Over-Worked Rescuer

Are you often feeling over-worked because you take care of everybody, but not yourself? Does setting boundaries in relationships by saying “no” to others make your heart start beating fast?

Do you wonder if you’re an enabler to many different people, but you’re not sure if you are? Do you need to ask, “What is an enabler?”

Probably not because you know you are an enabler, but it’s hard to admit that. If you are not an enabler, you are probably very aware of the type of person who is one.

They play the rescuer in the Drama Triangle and have very codependent behaviors. The rescuer is simply just another word for enabler.

Why Rescuers Feel Over-Worked and Exhausted

The rescuer is often over-worked and exhausted from giving to everybody, assumes responsibility for everything and everyone and has difficulty setting boundaries in relationships. Rescuers struggle with saying “no” to others.

They believe they are needed by everybody they know and that nobody can function without them. The reason for this codependent behavior is that they have a huge pile of Not Good Enough Stuff.

If you aren’t sure what I mean by Not Good Enough Stuff, click here to read my post that gives an explanation of it. The over-worked rescuer typically has very low self-worth. Due to that, he or she needs to be needed by as many people as possible.

If rescuers are not needed by anyone, then they do not feel as though they provide any value in the world. Typically, you will find rescuers in care-taker jobs because care-taking is the only way they know how to operate.

Now, if you are wondering what is wrong with people taking care of others, bear with me. I am not saying that we should never take care of others or that it is wrong.

What I am saying is that when you are so over-worked that you have nothing left to give yourself due to giving yourself to everybody else, we have a problem. That is why rescuers are part of the codependent Drama Triangle.

To learn more about the Drama Triangle, click here. Not only that, but like I said, a rescuer assumes responsibility for everybody. That in and of itself is exhausting!

Rescuers would truly struggle to function if they weren’t able to continually do for others. There is a huge struggle for setting boundaries in relationships for rescuers.

In fact, rescuers will push or ignore those who are setting boundaries in relationships to meet their need of rescuing. Again, if you remove a rescuer’s ability to take care of others’ needs, you will leave them struggling to function in life. They will feel as though they no longer have a purpose.

Ok. So, I’ve explained a good bit about rescuers and their reasons for their need to rescue. Please understand that I am not shaming those of you who fall under the category of rescuer. I spent years in the rescuer role in my family to my own detriment.

Society rewards rescuers without seeing the damage their codependent behaviors cause. Think about how often you have heard, “He’ll give you the shirt off his back,” or “She is always there to help anybody who needs it, no matter what.”

Have you said those things about yourself? Do you feel good when people say them about you? If so, what has that cost you in your life?

Do you truly take good care of yourself? Probably not, because you don’t have time left after taking care of everybody else.

The Over-Worked Care-Taker Jobs in The Rescuer Role

Think about the people you know in care-taker jobs. A few examples are nurses, teachers, therapists, emergency personnel and healthcare professionals. Working in these care-taker jobs does not always equate to being a rescuer, but, in my experience as a psychotherapist, those who do are often the rescuers in the Drama Triangle.

Now, let’s take a look at an example of a rescuer. I’ll call this rescuer Anne. She is fifty-three years old and has been a nurse for twenty-seven years. She is also in charge of her children’s PTA, the community outreach program for her church and volunteers weekly at the free medical clinic in her community.

Any time somebody needs a volunteer to help with something, Anne is there. Her favorite phrase is, “Tell me what I can do to help.” Think about all of the things I named that Anne helps with. How much time do you think she has for herself? My guess is NONE!

If Anne somehow has a spare afternoon, she fills it by finding somebody to help. What would happen if Anne were, for some reason no longer able to help everybody in her life?

She would probably go into a deep depression because she subconsciously believes she has no value in life apart from helping others. Anxiety is very prevalent in her life as she is always trying to tackle mountains for others while running on empty.

Rescuing in Action within the Drama Triangle

Anne assumes responsibility for anything and everything she possibly can, which is one of the biggest codependent traits of a rescuer. She probably apologizes often for things that were not her fault and uses her rescuing behaviors to try to “fix” problems she did not create.

The word “victim” is probably not what Anne would use for the people she is always helping, but that is the appropriate term. Subconsciously, she seeks out victims because they are the ones who need rescuing. To read more about the victim role, click here.

Following the rest of the Drama Triangle, there is probably always a persecutor in Anne’s life. Somebody didn’t get enough of Anne’s time. Somebody needed more from Anne. Somebody is angry at Anne for not rescuing them in the exact way they needed. So, they all persecute her. To read about the persecutor role, click here.

The Rescuer Role Starts in Childhood

If you’re a little confused by this, click here to read my post that explains Codependency and The Drama Triangle. This toxic, exhausting, codependent cycle probably began for Anne in childhood. She has probably felt over-worked since childhood.

Often, that is due to a child having a parent who plays the victim role. For Anne, that was her mother. She was the emotional support for her mother. Anne also had to take care of her younger siblings because her mom was a single-mother and worked two jobs.

Sadly, Anne felt forced to take on that rescuer role at a very young age. Therefore, she assumed responsibility for everything and everybody. So, she never knew anything else.

Setting boundaries in relationships was a foreign concept for Anne and her family. That carried into adulthood, creating all that I have been explaining. It is truly sad for me to think about all of the “Annes” I know.

As a psychotherapist, I enjoy working with these life-long rescuers because I can help guide them towards setting boundaries in relationships to learn how to find peace and balance in their lives. That is often something they never thought they’d have or were often never aware that it was absent.

Setting Boundaries in Relationships and With Self

So, are you wondering how rescuers can begin healing and changing their codependent behaviors? Well, it’s not easy and, like everything else I write about, it takes hard work. Also, like everything I write about, it is absolutely worth it to do that healing work.

In my opinion, the best thing that a rescuer can do is examine the answers of “yes” and “no” to people and herself. Are you utterly confused at what I mean by that? Don’t worry. I’ll explain.

For rescuers like Anne, people are always asking them for help. It is really a struggle for a rescuer to say “no” to anybody. However, that is the only way to begin changing those codependent behaviors.

As for the answer of “yes” I mentioned, rescuers actually have to learn to say “yes” to themselves. Saying “no” to helping somebody when you are not in a good place to help is saying “yes” to yourself.

Always saying “yes” to others means you are probably always saying “no” to yourself. Doing that means that you are not able to be completely available in the best way possible for those you are trying to help.

If you’re running on empty while rescuing others, you’re really not doing that much to help. Read my post about What is Self-Care.

That can help you learn how to take better care of yourself. That post also address how self-care is anything but selfish. Practicing self-care allows you to be more available to help others because you won’t be so over-worked, as you have taken time to recharge.

Now, let’s take a look at how this saying “no” to others and saying “yes” to yourself might actually take place.

Saying “No” to Others Scenario When Over-Worked

You have just finished a nine-hour workday at the office, followed by cooking dinner for your family, homework with your children and working on a project for work that’s due tomorrow. A friend calls you and asks if you can come over for an hour to tutor her child in biology because she has a huge test the next day.

Over-worked is an understatement for how you are feeling. That rescuer tendency is screaming at you because your friend needs your help. Stop for a moment and think about how much help you would actually be to her child.

Not only that, but you still have an hour of work to do for a big project at work the next day. Also, your friend should’ve asked you further in advance, but, then again, she is used to you always saying “yes.”

Imagine that you say “yes” to your friend. You get to her house. She and her daughter are eating dinner and then the daughter says she needs to take a shower before you start tutoring her.

How Constant Rescuing Causes You to Always be Over-Worked

You politely sit and wait while your anxiety builds and builds because of everything you still need to get done for the night. You’re a rescuer. You are used to this feeling, but that doesn’t mean that it feels good by any means.

So, fast forward here. You don’t get home until 9:45. You still have that hour of work to do. You also need to clean up from dinner and make lunches for your kids to have the next day. Not to mention that at some point you have to take a shower and go to bed.

At midnight, you have finally showered and completed your tasks. Now, you will only have five hours of sleep before you have to get up, get your kids ready for school and get yourself ready for work.

Neglecting Yourself to Rescue Others

How well are you really going to function at work with your big project that day? Not well at all! You probably still take comfort in knowing you helped your friend out, but at what expense to yourself?

Not only that, but your children also dealt with an exhausted, over-worked, grumpy mom as they started their day off with you not being rested and in a good place physically or mentally. Is that what they deserve? Is that what you deserve?

Absolutely not. So, by saying “yes” to your friend, you said “no” to yourself and your own family. Are you feeling guilty thinking about how your friend needed you to help her daughter? Are you thinking that you’ll be fine today and you’ll get some rest tonight?

Well, we both know that’s not going to happen. As a rescuer, somebody will need you tonight. So, that cycle will only continue. Are you starting to understand why you feel over-worked and exhausted ALL the time? I hope so!

Saying, “No” to Others and Saying “Yes” to Yourself

Now, let’s take a look at what saying “no” to your friend might be like. So again, she calls and asks you to come tutor her daughter for a big biology test the next day. Take a deep breath!!!

You are about to say, “no,” which has never been a word in your vocabulary. As your sweet rescuer-self listens to the plight of your friend, you offer empathy. You tell her, “I am so sorry your daughter is not understanding the material for her test.”

The energy of panic from your friend is easily sensed through the phone. She doesn’t know what do to as she is realizing you are saying “no.” It is so out of character for you to do that and it shocks her.

Keep in mind that your friend is in the victim role here. You can leave her there to find another rescuer or for her to find a way to teach her daughter the importance of preparing for a test in time. Chances are that she will just find another rescuer.

Your saying “no” to your friend means that you are saying “yes” to yourself. There are so many benefits for you to say “yes” to yourself in this situation. 

Here are Some the Benefits of Saying “No” in This Scenario:

• You have time to talk to your children about their day.

• You have time to clean up the dishes so you don’t wake up to a dirty kitchen.

• You have time to get your work done for the next day and feel prepared.

• You have time to make a special lunch for yourself and kids that you’ll all enjoy tomorrow.

• You EVEN have time to take a relaxing thirty-minute bubble-bath.

• You get to bed in time to get a good eight hours of sleep.

• You wake up the next morning feeling happy and refreshed for yourself and your children.

• You get to tell your friend that if you have a week’s notice next time, then you’ll be able to help.

Do these benefits sound lovely to you? If so, you can start learning how to get those for yourself. I also want to add that if you had said “yes” to your friend, you probably wouldn’t have been able to help her daughter much because you were exhausted and had too many things on your mind.


This site is only intended for people who are truly willing to look at themselves with an open mind and have the ability to truly be vulnerable with themselves and others. Please understand that this site is in NO WAY THERAPEUTIC ADVICE. However, this site can be very beneficial in learning the causes of your Not Good Enough Stuff. This site is not intended to provide or replace medical or psychiatric treatment. Mary Beth HIGHLY RECOMMENDS finding a licensed therapist to help you process the information from this site and all that you learn about yourself. Visit Psychology Today to find a licensed therapist in your area.

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