to improve their neighborhoods at their own expense. They cook your dinner, do your laundry, or give you money without giving it a second thought.
Some people think that the rescuer personality is driven by guilt. That is incorrect. Rescuers are driven by a need to be needed. When they can help other people, they feel like they are helping themselves.
It would also be fair to say that people with the rescuer personality type also need to be rescued themselves.
Symptoms of the Rescuer Personality Type
To be clear, there is nothing wrong with the idea that helping someone else makes the world a better place. There are people who need help every day. Meeting that need instead of ignoring it is what helps to define our humanity.
It is when the need to be a rescuer dominates a person’s existence that it becomes a personality disorder.
These are the symptoms which develop over time when the need to rescue develops into something that could be damaging.
1. Your self-esteem is based on your ability to rescue others.
People with this personality type take pride in their ability to save others from themselves. Their ability to rescue becomes the foundation of how they think and feel about themselves. Over time, that can lead the individual toward intimate relationships that are unhealthy because the rescuer believes they can save that person. In a way, rescuers can sense emotional issues, then fixate upon them, trying to heal the other person while they become damaged.
2. You feel abandoned.
People tend to develop the rescuer personality type after they were abandoned by loved ones at some point in their lives. It can develop as early as adolescence, when a child is forced to rescue a parent from their destructive habits, such as drug use or alcoholism. Because they had to save others then, they feel like it is their destiny to become a rescuer. Memories of abandonment might be temporarily eased when someone is helped, but for the rescuer, their personal feelings are never fully soothed. They’re forced to get another fix.
3. You idealize the neediest people in your life.
Sigmund Freud would have a lot to say about the modern rescuer. Freud infantilized the concepts of love and attachment. Rescuers do the same thing to the people they feel like need their help. This can be very destructive when it occurs in an intimate partnership. The partner is placed onto a pedestal, then treated in a way where that person becomes unable to care for themselves. You create a healthy dependence in the other person, while developing one yourself.
4. You feel like everything must be micromanaged.
People who are rescuers become very focused on the decisions that are made by others. They develop a sense of morality that defines “right” and “wrong” decisions that are made. Then the rescuer attempts to stop every wrong decision they can, believing that this method of micromanagement helps the other person learn healthier life habits. What really happens in this situation is that the rescuer is taking the focus off their own issues to address what they see in others. It’s a lot like the concept of taking the speck out of the eye of someone before taking the plank out of your own.
5. You manipulate people when they feel distant from you.
People who are rescuers do not like it when the people they try to help attempt to establish a level of independence. At this stage of the relationship, there is nothing that is out-of-bounds to reel that person back. Emotional manipulation to the extent where one person is made to feel helpless without the support of the other, is used to remove the distance that occurs. Rescuers find ways to make the other person rely on you for support and feedback.
Where It Becomes Dangerous to Be a Rescuer
There can be many mood swings experienced by someone who has the rescuer personality. Unless that person wishes to confront their feelings of abandonment or other deep-seated issues which generate a desire to be needed, the best way to stabilize one’s mood is to commit to someone who actually needs rescuing.
That means the rescuer will always be an essential part of their partner’s life. There will always be something that needs to be done, some obstacle to overcome, or some noble mission that requires their help. It allows their actions to become more about their partner’s survival than it is about their need to help others as a way to define their self-worth.
If the person chosen is a mentally healthy individual, the rescuer can settle into a good life and even begin to let the negative feelings caused by past abandonment begin to disappear.
It is when the person chosen is in an unhealthy state of mind that dangerous issues can begin to appear. Rescuers can be powerful enablers. When their partners are alcoholics, addicts, runaways, or adult infants, their actions can encourage the behavior of their partner.
That’s because the rescuer will do whatever it is that the other person refuses to do for themselves.
How to Stop Enabling as a Rescuer Personality
There is only one way to stop the enabling facet of the rescuer personality. The rescuer must step aside to see if the other person can actually do what they’re unwilling to do normally. Watch what happens.
The usual result is a temper tantrum of some type. Some people react by seeking out pity when they are no longer being enabled. A few even become sicker, needier, or may even threaten to kill themselves if their enabling support is not restored.
What is unique here is that the people who play the victim, which attract rescuers, will become bullies when the rescuer stops what they’re doing.
Many rescuers eventually overcome this personality disorder because their authentic self begins to scream at them. They fight through years of resentment and frustration to begin working on themselves first. Even then, the first steps toward personal recovery often make the rescuer feel like a bad person.
There are times when people do need to be rescued. There are also times when others can rescue themselves. Recognizing that is often the most difficult task a rescuer encounters.
Crystal Lombardo has been a staff writer for Future of Working for five years. She is a proud veteran and mother. If you have any questions about the content of this blog post, then please send our editor-in-chief a message here.