The White Knight "Symptom"

I have a confession: I have a big steed and I love being able to ride in on it and help out when anyone needs it. It’s not white, four-legged or hairy. It’s blue, four-wheeled and has about 250 horses pushing it down the road. I love having a truck. It’s not a gender thing, it’s not a power thing – it’s just me. Not only do I love having a truck but you will never see this sticker on it:

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If I am available I will help you. Something to pick up? Tell me when and where. A trailer to pull? Tell me how heavy and how far. I enjoy having the right tool for the job. I like riding in and being part of the solution. But as I have contemplated changing gender roles in our culture, I’ve taken a step back and had a second look at that attitude. I’ve realized that what I intend as helpful can be perceived as condescending. I’ve experienced that look from the guy when I was buying oil and he proceeded to explain to me what an oil filter is (Really mister? Didn’t you see me pull up in a truck!)

What is it that gives me such satisfaction from being able to help and what is it that drives the way someone else perceives that? How do I really feel when someone offers to help me? Perhaps the worst feeling comes when someone gets to help someone and I don’t (it’s like good deed jousting!).

If you do much searching on “rescuing” or “being rescued”, you will come across an onslaught of articles and more than a few books on “The White Knight Syndrome” as well is its feminine fairytale counterpart, “The Cinderella Syndrome.” The need or desire to rescue or be rescued seems to have been the subject of both fantasy writers and psycho analysts since either of them came into being. While culturally the rescuer is often male and the one being rescued female, both genders are more than capable of taking on either role.

I have seen the pattern in my own life – playing both the conquering hero and the hopeless victim. As I’ve read about both sides of the coin, I’ve come to take issue with using either as a label or even classifying them as a syndrome. dictionary.com lists a “syndrome” as “a group of symptoms that together are characteristic of a specific disorder, disease, or the like.”

In my opinion, based simply on observations of my own life and experience, the need to rescue or be rescued are symptoms more than syndromes. It’s an important distinction because when we recognize a symptom, we also recognize that our work here is not done: we have to take the next step and ask “a symptom of what?”

From the bulk of the material out there there are a few possible answers:

1) Narcissism – an individual may have such an exaggerated view of themselves that they believe they owe it to everyone else to save them

2) Insecurity – one may be seeking to make up for self-assigned inadequacies in relationships, professionalism or other interests by either rescuing or allowing themselves to need a rescuer

3) Manipulation – the perpetual need to be rescued may be an attempt to control well intentioned, would be “heroes” in order to meet a persons own emotional or physical needs.

4) Trauma – someone who has experienced a trauma may be looking for a way to regain a sense of control over their lives by rescuing others or may be caught in a victim mentality and constantly express the need to be rescued

5) Love & Friendship – hardly a bad thing, but what one person perceives as a “rescue” may be an “act of service” (see The Five Love Languages) intended to express affection

Regardless of the motive, attitude or driving force behind the action – the whole process by default requires two participants. In order to for the action to not reinforce an unhealthy mindset on either end, it has to be both presented and received in a healthy manor.

Personally, I see how my desire to ride in on “big blue” (I never actually call it that) is driven by both potentially healthy and unhealthy motives. With the exception of narcissist, I can put myself in all of the above boxes in some way or another. To help maintain a sense of balance, I’ve come up with a few “test questions” to ask myself when I’m given the opportunity or feel the compulsion to help (not necessarily in order):

1) Does the person I’m helping really want my help, or is this about me?

2) How would I feel if they don’t want my help? Would I hold it against them or somehow feel inadequate?

3) Do I have the resources to do this: time, skills, tools, gas, money

4) If they are asking or agreeing, do they want me to help or take over?

5) How do I expect myself to feel when I’m done? Am I expecting anything I return?

Obviously, I’m just scratching the surface of this subject. There is a whole lot more to be said here in the context of culture and gender, people pleasing, codependency, etc.

Any thoughts on how you keep a balance of the need to rescue or be rescued in your own life?

While you think about that, The Blue Ox (I never call it that either) and I will be roaming the hill country – looking for a boat to pull, a dryer to deliver or a big other something that needs doin’.

4 thoughts on “The White Knight "Symptom"

  1. Glad you’re exploring this. I would guess most people act in a way that they think serves their best interests (gets them what they want) without hurting others. We enter into “transactions” where we barter the exchange of what we want when it involves more than ouselves. Just my two cents.

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