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Rescuing Behavioral Personality Characteristics

Chapter 9: The Rescuing

Behavioral Personality Characteristics
Laying the Foundation:

Personality Traits of Low Self-Esteem
By: James J. Messina, Ph.D.


Rescuing Behavior Characteristics


Appearance to world of persons in the rescuing behavior role:

  • Overly responsible
  • High motivation to help others
  • Tendency to be stuck in their efforts to help change things
  • Very emotionally stable
  • Conscientious
  • Desire to be a “good person” no matter how treated by others
  • Seen as a “victim” due their treatment by troubled persons
  • Openly admit the existence of problems
  • Looks stuck in the situation, which creates problems for self
  • Irrational in loyalty to the troubled person, who takes advantage of him
  • A generous, selfless, good person who is being exploited
  • A burdened-down person who carries others on his shoulders
  • Tries to help out people in trouble at home, work, school, in the community, and in other social settings
  • Very tolerant of the bizarre and maladapted behaviors of troubled people
  • A sympathetic figure who is chronically taken advantage of
  • Inability to consider self first
  • Obsessively driven to care for others
  • Inability to be assertive and protect his own rights

Feelings inside persons in the rescuing behavior role:

  • Angry at the problems confronting the troubled people in their life
  • Angry at others in their life who do not reach out to help or assist the troubled people they come across
  • Resentful and angry about the chronic unhappiness the troubled people, whom they help, cause for them
  • Angry and resentful if the troubled persons can take care of or solve their own problems without assistance from the rescuer
  • Fear that if they don't help the troubled person, the person will be lost for life
  • Fear that they will be misjudged by others for not taking an active stance to help troubled persons
  • Anxious when in the presence of troubled people
  • So focused on the troubled person, they are not able to focus healthy attention on themselves
  • Guilt at not doing enough to help the troubled people in their life
  • Feelings of low self-esteem when the troubled people suffer relapses
  • Depression when they are caught up in a ``catch 22'' cycle of helping a troubled person who gets back on his feet just enough to relapse
  • Confusion as to which is the best course of action to take with the troubled person
  • Fear that they will be abandoned by the troubled persons in their lives
  • Fear that they will always be unhappy in a relationship with a troubled person who is unwilling to reform
  • Exhaustion over never being able to resolve the problems of the troubled person
  • Anger that they are the focus of other helpers who point out their rescuer behavior as unhealthy

Negative consequences of the rescuing behavior role:

  • Low self-esteem
  • The more active the rescuing, the more unlikely that the troubled persons' behavior will change or reform
  • The more active the rescuing, the deeper into denial of problems a troubled person can go
  • Strained relations with everyone else in the rescuer's life for whom they have no energy left
  • Other people involved with the troubled person become angry, hostile, and resentful of the rescuer's efforts since it seems to exacerbate the troubled person's behavior
  • Because rescuing behavior is not successful in changing the troubled person's behavior, the rescuer becomes more obsessive in their efforts
  • Due to failure and exhaustion, rescuers can become sour on good will and the caring attitudes of others
  • The rescuers can become so involved in the addictions of the troubled person that the cessation of the addiction becomes the number one priority in their lives
  • The rescuers have less and less time to maintain a social, athletic, friendship, or support network for themselves
  • The rescuers become so overwhelmed by their efforts to help that they can ignore their own health and well being, thus getting sick themselves
  • The rescuers who consistently fail to change things can lose self-confidence and eventually give in and join the troubled people in their troubled-behavior patterns
  • The rescuers can become so obsessive in pursuit of helping that they get caught up in a denial web, failing to see the negative consequences of their rescuing behavior
  • The rescuers can become resentful and turn against the very people they try to help when no change occurs
  • Rescuers look for recognition and are hurt and disappointed when they are not recognized for their good deeds

Some beliefs of persons in the rescuer behavioral role:

  • If I don't do it, nobody will!
  • They need my help!
  • They will fail without my help!
  • I can't stand by and see them suffer!
  • They are too weak to endure the pressures in their life!
  • I would not be able to live with myself if I did not help them.
  • If they died because I didn't help them, I would feel responsible.
  • I feel responsible for the welfare of them all.
  • I don't care if they crap on me; I will still help them.
  • It goes with the turf of helping people to be abused, accused, ignored, and blamed by them.
  • It doesn't matter if they never thank me for what I have done for them.
  • Just knowing I have helped them is a reward in itself.
  • These are rough times and kids need help to get through.
  • I know I'll always rescue him, even though I know it is not the best thing to do.
  • “Tough love” is a phrase that stands for no love at all.
  • How can you turn your back on someone who you know is hurting, sad, and alone, especially when it is one of your own?
  • I don't care if he changes his behavior. I'll always help him (or her) out if he (or she) is in a jam.
  • I love you and want to help you, so please come to me first, no matter what the problem is.
  • You can't take care of yourself; you need me.
  • No matter what happens, I just want him to know I love him

Turning negative rescuing behavior into positive potential:


Negative Rescuing Behavior: Overly responsible

Positive Potential: Over-responsibility can be converted into appropriate responsibility. The rescuers can be confronted reasonably and have the futility of their efforts pointed out to them. Their responsibility can be re-directed to themselves so that they don't ignore self in their efforts to help others.


Negative Rescuing Behavior: High motivation to help

Positive Potential: High motivation to help can be used to help themselves get out of an immobilizing strangle hold of trying to change the behavior of others at the expense of their own health.


Negative Rescuing Behavior: Appearing emotionally stable

Positive Potential: By taking off the mask of emotional stability, the rescuers can get help to recognize that they are as “sick” as the troubled people whom they are trying to help. By admitting emotional instability, the rescuers become more authentic and more likely to get help for themselves.


Negative Rescuing Behavior: Overly conscientious

Positive Potential: Being overly conscientious can be converted to being personally conscientious about helping themselves. Not being able to let go of troubled people for fear of what others might think drains their personal resources and energy, making them vulnerable to illness.


Negative Rescuing Behavior: Being a good person

Positive Potential: You can't always be a good guy. Helping other people to accept personal responsibility for themselves means that a helper might need to be “mean” and leave the people alone to solve the problems on their own. They can be “good guys” once the troubled people accept the challenge to change themselves.


Negative Rescuing Behavior: Victim

Positive Potential: Victims who know they are victims are martyrs and therefore choose to be stepped on by others. Victims are to be pitied, but rescuers are usually not victims, but martyrs and are not to be sympathized with. When rescuers recognize this fact they can change their behavior with troubled people, no longer placing themselves in “victim-like” or martyr roles.


Negative Rescuing Behavior: Open admission of problems of troubled persons

Positive Potential: The admission of problems is good behavior when rescuing people openly admit that the rescuing behavior is unhealthy. Admitting that rescuing behavior is problem behavior is the first step in helping rescuers change in order to regain their own health.


Negative Rescuing Behavior: Selfless and generous

Positive Potential: Rescuers are often exploited. This behavior can be converted so that the generosity is aimed at themselves with the rescuers recognizing that a certain degree of selfishness is healthy if it means that their personal energy and health are protected from exploitation and abuse


Negative Rescuing Behavior: Loyalty

Positive Potential: Loyalty to their loved and troubled people can be converted to loyalty to self. This change is essential for the rescuers to be able to begin taking care of their personal health and wellbeing.


Negative Rescuing Behavior: Over-tolerance of bizarre behaviors

Positive Potential: Over-tolerance needs to be converted so that the rescuers are able to recognize what is “sick” in their relationship with the troubled people. Once they recognize the “sick” behavior they will be in a better position to react to the troubled people in a rational and healthy manner.