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  • Simi Hanspal

White Knight Syndrome and 5 Signs You May Have White Knight Syndrome.

Do you or anyone you know struggle with rescuing yourself from the need of rescuing others? Chances are you or they suffer from the White Knight Syndrome. One major sign of being one is the compulsive urge to jump in to ‘fix’ or ‘mend’ or attempting to ‘heal’ people. One gets the ultimate feeling of accomplishment just doing this, whether or not the ‘help’ was asked for or no. So at the end, who is actually needing whom?


White Knight Syndrome
White Knight Syndrome

Rescuers are highly empathetic people who feel deeply when anyone is hurt and they believe it is their duty to alleviate the pain. They feel deeply compelled to dive into other people’s pain and avoid looking at their own hidden emotional wounds. Most of us get drawn to brokenness from being brought up in homes where we faced emotional neglect at some level and we were powerless to do anything about it. Since no one was there to save us from trauma, we grow up becoming that for everyone going through any kind of turmoil.


Why do we keep rescuing?

Because we get so used to the feeling of being ‘needed’, ‘wanted’ or even ‘powerful’. The high one gets from feeling these is enough payback for us to keep repeating the pattern, even if it costs us our inability to see or deal with our own pain. Since we are busy putting out fires outside, we can't see that our own house is burning down. We need to stop that before it's too late.

The fact is most rescuers believe that their efforts are helpful and not at all compulsive or dysfunctional. They keep looking for vulnerable people who need them and they can't function in equal relationships, since the need isn’t fulfilled. Sometimes one loses all sense of boundaries and may tend to over-step. This can actually cause more harm to the situation than help it.


Clinical psychologist and psychoanalyst Dr. Mary Lamia, author of The White Knight Syndrome: Rescuing Yourself From Your Need to Rescue Others, notes that there are different “subtypes” of White Knights. These subtypes can include the overly empathic rescuer who grows up in a household catering to neglectful parents to the terrorized rescuer who lashes out or manipulates due to a deep sense of shame from childhood terrors.


Male partners who are “White Knights” may idealize women and put them on a pedestal, taking their notions of chivalry a wee bit too far. They may be actively drawn to women who seem helpless and in need of support (such as those with a history of untreated trauma or self-harm) and treat their partners as extensions of themselves, criticizing and controlling them under the guise of “just trying to help.”


Subconsciously, they may feel resentment towards women who do not give them undying love and loyalty in return, because they rescue not necessarily out of pure altruism but with the expectation or hope that their own needs will be met – that they will somehow be rewarded for their rescue efforts.


Female partners who exhibit “White Knight Syndrome” may behave similarly but as they are socially conditioned to take on the role of nurturers, they may be more likely drawn to taking care of significant others who have addictions, abusive patterns, or infidelity issues.


They may be overly empathic to the point of denial about the fact that their partners have any self-control over their behavior. They may be more prone to making excuses for their partners, believing they “can’t help it” and help to “hide” their destructive behavior from the world, shielding them from consequences or accountability.


Signs you may have the White Knight Syndrome

  1. Your self-worth is based on your ability to fix others. White knights pride themselves on “saving” others and this is a core part of their identity in relationships. Rather than opening themselves up to true intimacy where both parties in a relationship are emotionally fulfilled, they unconsciously seek out unhealthy partners who appear to most need them. They are drawn to those who have severe emotional issues and feel fixated on healing the other person. In doing so, however, they often neglect to save themselves from toxic relationships and are unable to focus on healing themselves first and foremost.

  2. You have a history of unhealed abandonment wounds. White knights usually come from families with one or more toxic caretakers or a history of abandonment. They may have helped rescue their parents or taken on the parent role as young children – perhaps to an alcoholic father or mother. Since no one came to rescue them, they now project their own need for saving onto others by becoming a “rescuer” themselves. They try to provide others with what they never received, but they do so to the point of “enmeshment” – becoming unhealthily obsessed or entangled in the issues of their significant other and trying to solve their problems.

  3. You gravitate towards those who are overly needy and dramatic, often idealizing them. This is especially true for male white knights who tend to find the dramatic or destructive behavior of their partners strangely seductive. You place your partners on a pedestal, infantilize them and treat them as if they were “fragile” and unable to take care of themselves. In doing so, however, you encourage an unhealthy dependence in which the partner begins to rely on your emotional labor just to survive.

  4. You attempt to control and micromanage your partner’s life in an attempt to “help” them. You become hyperfocused on what your partner should or shouldn’t do as a way to prevent them from being harmed. But secretly, this form of control stems from a lack of control over your own life. Under the guise of assisting your partner to better themselves, you successfully take the focus off of addressing your own plight or wounding.

  5. In response to emotional distance, you seek to manipulate or ensnare your partner back into the dance of dependency. If your partner establishes agency or tries to be independent, you find ways (whether you’re aware of it or not) of making them rely on you for feedback and support. This is different from empathic reciprocity in which both partners support each other equally; it involves one person taking on playing the role of “parent” to their significant other and causing them to feel helpless without their support.

In order to ‘recover’ from this, it's important to evaluate your relationship pattern and heal your core issues to re-establish autonomy over your own life. become aware of your own vulnerabilities and your own unmet needs and try not to project them onto others. Stop looking to ‘fix’ people because each one is capable of dealing with their own issues and the distraction will only stop you from seeing the only person who needs rescuing – ‘YOU’.

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