The Knowledge Center

Our Knowledge Center Blog provides valuable insight into the world of psychiatry and psychology.

The Game Of Rescue: BE Careful, You May Become A Victim.

Offering to help someone who is in need of assistance just seems like the right thing to do. We’ve all had the opportunity to lend a helping hand, or go out of our way for a friend, relative or even a total stranger. The scene, more than twenty-five years ago, of that fireman diving into the freezing waters of the Potomac River to save victims of a passenger jet that crashed while taking off from National Airport during an ice storm lingers in my mind. We praise the heroic actions of first responders who risk everything to save total strangers. So, when someone who is familiar to you asks for help would you rush to assist them and do whatever is required? We’ve heard it said: ‘A friend is a friend – no matter what!” What if that “friend” is engaged in a behavior that violates the law or, your moral judgment. What if their behavior is, in some way, pathological? In those cases, helping that individual might wind up jeopardizing you. Your intentions were honorable but you wound up in trouble or having a major problem!

The complexities of our interactions became the focus of a theoretic formulation known as Transactional Analysis. TA is a method of analyzing and understanding communications and interactions ( transactions) between individuals. The goal of TA is to eliminate dysfunctional behaviors and develop effective coping strategies in our relationships. Clients learn to identify disruptive interactions and replace them with direct, Adult – Adult, communications.

Eric Berne developed the concepts of TA after extensive study and training in traditional therapy and the practice of psychiatry and psychology. He suggested that we develop “life scripts” early in our development that influence how each individual chooses to live and behave. The role of therapeutic intervention would be to “re-write” destructive and self-limiting script messages.

As a result of problematic script messages and learned styles of interacting, Berne noted that we develop dysfunctional patterns – called Games – in which we intend to gain positive “strokes” but actually reinforce negative feelings. Further, Games can be a way of interacting while avoiding intimacy (intimacy here defined as revealing the “real self” to others). Take, for example, the game of “Psychiatry.” You meet someone at a party. He is quite engaging and asks many questions about you. He seems interested in you and appears to be a good listener. However, when the conversation ends, you realize that he has revealed nohting of himself – thus avoiding intimacy. A second example is a game called “General Motors.” Same party: a bunch of guys stand around talking about the virtues and limits of Camaros and Corvettes. In the end, after a discussion of camshafts, transmissions and engine displacement, they part knowing nothing about each other. They interacted, but easily and skillfully avoided any personal knowledge of one another.

You may have heard the saying: “No good turn goes unpunished.” If we offer to help someone who has not requested it, we force them into the role of a “Victim.” They can easily turn and become hostile toward us, shifting from “Victim” to “Persecutor.” Claude Steiner points out that we are encouraged to be selfless, generous and cooperative with people, even if they are deceitful, selfish, stingy and uncooperative with us. Engaging in this type of interaction is guaranteed to take us from the position of “Rescuer” to the “Victim” position while the so-called “Victim” becomes the “Persecutor.”

In the game of “Rescue,” the Rescuer (that’s you) views that problematic, needy person as the “Victim” and thinks: I’ll save you!” As the paradigm progresses, the “Rescuer” becomes the “Victim” and the “Victim” becomes the “Persecutor.” Let’s look at a real life example.
rescue triangle

Archie (not his real name), a recovering alcoholic, was planning to go out on New Years’ Eve. He had tickets to a fancy gala and had rented a tuxedo. His date lived some distance away and he had planned to leave his house no later than six o’clock.

Early in the afternoon, he received a call from Edith(not her real name) whom he had met at a meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous. She was “in a jam” and asked if she could borrow his car for a brief errand. Archie quickly agreed (boosting his own ego and self esteem) and told her to return the vehicle by 4 o’clock . “No problem,” she replied, as Archie watched his washed and freshly waxed car roll out of the driveway.

Of course, 4 o’clock came and went with no sign of Edith. By 5 o’clock Archie, agitated and concerned, started calling some of Edith’s favorite haunts (bars). He located her at a neighborhood pub and asked her to bring the car back immediately – she (now drunk) hung up on him. Furious, he called the police and reported the car stolen. He told them where the vehicle could be found and the police went to the bar to confront Edith.

When they arrived, Edith told them that Archie had assaulted her and she had “fled for her life!” She filed assault charges against Archie and the police arrested him! Archie spent the evening at the police station, in his tuxedo. By the time he had arranged bail and was released, it was too late to go out- Happy New Year, Archie! The “Rescuer” had become the “Victim” and the “Victim” had become the “Persecutor.”

There are countless examples of this paradigm: the house guest who never left; the loan that was never repaid. However, the key to avoiding the game of Rescue is to carefully analyze whether the alleged “Victim” is really a victim; or have they created their own problem. After all, we are each responsible for our own behaviors. What is the “payoff” for you as the “Rescuer?” If you can understand your own motivation and can take an objective look at the so-called victim, you may discover your own co-dependency or realize that you are “enabling” the pathology of the other person.

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