How to Recognise the Rescue Narcissist

23 Sep 2020

What could possibly be more romantic than the partner who comes along at a time when your life is at an all-time low, sweeps you up in his strong arms and transports you to a better, happier place?

Fairy tales, chick lit and romantic movies have led young girls and women to see the rescuer as a very romantic figure.  He – because rescuers are mostly male for cultural reasons – is that person that makes our messed-up world alright. He can even be  seen as our reward for all that we have been through.

Rescue can be harmful to your health

The rescuer fiction industry never thought to warn you that rescue could be harmful to your emotional, professional, financial and physical health. Today, I want to look at how you recognise a rescue narcissist before he sweeps you off to make your life a misery.

To the naïve – and who wasn’t naïve until Life taught them better? – the rescuer and the Narcissist are running two entirely different programs. The rescuer is all about courage and putting another person first. The Narcissist is all about putting themselves first. How compatible can these two characters possibly be?

Perfectly compatible, unfortunately.

In fact, when you stop to think about it, the rescuer persona is a perfect vehicle for the narcissist agenda.

After all, it is so much easier to sweep someone off their feet when they are already off balance. Plus, you can expect to garner shed-loads of – gratifying – gratitude that you can leverage to your advantage from that one – self-interested – act of rescue.

The story of my rescue Narcissist

When I met my Narcissist, I was struggling. I was facing a major life transition. Briefly, I was just a few months shy of my final university exams and about to enter the world of work – having pursued a splendidly non-vocational first degree. My parents had stopped talking to me for weeks together because I had said I would not go back to live at home. Having tasted freedom, I had no wish to go back into my oppressive home.

At the time, I had no idea that they were abusive but I had no way of not knowing that they were horribly oppressive.

Their silent treatment was the biggest and most painful rejection of my entire life up until that point. The Narcissist swanned in, quickly took stock of the situation and – as I now know – realised that it could work very nicely for him.

Because I was young, naïve and hurting badly, I confessed what was going on to him. I don’t remember exactly how it happened. But he was doing that abuser thing of being terribly interested in me in order to extract information he could later use against me and to his advantage.

His response was pitch perfect: how could anyone be so awful to such a beautiful, special person? He was falling in love with me. He saw a future with me. Yada yada yada.

His reality was that,

  • He was literally half a world away from home and struggling to maintain a sense of his own self-importance.
  • His dreaded mother was shortly coming over to stay for months and intended to set up home with him.
  • He was looking for a hero scenario he could play out to good effect.
  • He could see that I could be both convenient and advantageous to him.

For my part, I was naïve enough to think that because he was prepared to go to the trouble of rescuing me, that had to mean that

  1. a) he really saw me and
  2. b) I really mattered to him.

When you have been brought up in an abusive home, whether the environment is neglectful  and/or narcissistic, you are absurdly grateful for whatever seemingly positive attention you get.

We definitely enjoyed six blissfully happy weeks together.

After that, it was all downhill until I finally left. I paid a huge price for those few heady weeks of rescue.

We all do.

So, how do you recognise the rescue narcissist and save yourself a whole lot of misery?

1. Common things occur most commonly

You need to bear in mind that common things occur most commonly.

My story is by no means unusual. So many other women have stories that are fundamentally similar. It’s just the circumstances that change.

I have heard similar stories from,

  • Desperately unhappy, neglected teenagers
  • Bereaved women
  • Women going through a painful divorce
  • Women going through some kind of major life crisis
  • Women who are battling to overcome an addiction
  • Women who are struggling with mental health issues

Rescue narcissists come have a knack of coming out of the woodwork when you are at your most vulnerable. That makes it so much easier for them to get you to fall in love with them.

If I had been in a good place emotionally, I would likely not have given “my” rescue narcissist a second chance.

The same goes for so many other women.

Narcissists want you to see what they are doing as rescue. In reality, they are massaging their own ego and, at the same time, taking advantage of your vulnerability.

Common things really do occur most commonly. So you need to be very cautious of someone who comes along and falls in love with you when you are at low ebb.

2) Never underestimate the value of the reality check

Reality checks are essential. You really do have to do your own reality checks in order to save your own life. You need to be very clear about how things really stack up.

In my life, I have been very blessed to find a number of people who have rescued me when I was struggling. They include,

  • Plumbers
  • My wonderful contact lens practitioner who has gone way beyond the call of duty for donkey’s years now.
  • My wonderful handyman.
  • Good friends.
  • Acquaintances
  • Random strangers.

These people have shown extraordinary generosity of spirit. They are good, kind-hearted people. They do what they do because of the core values that they hold.

More to the point, none of them have ever done what they do with a view to what they will get out of it. They have made a huge difference to my quality of life and then just returned to their own lives.

But here’s the thing, as good, classy people, none of them ever attempted to build a long-term romantic relationship with me on the back of it.

The romantic carpet-layer

Engaging romantically with a person who is reeling from major problems in their life is a very dubious practice.

Let me tell you about Sue. I met Sue at the domestic violence group I attended when my own marriage broke down. Sue was beautiful and traumatized. Her violent husband left her when she was pregnant. Even before the new carpets were down on their “forever house”.

Still, the carpets got laid. The carpet fitter came and was immensely sympathetic. So sympathetic, in fact, that he moved in… And proved to be even worse than Sue’s husband.

The point is,

What kind of person does that kind of thing? What kind of person takes advantage of someone who is already struggling.

Rescuers come in two guises

Rescuers come in one of two guises. Either they are the really good people – generous-hearted people who go over and above on the occasion when you most need help and then get back to their own life. Or else, they are the predators who love to latch onto a damsel in distress.

The key to avoiding the second scenario is to make a clear distinction in your own head between being a Damsel in Distress and needing help in a particular area of your life at a particular time.

You cannot afford to be a Damsel in Distress if you don’t want to meet a Distressing and Destructive Dastard (sic).

(I would definitely say that “my” ex was a dastard. How about yours? Feel free to answer in the comments below.)

3) Stop fantasising and pay attention

“My” rescue Narcissist landed down in my life at the perfect moment – for him.

My intuition murmured a quiet, refined, “Don’t go there. You hate people like that.” But I ignored it. My conscious brain noticed a number of things that I didn’t much like about him including,

  • His teeth (he was one short of a full set – in his twenties for Heaven’s sake!!)
  • His dress sense. (He looked like his mother had dressed him from a charity shop – which she more or less had. Clearly, this was so wrong on so many levels.)
  • His lack of the social graces. I did notice that he was a tad arrogant.

But he was prepared to show more care and concern for me than my own family did. He stepped in when I felt utterly unlovable – because unloved – and eased my pain.

He promised to “take me away from all of that” – that much was true. He quickly alienated me from my family.

But what did I miss while I was in Cinderella/Disney princess mode.

I missed picking up on,

  • His previous relationship history.
  • His abuse of alcohol and tranquillisers.
  • The fact that he was always embattled and misunderstood at work.
  • He had a history of spreading trouble and conflict wherever he went.
  • His misunderstood and therefore victimised hero narrative.
  • His contempt for people he deemed inferiors.
  • The position he was building for me as junior partner in the relationship. He had already decided that my life would have to fit around his.
  • Some unacceptable behaviors – blowing hot and cold, the silent treatment, mood swings.
  • Promises that weren’t quite kept.
  • Everything having to revolve around him.
  • He had to be brighter and funnier than me and know more about my sphere of expertise than I did.

I was young, naïve and I had never heard the word “Narcissist”. However, this guy was signing me up, at best, to be the secretary of his fan club. There were plenty of red flags to see…

If I had just stopped fantasising long enough to pick up on the reality.

As I found out the hard way, you cannot afford to bury your head in the sand and wait – and work – for the Happily Ever After.

If things don’t feel right, you need to listen and google it. Or hunt around on Instagram.

You need to do something.

You really do have to apply a few basic detective skills – as well as trusting your gut if you want to keep yourself safe from the rescue narcissist.

4) Take ownership

I totally believe that toxic people force us to confront the assignments that we need to work through in this life. For many people, the biggest assignment that they have to tackle seems to be taking charge of our emotional world.

We only seek rescue because of the toxic narrative that we have running through our heads, telling us, over and over again “I could never manage on my own. I am nothing without a partner…”

So, taking charge of your own head and rewriting that narrative into, “I am quite smart enough to find the various people best equipped to help me with the problematic aspects of the challenges that I face so that I can resolve it for myself,” is a useful antidote.

Remember, it is not rescue that you actually want but safety and a sense of your own competence to run your own life effectively. You can give that to yourself with some work on your part. Nothing you could ever get from a Narcissist will EVER come close to the joy and self-esteem of you taking charge of your own life.  So, apply the four criteria, increase your own self-esteem and protect yourself from all future rescue narcissists.


Annie Kaszina, international Emotional Abuse Recovery specialist and award-winning author of 3 books designed to help women recognise and heal from toxic relationships so that they can build healthy, lasting relationships with the perfect partner for them, blogs about all aspects of abuse, understanding Narcissists and how to avoid them and building strong self-worth. To receive Annie’s blog direct to your Inbox just leave your details here.

2 thoughts on “How to Recognise the Rescue Narcissist”

  1. Your words and knowledge is so meaningful to me. I’ve been with my husband for about 20 years now and now I am tired of walking on eggshells and I want my joy back in MY LIFE.


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