Help exchanged between partners is a regular part of relationship. The mutual offer of help in a clean way without overstretching; and the receiver accepting it with spoken appreciation, is a bonding/loving interaction.
However, Eric Bern, who wrote the landmark book Games People Play, noted that what is intended as help can sometimes turn into repeated rescuing. Help moves us towards solving a problem for ever, rescuing only avoids an immediate crisis. Hence the couple’s “game” of repeated rescuing and being rescued not only dangerously postpones underlying problems, but also supports people in continuing to let themselves be victims of situations.
How helping can become rescuing and create victims:
Problem One: Nancy and Don Avoid Resolving Differences.
The Rescue: Don unknowingly avoids conflict about their differences by helping Nancy to calm down. Each time Nancy talks about their differences she gets upset and angry, so she accepts calming help instead.
Victim Thinking: Don: “Its hopeless I am a victim of Nancy’s inability to be rational.” Nancy: “My passion will always make me a victim of his distancing ways.”
Outcomes: Blame and self-blame increase. Real differences are never addressed or resolved.
Problem Two: Jack and Richard Can’t Speak of Love.
The Rescue: Needing a sign of being loved, Jack frequently helps Richard who drinks and seems vulnerable. Desperate for a sign of Jack’s love, Richard accepts rescuing in its place.
Victim Thinking: Jack: “I can’t win, I try so hard and never get loved back.” Richard: “Its hopeless. He just helps me and doesn’t seem to understand or love me.”
Outcomes: Mutual resentment increases. The relationship is threatened.
Problem Three: Drew and Taylor both Fear Abandonment.
The Rescue: Taylor is terrified that Drew will leave him so his ‘help’ becomes desperation to control her. Drew likes being helped by him but ends up surrendering to his control/help out of fear.
Victim Thinking: Taylor: “It’s hopeless, partners leave me, nobody loves me.” Drew: “All men victimise women, I will never find love.”
Outcomes: Possible violence. Fears materialise in separation.
The deadly couples ‘game’ of repeated rescue-giving and rescue-receiving prevents both players addressing underlying problems and finding loving/helping interactions.
With thanks to Transactional Analysis,
Games People Play by E Berne,
Scripts People Live by C Steiner,
Female Survivors of Sexual Abuse by C Baker
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