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This article is extremely helpful as I begin to understand the dynamics of how this type of "game" played out in a small organization. A wonderful mentor was the first to advise me of a staffer who was using what she described as a "victim perpetrator" approach, similar to what you describe as the Victim/Persecutor/Rescuer game.

Sadly, I learned about those dynamics too late to do much about it and the two people who lead an unfounded smear campaign tore apart the organization along with it's ability to fully serve the public. The biggest loosers were the children and families who were supposed to be served and the donors who gave their funds to support the work. The work has been forever changed by two people whose self-righteous, indignant behaviors wouldn't allow them to look into their own mirror and to address things in a more open, professional manner.

I'm sorry to hear that but I know it is true. I hope you don't blame yourself for not being able to stop the behavior. Only those who are responsible for perpetrating it can alter their own behavior. Thank you for sharing just how damaging this behavior can be and how innocent people are harmed by its enactment.

Thanks for posting this. I read this a long time ago and I remember taking it to literally, as I think I still do. For a long time I took it to mean that you shouldn't try to help any one or you are enabling and you shouldn't want to save people from suffering because you're being selfish. There is absolutely validity in that and we absolutely must be honest with ourselves if we are seeking or giving help. But there are genuine situations where we all as human beings need each other. I think being aware of this whole triangle of abusive behaviors from each side of the triangle, we can actually learn not only how to be there for ourselves but how to truly love and be there for each other in ways that are not manipulative, forced, or controlling. I love being there for people and I love it when people want to be there for me. (Interestingly it just plain feels good when people WANT to be there for me, it's not really important to me that they do anything at all)

Getting to be the hero is fun. It's completely understandable that many of us as humans desire to save people from genuine suffering. And actually, as long as awareness is given to the dangers of taking away a "victims" power and holding them in that role, who doesn't want to protect, defend, and rescue those that they love if it's needed?

And man, there is a lot of genuine suffering. Sometimes even when people are giving it their all (which is kind of rare) there's just still real genuine suffering. I think caring about people experiencing suffering is an important part of our humanness. Instead of thinking of yourself or anyone around you you care about in terms of "victim" just care about human being and what they experience. It allows you to see instead of a victim, or a client, or a hero, just a human being who is passing through an experience.

I dunno just some thoughts I've had over the years after reading about this common type of human interaction.

Hi Nony,

You are absolutely right and thank you for making this point. If I didn't believe in helping people I wouldn't be a therapist. So you are right in pointing out that not playing out this script does not mean to avoid helping anyone ever.

When talking to caseworkers about enabling and infantilizing I tell them not to work harder at saving someone than that person is working to save themselves. If you are working harder than the person you are trying to help something is wrong.

Also, you should not be helping people to the extent that you compromise yourself. One of my mentors asked me once how to save a drowning person. I naively answered that you jump in and try to pull them ashore. He pointed out that a drowning person is panicked and flailing. They will latch on to you and pull you under with them. The way to save a drowning person is to keep your own feet securely dug into the shore, throw them a life raft and pull them to you. I think this is a perfect metaphor.

I also agree with you that owning what you are getting out of it is very important and keeps the interaction honest. I often recommend to people that have been disabled and cannot work that they engage in volunteer work. It gets them out of the house and does amazing things for their self efficacy and self esteem. Helping others is also a good way to reduce depression.

There is so much suffering in the world and any kind hand we can offer to another should always be offered. But it should be offered with respect for their strength and intelligence. It should be offered openly and honestly. And it should be offered without pity.

Thank you again for the lucid and insightful feedback.

Can a marriage with this dynamic be saved? The wife is an alcoholic/drug abuser, in a 12-Step program now. The husband is the Rescurer since she was 18, she is now 36, and wants to control everything. It's subtle, but true. He blames her for their marriage woes, but then will come on to his wife's sisters when she is gone. So, he does his own things to destroy their marriage. They have two wonderful sons, and I wish, (I'm the wife's Mom), they could break this pattern you discussed here, and make their marriage really work. I believe they are both wanting to save their marriage, but fear their previous 'roles' will be too hard to drop. Thanks!

thanks for the great insight to getting off the triangle in life.I have been doing that with certain people and now am getting somewhat free because i have gone to some of them to get clarity and have been very honest about my issues and my part of how i have functioned in their life,some have not been too happy but others have understood.thanks so much..your site is great

You're very welcome.

Kellen, you wrote this;

If you are working harder than the person you are trying to help something is wrong.

Excelent stuff, that is just how I feel at times and have to stop to let them catch up because sometimes I feel that I'm helping too fast! But firstly, one must be aware that the person needing help is able to help themselves- that is the key, not just wanting to help themselves remain the victim. If you are a helper and feel your gut instinct telling you that something is wrong- stop; you have needs too and you do not need to become embroiled. Give the person the realization of the dynamics at work, hope that it will open their eyes, and then let them help themselves.

Great stuff Kellen, I wish I knew all this years ago, but then necessity brings insight.

"Necessity brings insight". I love that. I'm also a firm believer in trusting your instincts. Thanks for the feedback.

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