Rad Pal vs. Rescuer
By Laura Taylor
The mark of a good friend can be interest in their lives, focusing on what our pals are feeling, their dramas, struggles and heartache. However, it can also be a slippery slope into Rescuer territory, a dangerous and exhausting place of self-evasion. Burn-out is becoming commonplace in our circles, and coming off the back end of a lengthy stretch of it we put on our Psych 101 hats for a condensed piece on the Karp Drama Triangle. We won’t promise it will change your life, but it might improve your day.
I am probably going to butcher this, so please do go read this fabulous summary here.
The drama triangle has three entry points, Rescuer, Persecutor and Victim. Where you enter on the triangle is based on a bunch of factors but you can bet your childhood had something to do with it. Turns out those formative years are exactly that, but good news; you aren't confined to a box of whatever has happened to you. I want to make a point that while this stuff is great, it’s also not the be all end all - just one way of understanding and expanding your fab self.
Typically, the three points are characterised by the following:
Starting gate Rescuers (SGR) see themselves as “helpers” and “caretakers.”
Starting gate Persecutors (SGP) identify as victims, usually in complete denial about their blaming tactics.
Starting Gate Victim’s (SGV's) believe they cannot take care of themselves.
Coming in hot as a Rescuer, reading about the triangle was a bit like reading my own soul. I remember at one (low) point, I had a list of all the people in my life and I would go through and tick them off when I had checked in with them, so saddened by the narrative I’d bought into that people may be needing support and not getting it because I had forgotten them. Likewise, I felt constantly exhausted, terrified to ask people to meet my own needs or more importantly establishing with myself what own needs were. My existence and purpose was tethered to supporting those around me, because somewhere down the line I pushed my own needs underground:
“behind it all was a magical belief that, said out loud, might sound like, “If I take care of them long enough, then, sooner or later, they will take care of me too.”
Foolproof right? Wrong! Because it never, ever works. The rescuer gets attacked by the persecutor, taken advantage of by victims and almost always comes away never feeling good enough/worthy of love. Not because they aren't loved or cared about, but because their sense of self-worth is rooted in what they are giving/receiving from eveeeryone else - which is not sustainable or healthy.
What blows my mind about this, is whilst you enter it at one ‘gate’, you move around the triangle when presented with a challenge. And people who are really stuck can go through this process all day.
Here’s a very teeny example. Everyone at work is feeling a bit down, so you decide it is up to you to cheer them all up (Rescuer) and you offer to buy everyone pizza for lunch. But when it comes lunchtime, nobody offers to go with you to pick it up. You start to feel super bitter that nobody wants to help you out, despite your offer to buy them all lunch (Persecutor), and it must be because nobody actually cares about you (Victim). And just like that, you’ve gone through the entire cycle in about 30 seconds.
Nobody likes a martyr, and that is where this road leads. It’s a sad, hate-filled hamster wheel of unhappiness and the only way off for a Rescuer is perhaps the hardest thing of all - stop caring.
Reading that can put all kinds of thoughts into your head, but what if people don’t like me anymore? What if they can’t cope without me? I don’t want to be a cold person! None of the above holds truth my friend. You don’t have to turn off your heart, it’s about not being consumed by a need to look after everyone around you and neglect yourself. By not caring so much, you empower others to care more about themselves, and most importantly, give yourself time to like and love yourself.
The classic mark of a Rescuer is they learn to believe their needs don’t matter. By shifting your focus from everyone else, you will learn to actually listen to your needs more, and stop running from yourself! Because if you are reading this, you are most likely an absolute babe (with great blog taste) that could learn a thing or two from listening to your heart. We’ve said it before, you are responsible for yourself. By uninvitingly pre-empting the needs of others, you are trying to take on their responsibility and avoid your own. Which will just anger a persecutor, disempower a victim and set you up for some serious self-hatred and burnout in the long-run.
So how do we do it? How do you know when you are crossing the line between compassion and compulsion? The clue is in the motive. If you are feeling compelled by guilt, shame, burden - it’s likely you are about to make yourself someone else’s saviour - uninvited and probably unwanted. Compassion is a beautiful thing, and most people could use more of it! But in order to remain in the literal friendzone, be wary of that line. It will feel weird at first pulling back, but you’ll negotiate the balance and eventually will be throwing out healthy love left right and centre.
To gage where you are at, here is my questionnaire. I’m going to call it Rad-pal or Rescuer? (some may or may not be from personal experience).
Your friend’s been dumped by her boyfriend and she’s distraught, you:
a) Call in sick to work, bake a cake and spend your monthly savings on some Zoe & Morgan jewellery to cheer her up
b) Keep your phone on during the day and book a table at a beaut BYO for some tearful yarns
Your anxious friend blasts you on 5 diff forms of communication (again) asking questions, you:
a) Snap, text and message calming words back and cancel your dinner plans to drive straight around.
b) Check if she needs imminent assistance, but otherwise plan for a time next week to catch up and chat about dealing with the issue at hand.
Your boss is complaining that there is so much work to do, you:
a) Offer to come in tomorrow (Saturday) to help out, unpaid, and you won’t take no for an answer
b) Ask if there is any way you could ease the workload, perhaps by allocating tasks to the interns?
Your pal gets sick w appendicitis and is in the hospital, you:
a) Cry that life is so unfair and refuse to leave her bedside even when the nurses ask you to please.get.out.
b) Pop in with some flowers and a mag and actually edible food
Can you feel the difference? One is a bit crazy, drama-filled and reactive, the other is supportive, empowering and sensible. Rad Pals 4eva xxx