Look at the possible origins and motivations for your white knight rescuing behavior, and the consequence rescuing relationships you have with your romantic partners. But to rescue yourself from these unhealthy relationships, you must first look at the relationship you have with yourself. Rescuing yourself involves self-reflecting; that is, observing yourself, thinking about how your behavior in your intimate relationships may represent your own inner conflicts, and giving consideration to what you are actually needing or seeking. One must look at the importance of self-perspective.
Self-perspective involves looking at yourself objectively. As a white knight, the person you rescue is, in part, experienced as an extension of yourself. This leads you to disregard your own inner conflicts, interferes with your ability to accurately assess your own or your partner's behavior, and obscures determining whose needs are really being satisfied. Gaining self-perspective requires that you observe and evaluate who you are in your relationship, and discover what you actually need or seek for yourself.
Driven by his/her conscience, an overly empathic white knight will anticipate his/her partner's needs and provide her/him with nurturing and esteem: what she actually needs for herself yet feels she does not deserve. If, for example, you had a self-centered mother, you may have grown up never receiving the validation that you needed as a child. Such was the case of one overly empathic white knight we studied who tried to rescue her partner by trying to help him get his business going and thereby increase his self esteem. But what this white knight was actually trying to obtain, was validation that had been missing in her own childhood.
A tarnished white knight rescues his partner to minimize awareness of his own vulnerability, and to hide from himself his feelings of shame and inadequacy that result from failing to live up to his ideals. The example of Tom, whose parents did not hide the disappointment they felt about his academic struggles, which led Tom to feel shamed as a child. As an adult, Tom tried to make his wife feel shameful and inadequate by being critical and inciting her to feel jealous, which then placed him in the position of being the rescuer from the very feelings he had caused her to feel.
Rescuers who fall into our subcategory of the terrorizing/terrified white knight may impose their own intense fear on their partners through rigid control and physically abusive behavior. Looking at Lexie, who grew up in a terribly frightening and unstable environment. She became so abusive towards, and controlling of, her partner that the police had to be called.
Since you cannot rescue yourself through a proxy, you will have to let go of your unhealthy rescuing relationship to become aware of what you really need. This involves facing your misguided hope that your rescuing behavior will provide you with what you need, and coping with the aftereffects of another failed relationship. Reclaiming what you may have projected onto your partner and examining the beliefs that led to your rescuing behavior in the first place will help you to separate who you are and what you need from your partner's identity.
Published on January 9, 2010 by Mary C. Lamia, Ph.D.
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