Beware of hero-victim relationship

My husband played professional football with a guy who was famous for his one-line locker room wisdoms. The two that I remember were, "You can't save 'em" and "Give 'em what they need, not what they want."

I'm pretty sure he was referring to groupies in both instances, but the sentiments are actually applicable to all sorts of situations.

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For this article I will focus on, "You can't save 'em." This should be the mantra of every person who has been the rescuer in a relationship. You know who you are.

Women rescuers are the ones who go for the misunderstood delinquent or the poor broken-hearted divorcee. They either try to save the troubled, but sensitive, bad boy from his own self-destruction, or they try to repair the wounds of the nice guy who has been battered and unfairly beat down by life.

Men also rescue. They do the night in shining armour thing for a delicate and fragile damsel in distress type. They purposely choose women who have low self-esteem or are anxious to the point that they can't function independently.

Although everyone likes to have someone take care of them and help them in times of need, and everyone likes how it feels to be the hero who saves someone, rescuing is not love. The two are often mistaken because rescuing does feel good at first and the response from others is very positive, but these good feelings shouldn't be confused for love.

Rescuing is not healthy in relationships because it requires that the other person stay in a state of neediness. Because the rescuer connects their self worth to being needed, they purposely take on people who are down trodden.

The problem is that rescuing requires controlling which keeps the other person weak and dependent.

Rescuing behaviour is not just about people who play the victim role. It is ultimately about the rescuer's own desire to be seen as the sacrificing saviour or the protective hero. If a hero-victim relationship matures with a power imbalance, the rescuer will start to feel drained and unappreciated for all of the efforts they have contributed.

Ultimately, the relationship will deteriorate under the resentment and often the person who was playing the role of the victim leaves to gain independence. Without a helpless victim or a lost cause, the rescuer ends up not quite knowing what to do with him or herself.

If you have rescuing tendencies, be careful because there is no shortage of new victims out there.

All rescuers can spot a vulnerable person in the crowd. It's usually an instant attraction.

If you are a rescuer by nature and you are tired of exhausting everything you have to help someone who can't be helped, or if you've got burned when your fragile bird got its wings and left you, you might want to rescue yourself. Jumping into another hero-victim relationship is going to have the same results.

The phrase "Can't save 'em" might be the simple grunts of a football player putting his jock strap on, but the meaning is poignant. If someone needs to be rescued, they have to do it themselves.

You can help them and encourage them, but you can't save them. Save yourself then enter into a reciprocal relationship with someone who is your equal.

Danielle Aldcorn, BSW, MA, is a registered clinical counsellor at Satori Integrative Health Centre.

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