We work with a lot of helping professionals who have dedicated their lives in the service of others.
We’ve also discovered a dark side to the helping behavior and attitudes of these people, and it permeates the entire culture. It all has to do with something a little deeper. We call it drama-based helping.
Drama is what happens when people try to defend their own negative attention behavior. It plays itself out in the interactions among three roles: the Persecutor, the Victim, and the Rescuer.
Drama-based helping is what happens when people “help” while under the influence of drama; specifically while in the Victim or Rescuer role.
Victim-based helping looks noble enough on the surface. Selflessly serving, putting ourselves in harm’s way for others, giving until it hurts, and taking one for the team. Victim-based helping inevitably backfires because it is motivated by a contaminated self-belief that “I am only OK if I can be helpful.”
Victim-helpers are desperate to be helpful, thrust themselves on others in inappropriate ways, and neglect their own basic needs, and in the end confirm their belief that they are worthless. Here are some signs of victim-helping:
▪ Jumping into emotionally charged situations as a buffer, only to get attacked themselves;
▪ Minimizing or avoiding credit when others thank them for helping;
▪ Compromising their personal boundaries and needs to help others.
Rescuers believe they have the best answer, and it is their duty to share it with others. With an air of superiority, they give advice without consent, from an emotional distance so as never to be in the line of fire.
Comments such as “Why don’t you just tell her to stop?” “Here, let me show you how to do it,” or “If you can’t run with the big dogs, stay on the porch.” shows their contaminated belief that, “You are only OK if you value my help.” Here are typical signs of rescuer-based helping:
▪ Compulsion to give advice, even without permission;
▪ Helping prematurely without understanding of the situation;
▪ Turns on the other person if they resist the help.
Drama-based helping is embedded in the culture of most organizations. Rescuer-helpers are promoted and rewarded for having all the ideas, doing the most work, and saving the day. Victim-based helpers are seen as silent servants, affirmed for always thinking of others, yet mostly relegated to support roles. The result is a culture of low confidence, false pride and avoidance.
Breaking free of drama-based helping starts with self-awareness. Do you recognize any of the symptoms I’ve listed? The solutions are embedded within the symptoms.
Nate Regier, Ph.D., is a founding owner of Next Element Consulting, a leadership development and communication training firm in Newton. He is co-author of “Beyond Drama: Transcending Energy Vampires.” Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 316-772-6174.