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White Knight Syndrome Part 1 of 4: Who Wants To Be Rescued?

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Unhealthy relationships

White Knight Syndrome Part 1 of 4: Who Wants To Be Rescued?

Who attracts a white knight?

Rescued partners are as varied as the white knights who rescue them. We found that rescued partners could be grouped according to common traits and characteristics that could be separated into two primary categories. The first category, the helpless rescued, are those who appear passive, needy, and weak. The second category, the rapacious rescued, are covertly predatory and have an aggressive style. Within each category we created subtypes of rescued partners.

In this blog, we review the Helpless Rescued and the first two of the four subtypes within that category. Our upcoming blogs will explore the remaining two subtypes of the Helpless Rescued, as well as the Rapacious Rescued. Keep in mind that people are complex and rarely can anyone be considered a pure form of any given type.

The Helpless Rescued

This rescued partner wants and needs someone to support, advise, and take care of her. She may even tolerate abuse or sexual exploitation in order to stay connected to her partner. Loss and abandonment are especially threatening. She fears being alone, feels powerless, and requires others to help her make decisions. The subtypes of the Helpless Rescued are The Depressed, Dependent, Self-defeating, and Anxious Worriers.

The Depressed

Most depressed individuals can be separated into two main types (Blatt 2004; Blatt and Maroudas 1992). The socially dependent type is emotionally dependent on others and preoccupied with interpersonal relationships. This socially dependent type of depressed person is clingy and experiences feelings of emptiness and shame (PDM Task Force 2006). She externalizes, attributing the cause of her feelings to her relationship. A partner who is socially dependent and depressed is compelled to cling to a white knight and seek his reassurance and support.

The second type of depressed individual is self-critical and attributes an internal cause to his depressed symptoms (Blatt and Maroudas 1992; PDM Task Force 2006). He blames himself for his relationship difficulties, which in turn affects his self-esteem. He may be perfectionistic while doubting his self worth. The self-critical type tends to idealize others (PDM Task Force 2006). Consequently, she is likely to idealize a white knight and place an extraordinary value on his positive assessment of her.

Indications that you have rescued a helpless/depressed partner typically include some of the following:
• Your partner is unable to recognize that she can affect her situation or mood.
• Your partner believes that his life circumstances preclude him from achieving the same level of happiness and he observes in others.
• Your partner is extremely self-conscious and requires your approval.
• Negativity and pessimism color your partner’s perceptions of others and the world.
• Your partner’s suffering seems impossible for you to change; however, glimmers of positive feeling and her brief moments of joy give you endless hope.
• You experience your partner’s issues as a heaviness within your chest.

The Dependent

A person who has an unhealthy dependency seeks constant reassurance and advice, is preoccupied with anxiety about his performance, and fears criticism and abandonment (Bornstein 1993). Because the goal of the dependent person is to obtain nurturing and support from a relationship, he is often mistakenly judged as passive or compliant. However, many dependent people actively search for a rescuer (Bornstein 1992).

Dependent relationships have been linked to desperate love: an anxious attachment characterized by difficulty in being separated from the partner,depression, clinging, or rage (Sperling and Berman 1991). When separated from her significant other, the dependent partner will often immediately find another rescuer. It is as though the dependent rescued finds self definition through belonging to the white knight, and derives self-esteem from the white knight’s identity. For example, a dependent partner may be attracted to the real or imagined power of a white knight because she wants that power for herself.

A white knight can mistake his partner’s anxiety about separation for an expression of love or desire, and her need for advice or assistance as a compliment to his superior judgment. An overly empathic white knight who wants to leave a relationship may feel guilty about a desperate reaction on the part of his helpless dependent partner, and rescue her once again- this time from his wish to leave. A tarnished or terrorizing/terrified white knight might feel more secure and more in control with a dependent partner.

Indications that you have rescued a helpless/dependent partner typically include some of the following:
• Your partner’s behavior is submissive and passive.
• You do all of the caregiving and have all of the power.
• Decisions are often difficult for your partner to make without your input.
• Your partner seems to require your help in order to be successful.
• At times, you may consider your partner’s needs annoying.
• You find that your partner always wants to accompany you wherever you go.

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This blog is in no way intended as a substitute for medical or psychological counseling. If expert assistance or counseling is needed, the services of a competent professional should be sought.

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Dr. Mary Lamia is a clinical psychologist and psychoanalyst who works with adults, couples, adolescents, and preteens in her Marin County private practice. She is a professor at the Wright Institute in Berkeley, California. Extending psychological knowledge to the public has been her endeavor for thirty years. Dr. Lamia’s opinion has been sought in hundreds of television, radio, and print media interviews and discussions, and for nearly a decade she hosted a weekly call-in talk show, KidTalk with Dr. Mary, on Radio Disney stations. Her books include: Emotions! Making Sense of Your Feelings; Understanding Myself: A Kid’s Guide to Intense Emotions and Strong Feelings: and, The White Knight Syndrome: Rescuing Yourself From Your Need to Rescue Others.



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