When it comes to the white knight syndrome, most people think of it as a personality trait that mainly affects males — a certain type of men who are attracted to women with problems. Devoting themselves to helping these women and rescuing them provides a huge ego boost, making them feel better about themselves and giving them a sense of mission.
However, this trait isn’t exclusive to men only, and it goes much deeper than scoring brownie points with the opposite sex. The white knight syndrome, also referred to as the Hero syndrome, affects a large number of women, and a relationship doesn’t have to be of a romantic nature for the syndrome to be present.
Earlier this month we wrote a post on people who feed off drama — it was a post about people who just can’t get enough of your problems. They get excited by your misfortunes and become overly enthusiastic about fixing things for you. But what may seem like a sincere desire to help is, in fact, an attempt to get more attention and control the other person.
The white knight syndrome is closely related to this phenomenon but with a little twist. In the beginning, white knights may be truly emotionally sensitive and caring about the other person. However, what once was a sincere concern may sometimes progress to a narcissistic desire
- to be admired,
- to be loved,
- to be important,
- to be indispensable,
- to tell others what to do.
This is the reason why while many women dream of a relationship with someone who has the white knight’s traits, those who are in such relationships don’t think it’s that great after all. Depending on where your white knight falls on a narcissism continuum scale, cutting off a relationship can be notoriously difficult.
But what causes the white knight syndrome? It could be a number of reasons, for example:
- Low self-esteem
- Lack of direction and purpose in life
- Abandonment issues
- Experience of having lost a caregiver in childhood
In personal relationships, white knights typically have the following characteristics:
- A tendency to idealize their partner
- Being oversensitive to any sign of rejection
- An overwhelming desire to be important
- A certain degree of manipulativeness (sometimes, white knights aren’t aware of their manipulative tendencies themselves)
- Intentionally seeking partners with problems
- Conviction that they aren’t good enough to be liked as they are
While it’s true that not every white knight’s case is a case of narcissism, any relationship that involves the white knight / damsel in distress dynamics is an unhealthy one. Even when the white knight isn’t particularly manipulative, the reality is that he still suffers from unresolved emotional issues and puts himself in harm’s way by seeking relationships with people who need rescuing. There are several reasons for that:
- People can sense the white knight’s hidden agenda and eventually grow to dislike him or her, which brings the white knight a lot of emotional suffering.
- Even when the white knight gets love, attention, admiration and the feeling of importance, their investment is disproportional comparing to what they get. They are constantly overpaying for what other people get free, which doesn’t help their already low self-esteem.
- Because white knights are attracted to wrong people for wrong reasons, they deny themselves a chance to have healthy and fulfilling relationships that don’t involve constant drama and working overtime.
- Rescuing is often done at the expense of the white knight’s own well-being. For many white knights focusing on other people’s problems is a way to avoid dealing with their own issues.
- Female “white knights” are in a particularly dangerous situation because the syndrome presents itself a little differently in women. While male white knights are tempted to save women with problems in general, female white knights are attracted to men with addictions and abusive patterns.
If you think you may have the white knight syndrome or if you need help dealing with a manipulative white knight, talking with a therapist is the best possible course of action.