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White Knight Syndrome Part 2 of 4: Helpless Rescued Partners

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Unhealthy relationships

White Knight Syndrome Part 2 of 4: Helpless Rescued Partners

Our previous article reviewed two subtypes from the Helpless Rescued category the Depressed and the Dependent, and how and why people with white knight syndrome find them attractive. This blog describes the other two subtypes of the Helpless Rescued. Our upcoming articles will explore the second category of rescued partners, the Rapacious Rescued.

The Self Defeating
The self-defeating partner presents himself as a victim of circumstances, and feels overwhelmed, powerless, or fearful. Because he feels guilty or shameful about himself, he fears that others will discover his inadequacies, and may hide behind his own inaction. You may feel compelled to constantly reassure him that he is deserving that various matters are not his fault or offer him solutions. At other times, you find yourself annoyed because of the indirect ways he expresses himself when he is angry at you, such as sulking or “forgetting.”

A self-defeating person can suffer terribly from her own behavior, while wanting understanding and validation from her partner for all of the injustices that have been done to her. Any hint you may give that suggests she may be contributing to her own difficulties will result in her feeling angry, rejected, mistreated, or misunderstood. Then she may become panicked that you will leave her, which may evoke your own feelings of guilt.

Someone who is self-defeating is impossible to rescue. Initially, your support appears to make a difference, which confirms your hope that you have provided what she needed. But when your intermittently sober partner is once again found intoxicated, has again lost her job because she was chronically late, or she has procrastinated to the point of losing an opportunity, you may be the one who then feels inadequate and defeated.
Indications that you have rescued a helpless/self-defeating partner typically include some of the following:

•Your partner is quick to help you with your responsibilities but chronically ignores his own.
•Her complaints about bodily symptoms, social interactions, or the stress she is undergoing seem constant and endless.
•Initially, you feel sympathy and compassion for your partner’s difficulties, but eventually you feel angry and helpless.
•Your partner chooses to isolate himself, yet he becomes distressed when he is left out.
•Your partner always has an excuse for his disappointment, lack of forward movement, or failure to follow through.
•You feel guilty about leaving your partner or hurting his feelings by confronting him about his behavior.
•Your partner is unable to express her anger appropriately and directly. Instead, she expresses her anger passively by forgetting,sulking, or making an “innocent” mistake that negatively affects you.

The Anxious Worrier
The anxious worrier agonizes about everything, compelling you to comfort and reassure her. She may be quite successful in her work, although she complains about what she has to do, and always doubts that she will successfully complete her tasks. Her constant worry and inability to get a good night’s sleep add to her irritability. Her white-knight partner is helpful, understanding, seduced by her needs, and always believes he can make everything better.

Healthy people who feel anxious or worried either figure out what they can do to make things better or recognize that they must accept circumstances that are beyond their control. The anxious worrier, however, is convinced that something bad is going to happen, and she can’t stop herself from worrying about the situation. When worry interferes with one’s daily routine, having someone near can be comforting. This gives the white knight an opportunity to rescue simply by being nearby or providing reassurance.

Dependency that is based on one partner’s anxiety can keep a couple together, even though the dependency itself may be unhealthy. For example, one anxious worrier spent the twenty years following her sister’s diagnosis of multiple sclerosis worrying that she would develop the illness. Prior to her sister’s diagnosis, she had considered leaving her spouse. However, her constant fear of becoming disabled kept her in the marriage.

Indications that you have rescued a helpless/anxious worrier typically include some of the following:
•Your partner awakens in the middle of the night and needs you to comfort her.
•Your partner’s worries or concerns are greatly exaggerated.
•If something does not go your partner’s way, such as a job interview, she is devastated rather than able to pursue other options.
•Your partner feels helpless when faced with obstacles.
•Your partner’s every worry always seems to lead to another.
•Your partner is often concerned that something is physically wrong with her.
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This article 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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