Are You a Rescuer?

Hello, my name is Coach Billy, and I’m a recovering rescuer.

In my past life, I squandered a lot of my precious thinking time and emotional energy, believing I had the answers for other people and their life challenges. I would see their confusion or distress and think I held solutions for them. In its extreme form, rescuing (also called caretaking, enabling, fixing or white knight syndrome) can manifest into codependence, which is an unhealthy and destructive form of assuming responsibility for the emotions and behaviours of someone else. Codependence is a serious psychological condition beyond the scope of this post.

Psychology tells us the sources of “fixer syndrome” come from within our personalities and can be quite varied. Some motivations to rescue are benign, but some are nefarious. If you have fixer syndrome, seeking insight into the source of your behaviour will create beneficial awareness and will be quite valuable if you wish to curtail your rescue impulses.

In my case, I believe my motivation came from the good intention of not wanting to see people experiencing what I perceived as needless suffering. Regardless of noble intentions, I have come to realize that fixer syndrome is very arrogant and ultimately destructive for both parties. What I have learned from my studies in coaching is that we can’t possibly have the answers for others. We all carry a metaphorical backpack full of our life experiences, both conscious and subconscious. This backpack is our totally unique mind. The workings of the minds of others, even people we think we know very well, will always remain largely unknowable. Their traumas, subconscious mind, and general life experiences create filters through which they see and experience life. It’s difficult for us to see our own filters, let alone those of others. And complicating the situation further, just like you, they are unlikely to see their own filters. With everyone seeing life through their own filters, attempting to transplant our view of perceived reality to someone else simply will not work.

And there is no way of knowing if our supposed “solution” will actually be helpful. It might be the opposite. With everyone viewing life through their own filters, it seems arrogant to think we can know someone else’s problem and more so to think we know what they should do about it.

Ask yourself – do you like the feeling of being inadequate and helpless? Of course not, which is why psychology tells us rescuing can be quite destructive. By trying to be the white knight, you are sending the message that the other person is not capable of solving their own problems (and of course, the inference is that you are more capable than they are, which, as you can imagine, isn’t usually well received). And what my own experience has shown me is that often I may perceive a problem where none exists because it’s not a problem unless the other person sees the situation as a problem, and often they don’t.

In his interesting book 12 Rules for Life, Jordan Peterson calls rule #11: Don’t Bother Kids When They Are Skateboarding. His thesis is that skateboarding is inherently dangerous, but we need to get hurt to build resilience. He postulates that life is hard, very hard sometimes, but facing challenges builds resilience. Peterson tells us that we need a big reserve of resilience in life to prevent us from sinking into despair and defeat. Rescuing can destructively prevent the formation of resilience in others. This is worryingly evident in some families today as many well-intentioned “helicopter” parents are preventing the formation of resilience in their children by not holding them capable. For me, it’s a sad experience to see young adults struggling with life due to a lack of confidence and resilience, mainly because they have been constantly protected or rescued.

We must adopt the attitude that we can hold the adults in our lives capable. Capable of living their own lives as they see fit, even if it doesn’t meet our approval or isn’t how we might approach it. It is very important that unless and until someone actually makes a request for our support, we must have the courage and fortitude to stand down, knowing in our hearts we truly don’t have answers for them. And we will both benefit. It’s truly a wonderful release just to let them live their life and accept the good and bad of their own decision-making.

Taking on responsibility for another adult has the grave risk of morphing into enabling, which means you become an enabler. This is not a badge anyone should want. One definition of enabling is “to make possible, practical or easy.” We have all observed enabling and perhaps even done it. I know I have. It’s not good. Enabling relationships are unhealthy and not based on mutual respect. And enabling inevitably produces resentment that creates a real barrier to love in a relationship.

Ultimately, I got sick of thinking about other people’s problems and realized it was a colossal waste of my limited and precious brain power. I have put a stop to rescuing and realized how damaging this behaviour has been for myself, some of my relationships and the people to whom I naively figured I had solutions. As a reformed rescuer, I now feel an enormous sense of freedom and relief! Not thinking about or getting involved in the problems of others is a much better way to live.

To arrive at this point, I sought out some coaching, and we came up with some personal guidelines to put a stop to my fixer mindset, which I will respectfully share here in the hope that you may find value. They have worked quite well for me.


  • Am I sure there is a problem? (This is often a deeper question than it appears) **

** Byron Katie is famous for her four questions. Question 1 is “Is it true?” and question 2 is “Can you absolutely know it’s true?”

  • Do they realize there is a problem or care about the issue?
  • Can they visualize something different / better, and are they willing to make an effort to address the problem? (Their past patterns are a strong clue)
  • Do I have something unique to contribute to support resolution? (Unique means not available elsewhere)


If you’re not a fixer, you are blessed. I’m still working on it. If you are a rescuer but wish to change, there is much to be gained.


Socrates said, “The only true wisdom is knowing we know nothing.” How might this quotation help convince you to free your thoughts of having solutions for the perceived challenges of others?

Accepting that we need a lot of resilience for a successful life, it follows that allowing others to find their way is an act of love and support. What strategies can you employ to overwrite your paradigm of rescuing with this more loving and effective paradigm?

What are your true motivations for rescuing? Go deep and do some psychological research if necessary.

With Loving Kindness,

Coach Billy