Rescuing the Victim

It happens so often—the triangle of Persecutor, Victim, and Rescuer.

The police know it well. Boyfriend (Persecutor) beats up Girlfriend (Victim) who dials 911 for the Police (Rescuer). No sooner do the cops arrive, than the characters change. Policeman becomes Persecutor. Boyfriend becomes Victim. Girlfriend attacks the Policeman, in her new capacity of Rescuer. In which case the Girl friend becomes Persecutor, Policeman becomes Victim, Boyfriend (possibly) calls her off in his new capacity of Rescuer . . .

And so on, round and round—and round.

It strikes me that this scenario has some bearing on the debate now going on about euthanasia, mercy killing, or whatever you want to call it. Mr. Latimer has a disabled child (Victim), suffering from a crippling disease (Persecutor), and decides to act as her Rescuer. So he arranges to kill her (Persecutor), before Society drops in with a murder charge, so making him into the Victim.

In her very penetrating book (Talking To Yourself), Pamela Butler takes up a theme that first appears in the Transactional Analysis books of Eric Berne. ‘Rescuing’ other people seems such a valuable thing to do—whole professions, and the welfare state itself, depend on the concept. But the truth is, that ‘rescuing’ is in fact positively harmful. It is taking people who should be learning to deal with life’s problems and pains in an adult manner, and compelling them to be children. In doing so, under the pretence of assistance, it deprives the Victim of the power of choice.

‘Rescuing’ encourages toxic situations to continue. As soon as he promises (for the hundredth time) “never to do it again”, the battered woman who knows she can call the police then feels it safe to stay with her boyfriend, in spite of his abusive behaviour. Without that support, she might much sooner decide to get right out of the situation, which would certainly encourage boyfriend to clean up his act. Engraved on my mind is one horrendous situation I was involved in as a lawyer, where a woman’s apartment was invaded by her estranged boyfriend, who assaulted her and left her with a broken neck. After being given a Legal Aid certificate (more Rescuing!), I obtained a Restraining Order—only to find that within a couple of weeks, the pair of them were back living together again. Anyone familiar with the protection and cover-ups that even the worst alcoholics get from their nearest and dearest knows that in that kind of situation, the ‘rescuing’ process can become habitual—and the addict never ‘hits bottom’ enough to make his or her own mind up to deal with the problem.

Don’t confuse ‘Rescuing’, says Pamela, with what people really need in such a situation—Loyalty, Love and Support. ‘Support’ is not the same as ‘Rescue’. It leaves the Victim still in control, to work out his or her problems in the way that the Victim, and not the Rescuer, decides. It is the parent, seeing a child struggling with his homework, who sees that the child has the right tools, but doesn’t do the work for him. It is the person who lends an ear to another in trouble, without taking up the obligation to be a ‘fixer’.

And if he had been a ‘supporter’ rather than a ‘fixer’, perhaps Mr. Latimer would never have been sentenced to ten years in jail, and his daughter might well still be alive.

– Gemini, May 1995