Toxic Drama 104: The Role of Rescuer

Competencies and Learning Objectives:

  1. Examples of the role of Rescuer in relationships
  2. Examples of the role of Rescuer in thinking
  3. Examples of the role of Rescuer in dreaming
  4. Why people need to recognize and avoid the role of Rescuer
  5. Why it is difficult to escape the Rescuer role
  6. Strategies for outgrowing the role of Rescuer in all three domains
  7. Why and how aligning your priorities with the priorities of life compass keeps you out of the role of Rescuer

What is the relevance of the role of Rescuer in the Drama Triangle for IDL?

If you play the Rescuer with your coaching clients you will be looking for validation that you are a good, effective coach. This will get in the way of your client’s learning process because your own needs will get in the way of hearing them and seeing what they need. Instead, you are more likely to project onto them what you think they need. This is one of the major reasons why IDL relies on interviewing: it allows us to check our understandings, assumptions, interpretations, and projections regarding what we think our subjects need against their own stated life issues and the priorities of interviewed emerging potentials. 

Examples of the role of Rescuer in your relationships

You will know that you are in the role of Rescuer when you find yourself overly involved in other people’s problems to the point of neglecting your own needs. This can create generate a sense of importance and purpose in your life via constantly helping and fixing. Also, look for areas in your life where you have difficulty setting setting healthy boundaries. Do you take on responsibilities that aren’t yours? Do you get overly involved in others’ issues in ways that blur the lines between personal and interpersonal boundaries? Also look for signs of seeking validation and a sense of self-worth through helping others. This codependent pattern can lead to an imbalance in the relationship, where you consistently takes on the role of the Rescuer, while the other adopts either the Victim or Persecutor role. Rescuers unintentionally enable unhealthy behaviors in others by consistently swooping in to fix problems, preventing others from taking responsibility for their actions and hindering personal growth. If you find yourself feeling frustrated and resentful over time when your efforts are not appreciated or reciprocated you can be pretty sure you have allowed yourself to get sucked into the Rescuer role. Helping others to gain self-validation can be a way to avoid dealing with our own unresolved issues. By focusing on others, we can temporarily escape from our own challenges and emotions.

Examples of the role of Rescuer in your thoughts

Rescuers often have a tendency to view problems as challenges to be solved, which on the whole, is a very positive thing. However, Rescuers maintain a constant mental state of seeking solutions for others, sometimes at the expense of allowing people to learn through their own attempts at problem solving. Rescuers can find themselves frequently worrying about the well-being of others, which can lead to a preoccupation with potential problems and a sense of responsibility for preventing negative outcomes. The self-esteem of a rescuer may be closely tied to their ability to help and support others. Consequently, their sense of worth may fluctuate based on their perceived effectiveness in solving problems for others. Rescuers can find it challenging to accept help from others, feeling uncomfortable being the one who needs assistance, as it contradicts their habitual role of providing support. Rescuers can develop the habit of assuming responsibility for situations that are beyond their control, which can lead to feelings of guilt or inadequacy if they perceive themselves as unable to “rescue” someone or solve a particular problem. Because their thoughts are often consumed by the needs of others, Rescuers might neglect their own needs and priorities. Rescuers tend to seek validation and approval from others based on their helpful actions. Their self-esteem may depend on external feedback, and they may feel a constant need to prove their worth through acts of assistance. They may struggle to allow others to take responsibility for their own lives and decisions. This can stem from a fear that without the Rescuer’s involvement, things will fall apart.

Examples of the role of Rescuer in your dreams

Look for dreams which involve scenarios where you, or someone else, play the role of Rescuer, saving others from perceived threats or dangers. This can indicate a desire for validation, a need to be seen as helpful, or a fear of being powerless. Dreams might depict situations where you feel overwhelmed by taking on too many responsibilities for others. This could reflect an excessive need to fix other people’s problems, potentially to the detriment of your own well-being. Dreams may also depict situations where your attempts to rescue someone are unsuccessful or backfire. For example, for years before I met her and in the beginning of our relationship, my wife Claudia had recurring nightmares of failure to rescue beloved dogs in trouble. Such a pattern could suggest feelings of frustration or powerlessness in real-life situations where your efforts to help may not be appreciated or may not yield the desired outcomes. Of course, we do not know until we enquire of interviewed characters, in this case, Claudia’s dream dogs. If you find yourself repeatedly playing the role of the Rescuer in dreams, it could indicate a pattern of codependency or a tendency to get involved in others’ problems at the expense of your own needs. Dreams can also present scenarios where your rescue attempts lead to conflict with others. This could be a reflection of the dynamics in your waking life, where your desire to help may be perceived as intrusive or controlling.

Why we need to recognize and avoid the role of Rescuer

The Drama Triangle promotes dependence and dysfunction. Avoiding the Rescuer role encourages the cultivation of interdependence, where individuals support each other while maintaining their autonomy and personal responsibility. Getting out of the role of Rescuer prevents stress, exhaustion, and burnout. Common symptoms of burnout include chronic fatigue, lack of energy, and feeling drained. You might notice a decline in performance, increased cynicism or detachment from work, and a sense of inefficacy. Physical symptoms can include headaches, muscle pain, and changes in sleep patterns.  Getting out of the role of Rescuer also reduces codependency, where your  sense of self-worth is tied to helping and fixing others. Codependency involves excessive caretaking, difficulty setting boundaries, low self-esteem, fear of abandonment, a need for control in order to feel secure and avoid feelings of powerlessness, denial of personal needs, difficulty expressing emotions, and weak boundaries, often overstepping into others’ responsibilities.  Rescuing disempowers others by consistently taking charge of their problems. By avoiding this role you encourage others to take responsibility for their lives.  Avoiding the Rescuer role disrupts the perpetuation of unhealthy power dynamics in relationships, contributing to more balanced and equitable relationships where everyone is responsible for their own actions and well-being. You also reduce conflicts and power struggles within relationships that are caused by the dynamics of the Drama Triangle. Because the focus of rescuing others is primarily external, it hinders personal growth. Avoiding Rescuing allows the redirection of energy and life focus toward your own development, aspirations, and self-discovery.  Rescuing blocks intimacy and the ability to form authentic connections with others because interactions are often centered around solving problems rather than mutual support and understanding. The Drama Triangle is driven by a lack of awareness of how emotions can generate toxicity in relationships, thinking, and dreams. As you understand when and how you fall into the Rescuer role you develop a higher degree of emotional intelligence, including a deeper awareness of your emotions, motives, and the impact of Rescuing on relationships.

Why it is difficult to escape the Rescuer role

Because the Drama Triangle normally operates out of our conscious awareness, it is easy to continue to play the Rescuer role automatically, without conscious thought or consideration of its impact. Rescuers typically get enmeshed in codependent relationships, where there is an unhealthy reliance on each other for emotional fulfillment. Codependency creates a strong emotional bond that can make it difficult to disentangle from the role of Rescuer. Playing the Rescuer in the Drama Triangle derives a sense of purpose and identity from helping others, meaning rescuing becomes intertwined with your self-worth.That can make it difficult to step away, as it may feel like giving up a core aspect of who you are. When you Rescue, you seek validation and approval from others through your “helping” behaviors. The positive feedback and gratitude you receive creates a reinforcing cycle, making it challenging to break away due to the fear of losing external validation. When this gratitude and validation takes the form of financial reimbursement, the motivations to stay addicted to the role of Rescuer become very strong. Over time, the Rescuer role can become a habitual way of interacting with others. Breaking these established patterns requires self-awareness, commitment to change, and the development of new, healthier habits. As Upton Sinclair famously said, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”   When you Rescue, you may fear that if you stop “helping,” others will reject or abandon you. This fear can be deeply rooted in a need for external validation and a belief that your worth is contingent on your ability to rescue and solve problems for others. Engaging in the Rescuer role can serve as a distraction from your own personal issues. It becomes a way to avoid facing and dealing with your own challenges, vulnerabilities, and emotional needs. Rescuers may fear that stepping back from the role could lead to conflict within relationships. The unhealthy response is to  maintain the status quo to avoid confronting the conflict and avoid potential discord. If you feel a strong sense of guilt or obligation to help others, especially perceiving yourself as the only source of support of a dependent elder or a needy child, that guilt can be a powerful emotional force that keeps you trapped in the Rescuer role.  Rescuers struggle to see alternative ways of relating to others. The belief that helping is the only way to connect or be valued can make it difficult to envision different, healthier relationship dynamics. Do you find it challenging to say ‘no’ to requests for help, even when you are overwhelmed? If you do, that may point to a rationale for playing the Rescuer: it avoids awareness of a fear of disappointing others or a need for external validation.

Strategies for outgrowing the role of Rescuer in all three domains

To outgrow the role of Rescuer in relationships you need to establish boundaries, encourage personal responsibility, practice self-reflection, practice active listening and open communication, and seek reciprocal support. Establishing clear boundaries regarding your time, energy, and involvement in others’ issues is necessary to keep from slipping back into habitual rescuing. You have to recognize that it’s okay to prioritize your own well-being and needs. You encourage personal responsibility when you allow others to take responsibility for their actions and decisions without intervening. You can support and empower them to find their own solutions with interviewing and exposing them to different facets of Integral Deep Listening. That will allow you to validate others’ feelings and experiences without feeling the need to fix everything while focusing on listening rather than immediately offering solutions. Open communication is supported by asking for three life issues at the beginning of IDL interviews and by being clear about what a healthy, mutually supportive relationship means to you, including staying out of the Drama Triangle. Mutual support is provided in IDL through team learning and the reciprocation of interviewing, which neutralizes the expert/teacher-novice/student dichotomy while teaching interview skills.  To outgrow the role of Rescuer in how you think you need to learn to challenge automatic thoughts, shift your focus inward, cultivate self-compassion, explore personal growth, and accept imperfection. Challenging your automatic thoughts involves becoming aware of thoughts related to helping and rescuing others and challenging the belief that your worth is solely determined by your ability to help others. Redirect your focus inward to explore your own needs, desires, and aspirations. Again, asking for three life issues at the beginning of each interview is a way to first become aware of and then objectify needs that are often inchoate and undefined. Develop self-compassion by treating yourself with the same kindness and understanding you extend to others. Recognize that it’s okay to prioritize your own well-being. Engage in activities that promote personal growth and self-discovery, such as following recommendations that arise from the interviews you do. This will cause you to set goals that are centered around your own development and fulfillment, which will lead you away from the need to Rescue yourself and others. Rescuers are often attempting to gain validation that they are “OK.” One way to short-circuit this toxic dynamic is to accept that you, like everyone else, are not perfect and are allowed to have limitations. Embrace your imperfection as a part of the human experience. To outgrow the role of Rescuer in your dreams, look for dreams in which you assume the role of Rescuer. Look at how other interviewed characters view that behavior. Practice pre-sleep incubation in which you read over interviews in which you are out of the Rescuer role in order to encourage the repatterning of your dream life in ways that moves you out of toxic drama. In your dreams, explore the lucidity of recognizing when you are in the role of Rescuer and then choosing to stop or get out of that role. Identify with interviewed characters that do not rescue. As you practice becoming them in life situations in which you tend to rescue, you will find yourself outgrowing the need to do so. 

Why and how aligning your priorities with the priorities of life compass keeps you out of the role of Rescuer

Because your life compass has not been scripted by your family, culture, or society, it does not have priorities that are designed to please others, generate self-control, ensure physical, emotional, or relationship safety. Since our own priorities are largely focused on such things, the priorities of our life compass can seem remote and irrelevant to who we are and to the problems with which we are confronted in our day-to-day lives. The solution is not to jettison your own priorities but to supplement them with those of perspectives that are detached from our priorities and also from toxic drama. Priorities of your life compass do not orbit around Rescuing you, others, or the world, yet they are not indifferent. Instead, they shine a path forward toward greater healing, balancing, and transformation.

The role of Rescuer as an Adaptive Strategy

Rescuing can foster a sense of connection and closeness by helping and solving others’ problems. While in the short term, this can maintain or strengthen a relationships, it does so by fostering dependency and increasing the likelihood of resentment on the part of those treated as if they are incapable or incompetent. If we learn that being helpful leads to positive feedback, validation, and acceptance from others, as it typically does in family situations when we are children, it is easy to develop Rescuing as an adaptive strategy of seeking approval through helping others. In uncertain or chaotic situations, taking on the role of Rescuer can provide a sense of control and certainty, bringing order and stability to interpersonal relationships. Rescuing can be an adaptive strategy to alleviate anxiety experienced  anxiety experienced when faced with the suffering or problems of others,  Rescuers also derive a sense of purpose and identity from being helpful, which provides them with a clear role in their social circles and communities.  By focusing on others’ problems, Rescuers can temporarily avoid dealing with their own unresolved issues or emotional challenges, an adaptive coping mechanism. Success in helping others can contribute to a boost in self-esteem for anyone. Rescuers become dependent on the validation from helping others to generate their self-esteem. This means that if they are unable to please others or be helpful, for reasons of prohibition or health, they can become depressed and hopeless. IDL interviewing breaks up this pattern by providing help that is not dependent on other humans as well as generating self-worth that is independent of the expectations, rewards, and punishments of others.  

The role of Rescuer as a psychological game

Rescuers tend to come to the aid of those who adopt the Victim role, taking on their problems and responsibilities. Coaches, counselors, therapists, and “friends” easily fall into the Rescuer role, looking for validation as a helpful, thoughtful, kind person. This dynamic can easily encourage Victims to remain helpless and dependent, because after all, it gets their needs met. You will notice very little rescuing going on by those perspectives that you interview. They offer their worldviews and recommendations, but not out of some need to validate themselves.  Rescuers also tend to intervene to protect others from some perceived harm or criticism, allowing themselves to play the role of a defender against a perceived Persecutor. This dynamic perpetuates conflict by creating a dichotomy of good (Rescuer) versus bad (Persecutor). IDL breaks this cycle of conflict by not generating rescuers even if there is a persecuting dynamic in waking life or a dream. In families, Rescuers attempt to fix problems or smooth over conflicts between family members, preventing them from learning how to resolve issues independently, leading to a cycle of toxic drama. Rescuers provide unsolicited assistance, which leads to a game of “Why don’t you? Yes, but.” In this game, the Victim solicits help. Actually, they are asking to be Rescued. Rescuers take the bait and provide solutions, every one of which is shot down by the Victim, validating their conviction that they are so helpless and powerless that their problems defy all remedies. The “switch” also includes the Rescuer feeling persecuted by not being appreciated for their “help.” Such dynamics cause Victims to rely on Rescuers for constant support, creating a dependency that reinforces the Rescuer’s sense of importance. Rescuers also avoid holding others accountable, since they prevent them from facing the consequences of their actions or lack of effort, thereby maintaining a dysfunctional status quo. Rescuers can easily become martyrs, sacrificing their own needs and well-being for the sake of helping others. This can lead to resentment and burnout, creating a cycle of victimhood for the Rescuer. Also, in families or group settings, Rescuers can intervene in conflicts between others, creating a triangle of relationships. This can lead to alliances and power shifts within the group, contributing to ongoing drama.

Assignments and Homework 


Under “Essays and Interviews,”  read:

Helping a Chronic Rescuer

Helping a Chronic Rescuer


In the IDL video curricula, watch:

The Role of Rescuer

Rescuers in the Drama Triangle are often sincere helpers. The problem is that their desire to use helping as validation of their self-worth causes them to impose what they think others need on them without asking for permission, checking to see if the help is actually beneficial, and not stopping – keeping on keeping on until burn out. We rescue ourselves with our addictions, pastimes, and rationalizations and in our dreams by avoiding conflict, ignoring and repressing them. IDL uses the Drama Triangle to help people wake up out of dreamlike delusion, whether awake or dreaming.   


Check for study questions and/or create some of your own.


In dreams and life issues that you interview, look for yourself or your subject, or characters in their interview that are in the role of Rescuer. Does their relationship to that role change during the interview or stay the same? Why?

At a minimum, do one interview a week, getting experience with both dream and life issue protocols. One week, interview yourself. One week, interview a subject. It can be a fellow team member, a family member, friend, or client. One week, be interviewed by someone else.  Focus on thinking about if your life issues and dreams reflect your enmeshment in toxic drama and if so, how. Consider how the feedback and recommendations made by your interviewed characters impacts your ability to understand and extract yourself from toxic drama.


  1. Write down your answers to the following questions. 
  2. Share your answers with your other study team members.
  3. Discuss.
  4. Submit your written answers.

How are you most likely to get hooked into Rescuing in your relationships? What are your current strategies for staying out of the role of Rescuer in your relationships?  How are you most likely to get hooked into Rescuing in your thinking? What are your current strategies for staying out of role of Rescuer in your thinking?  How are you most likely to get hooked into Rescuing in your dreams? What are your current strategies for staying out of role of Rescuer in your dreams?  How would you rate the usefulness of this unit 0-10? Why? How can it be improved?

Setting Intent:

What do you want to take away from this unit to improve your life?

How would you like it to influence your dreams tonight?

How can you format that as a statement of intention to read over to remind yourself, before you go to sleep, to incubate in your dreams tonight?

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