Part II:

Working Concepts

Chapter Four:


Claude Steiner

Beth Roy



From the very beginning, cooperation has been central to the theory and practice of Radical Psychiatry. It is a simple idea, and a familiar one. Indeed, we have been accused more than once of being too simple, placing too much faith in something so obvious and naive.

In fact, the longer we work with the concept of cooperation, the more profound it appears, and the more radical. To cooperate is a means to an end, a mechanism for facilitating alliance and intimacy. In the ‘60s and ‘70s when we were formulating theory, alliances were politically relevant. The nation was in rebellion, against racism, against sexism, against war. Young people challenged old lifestyles, demanding more love, more ways to love, more freedom of speech and of sexuality. It was widely believed that the old left had failed to make a new world, and radicals in the ‘60s and ‘70s understood that they must find new ways to conduct their politics.

Influenced both by that need, and by the Women's Movement's formulation that the personal is political, we set to work to learn how to be together in groups that were both effective in the world and nourishing to their members. We ourselves were a case in point. We needed to find out how to be sweet to each other, to bolster our shared agendas, to avoid draining scarce energies and resources in competitive struggles. We created theory out of very practical and personal experience.

To call for cooperation was a visionary act. But it quickly evoked the realization that we did not really know how to cooperate. When people speak of cooperation in common usage, they often mean something very different from what we were after. "Cooperate!" parents command children. What they mean is, "Do what I want." Too often, cooperation is an injunction by those with power to those without. We were after a means for peers to work together collectively, and we quickly discovered that everything we had so far been taught applied to a very different model — competition (see Chapter 6). We are taught how to fend for ourselves, how to get better grades, how to win the game, how to maneuver the outcome we desire — all perfectly reasonable behaviors where power is unequal. But among people with a commitment to equality, those competitive ways of acting are counterproductive. We realized we needed to invent ways of acting that were straight-forward and empowering.

So cooperation became a concept that was both visionary and practical. The call for cooperation was a stirring contribution in the ‘60s, very much in the spirit of the times. In the ‘70s, it took on a more provocative aspect, because so many people were turning inward, looking for personal growth and individual enlightenment (see Introduction). The politics of cooperation became increasingly radical. The ‘80s have turned the individual quest outward once again. Yuppies are the mythic heroes of the decade. "Strive for wealth" is the slogan, and "May the best man/woman win!" To talk "cooperation" today is to buck a current which runs deep with powerful economic force.

But for that reason, it is all the more important. Paradoxically, as Americans are pointed more and more urgently toward the race, so also do we hear more and more about community. Many people look to churches for a recommitment to values, in an effort to find commonality of purpose. If my own private well-being is the object of life, then what sustains me beyond myself? The quest for community has become a national objective, and religion is one of the few arenas with a language that even begins to articulate the need.

Here once again, people seek to remake the connections between internal life and the external. On some level, we all know that life is richer than the American Dream. ("The American Dream is back!" promise the Cadillac ads.) We want to know who we are, the meaning of life, why we care about others and the world, how to break bonds of loneliness and connect with others. Radical Psychiatry is one of the few approaches that has consistently recognized the importance of community, as well as contributing practical aids to its creation.



Cooperation, as we define it, rests on one basic assumption and the acceptance of three guidelines. These agreements constitute the minimum necessary understanding required for cooperative relationships.



The basic assumption in cooperative situations is equality. When we say that everyone is equal, we mean, not that everyone is alike, that there are no individual differences, but that we strive towards equality of rights. No persons or group of persons, by virtue of any of their individual qualities, characteristics, achievements or possessions, are entitled to anything that anyone else within the group isn't equally entitled to as well. This concept of equality means simply that people have equal rights to the benefits that accrue from the association. If there is food on the table, everyone has equal rights to eat it. If there is a financial benefit coming the community's way everyone has equal rights to share it. If an issue is debated and different people have different opinions, everyone has equal rights to have their opinions heard and to have their wishes realized. Neither the person who is oldest, nor the person who has the most money invested, nor the person who can talk fastest or most brilliantly, nor the person who is physically strongest, has rights in excess of anybody else's.

The group may have the option to afford certain revocable privileges to a particular member for some reason. For instance, a person who is sick may be given the right to be served first at the dinner table. Or an especially skilled person will be given privileges to use or operate an expensive machine until others can learn to do it as well. But the main thing that has to be remembered is that those special privileges are assigned by the group, and they are only temporary.

It is important to distinguish groupings in which this assumption is a possibility from those in which it is not. Where power is severely and institutionally unequal, despite the good intentions of the participants, cooperation is unlikely to succeed. A middle manager in a large American corporation, for instance, once set about to collectivize the department over which she wielded power. She promised to share all decisions with her workers, to allow them to set the times they came and left, and so on. But when the employees asked that she also share the power to hire and fire people, and to set salaries, it was clear she herself had no power to do so, and the project halted. People can agree to give up power they have under surprisingly many circumstances. But we caution the reader to be sophisticated in an assessment about the chances of success, and to be very certain that a genuine agreement has been made.

Given a basic assumption of equality, we have found the following three guidelines to be extremely effective in implementing equal relationships between people. All of them are essentially prohibitions of certain behavior which is destructive to equality. The guidelines only imply what you must do, but they state outright what you cannot do if you want to preserve equal, cooperative relationships.


1. No Power Plays: Power plays are ways in which people attempt to get for themselves something which is not otherwise coming to them (see Chapter 1). More specifically, a power play is a maneuver; it can be crude like hitting, yelling, banging, throwing things around and making threats, or subtle such as sulking, gossiping, talking fast or interrupting, caucusing and lying. In either case, it is designed to bring about a desired result against the wills of others. Often power plays are used in desperation or as a last resort after trying more cooperative measures. But whatever the provocation, power plays must be disallowed in order for cooperative relationships to continue. A person who is not getting what she wants has no other recourse in a cooperative situation than to continue to ask for it and to rely on a genuine negotiation. The use of a power play is never justified and should never be accepted in a cooperative situation.


2. No Lies: The concept of lies covers not only bold-faced untruths, but also lies of omission, the withdrawal or keeping back of information which is relevant to others. Included in lies of omission are all sorts of secrets. A secret can be a negative feeling (or even a positive feeling) about another person. Secrets and lies deprive others of vital information, and information is a source of power. For example, one lover hides from another that she is bored in his company; she is afraid to hurt his feelings, but if he doesn't know, how can he change? Many of us have experienced the fireworks when lovers keep sexual affairs with other people, or even flirtations, secret. The humiliation that occurs is a direct outgrowth of the ways in which power has been imbalanced by the secret. A desire or wish for something that is not expressed is also a secret and must be avoided. In short, everything that occurs in a person's consciousness which has importance for others must not be kept secret.

As a consequence, people need to say how they feel about others, especially if the feelings are strong, whether positive or negative, and they must also "ask for 100% of what they want 100% of the time" (see Chapter 7). To what extent people should truthfully share their lives with others without omissions — their joys, their sexuality, their concerns, their fears and hatreds, their shameful secrets, their loves — is something that cannot be set down in a rule. Let us say, however, that to us the largest possible amount of truthfulness is desirable and that even though this is difficult for most people, true cooperative relationships are not really possible until complete truthfulness is included.

This guideline is a necessary complement to Guideline I (No Power Plays) since if one is not to use power plays to get what one wants, the only alternative is to ask for it and to say how one feels. On the other hand, the absence of power plays paves the way for a mutual agreement between people to be truthful. Very often people lie because they fear power plays in response; Guideline I creates safety in which Guideline II can be respected.


3. No Rescues: The third guideline for cooperation seeks to avoid the establishment of inequalities through another process, called Rescuing. Power plays establish inequalities because people are selfish and try to get what they want by grabbing it. Rescues operate in the opposite way. That is, they establish inequality in a situation by the process of giving unwisely. A Rescue is a situation in which a person is either doing more than her share of work, or doing something that he doesn't want to do. We discuss this concept more fully in Chapter 7.

By doing more than one's share, one is giving up equality voluntarily. While this may please the recipient or the beneficiary of that inequality (and maybe even the donor), it doesn't necessarily work to their advantage in the long run. Rescues implicitly insult the recipient, who grows resentful. Moreover, they exhaust the donor, who also begins to be angry. In addition, Rescues tend to proliferate. If A does more than his share for B, then B is liable to feel that she ought to do more than her share, also. In a group, C may then assume that doing more than her share for F, G and H is acceptable. A pattern of Rescues is established throughout the group which is likely eventually to result in major inequalities.

Some people argue that this policy of monitoring people's responsibilities is picayune, and that it interferes with the nurturing, loving feeling that one desires in relationships and communities. In fact, when people are first learning the skills of cooperation, they do sometimes become involved in petty minutiae, but as they become more skillful, the issues become clearer, and the avoidance of Rescuing becomes easy and automatic. The important instances of people doing more than their share are not difficult to detect and rewarding to alter.

The second aspect of Rescues occurs when somebody is doing something she doesn't want to do. This behavior is associated with keeping secrets and lying. Many times people will do things that they really don't want to do out of a sense of obligation or duty, or because they are not capable of stating their preferences clearly. To do something that one does not want to do without stating that one doesn't want to do it, is a violation of the guideline about lies and should be avoided on that account. In a reasonably large group of people, there is likely to be someone willing to do any given task. When numbers are fewer, in couples, friendships or families, some tasks are often disagreeable to everyone. Nobody wants to take out the garbage. But if Sister does it without reporting her reluctance, she is likely to rebel at some point. Better that she state her distaste, learn that everyone else hates the job equally, and negotiate a generous reward in return for doing it anyway. Perhaps it can be shared around month by month. Perhaps in return for Sister's doing it, she can be relieved of washing dishes, a job she hates even more. Perhaps somebody will just have heard of a wonderful new robot for taking out the garbage. Creative and equitable solutions can generally be found.

Several of these guidelines seem to encourage what, paradoxically, could be seen as very selfish behavior. For instance, we are recommending that people ask for everything they want all of the time and resist doing things they don't want to do. On the surface, anyone who behaved in that way would seem to be a self-centered bore. In fact, if that's all that a person did, he in all fairness could be called selfish. However, these expectations are imbedded in a set of others: the fact that I ask for everything I want all of the time does not mean that others will do it, since the injunctions against doing what one doesn't want to do, and not doing more than ones share, apply equally to everybody. If everyone asks openly for what they want, speaks honestly about their feelings, and negotiates compromises rather than power playing, these three guidelines balance each other out. They create a situation where the wishes and needs of people are expressed and negotiated in a fair and equitable way.

In many of the chapters that follow, we talk about a variety of situations in which cooperation can be productively established: problem-solving groups, friendships and couples, families with children, and so on.

Sticking to the guidelines of cooperation clears the way for the full exercise of people's powers. An atmosphere of equality where everyone is treated as a full, worthy human being and is given complete opportunities to express themselves as best they can without infringing upon other people's rights, is ideally suited to the development and growth of people's powers. Protected from the abuses of power that oppress us, we are then in a position to be fully loving, to develop our intuition, to communicate, to exercise our wisdom. Cooperation is fertile ground for the development of power in the world without taking advantage of others.

Chapter Six:


JoAnn Costello

Beth Roy

Claude Steiner



Internalized Oppression (as we have shown in the previous chapter) is a process by which we incorporate a body of ideas that cruelly inform our picture of ourselves and of the world. In the voice of the Pig, which is the form such messages take as they actually address each of us, we are told how to behave, what to feel, when we are good and bad. The Pig carries with it a set of moral injunctions about right and wrong, and a powerful set of accusations about those who digress.

The content of that morality differs greatly from time to time and place to place. The ideas pressed by the Pig have an ideological function. Every society selects for certain attitudes, by the very nature of its organization, as well as through its culture. In an agricultural community, for instance, characteristics of patience, endurance and quietness are highly useful. Without them, farmers would become restive, dissatisfied with the isolation of rural living and with the need to accommodate the rhythms of nature. In an industrial, urban, capitalist society, other values are important: ambition, manual dexterity, an impatience to succeed, and so on. Because the sum total of our thoughts and attitudes perform a function in socializing individuals to particular political forms, the body of our Internalized Oppression is ideological. That is to say, it is no accident that we hold the particular beliefs and have the precise attitudes and values that we do: they serve to keep us doing the things our social order requires us to do.

In capitalist society, the leading ideological edge of Internalized Oppression is individualism — the set of beliefs which places the individual above the collective. Behavior inspired by individualism takes a certain form as well, and that form is competition.

Together, individualism and competition represent the special way our Internalized Oppression is organized, and the vehicle for its perpetuation.



Individualism gives people the impression that when they achieve something it is on their own and without the help of others and that when they fail it is, once again, all their own doing. Belief in the value of individualism obscures any understanding of the way in which human beings affect each other in both good and bad ways; thus it completely mystifies both oppression and cooperation. Individualism results in the isolation of human beings from each other so that they cannot band together against the well-organized oppressive forces that exploit them.

Individualism makes people easily influenced and also easily targeted when they step out of line and begin to want to remedy their oppression in an individual fashion. Finally, individualism prevents people from validating their growing awareness of oppression with each other. Healthy paranoid suspicions that may accompany demystification of oppression are invalidated, and people are reduced to schizophrenia, each person in her individual, impotent, paranoid system.

Individualism as a way of relating to other human beings, while highly touted, can, in fact, be a most self-destructive form of behavior. We do not mean to suggest that individuality, individual action or self-centered behavior is invariably wrong. It is clear that some individuals and their individual actions have been of ultimate benefit to themselves and others. In fact, it is the clearly positive individual actions of certain scientists or politicians that are used by our educational institutions as showcases to highlight the value of individuality. But these examples are distortions and exaggerations of its value, for the purpose of instilling individualism and competitiveness in the young. Every individual "achiever" is connected by a thousand threads to others — colleagues and co-workers, teachers and students, families and friends — and all contribute to the achievement.



Individualism goes hand in hand with competitiveness. Since we stand or fall strictly on our individual efforts, it follows that we must think of everyone around us as individuals equally invested in succeeding and, in the mad scramble to the top, also necessarily invested in achieving superiority or one-up status to us. Being one-down is intolerable; the only alternative in our society is to try to stay one-up. Equality is not comprehended by us and often not even considered. Competitiveness is trained into human beings from early in life in our culture. Yet, not all human beings are bred into competitive styles of life, and there are some societies, some American Indians for instance, for whom competitiveness is not seen as a positive trait. In an individualistic, competitive society a person who is not highly competitive cannot keep up and becomes chronically one-down and eventually highly alienated. Therefore, competitiveness persists in appearing to be a good trait, because it is so difficult in our society to achieve well-being without having very strong competitive skills.

Competition consists of an internal process of thought, a feeling, and an external action. By competitiveness, we mean an internal, two-step process: first comparing oneself with another person, and second assigning ranks (he is best, I am better, she is worst.) The feelings which coincide with that process are varied, and we'll say more about them later. To compete is to take any action designed to win something at the expense of others. The prize may be material, such as food, a job, a prize, etc., or something interactional, such as attention, love, recognition — strokes in general. Competition occurs when the rewards are, or appear to be, in scarcity so that success for some means loss for others. (Some writers argue that competition can occur even without scarcity; we'll return to this point below.)

To be against competition is controversial in twentieth century America. Competition is what makes things work, what makes people valuable, what creates wealth, the source of all good things, according to the ideology of our society. However strongly we may believe that competition is a major source of difficulties in our lives, we must also acknowledge that there is a grain of truth to what is said in favor of it. Historically, it was the mechanism by which early capitalism supplanted feudalism, a progressive change. In its day, economic competition had a useful function, which, however, in its very nature, undid itself. As certain firms, originally competing in a free market, succeeded, economic (and with it political) power passed into fewer and fewer hands, resulting eventually in the monopoly capitalism we know today.

For a period of time in the 1960s and ‘70s, competition came under serious critical scrutiny by people on the left and those engaged in experiments with alternative lifestyles. Communes bloomed; hierarchic organizations were reorganized as collectives. Competitive sports were contrasted with cooperative games. Feminist redefinitions of intimacy and friendship highlighted the destructive effects of competition in personal relationships. Much of the pro-cooperation stance of Radical Psychiatry evolved in the context of this broad-based and progressive critique.

More recently, however, the pendulum has swung again, and many of the cooperative experiments of the previous decade have been abandoned in favor of a "new" spirit of competitiveness. Burned out by endless competitive struggles in "cooperative" settings, where old habits, lack of skills and a naive misunderstanding of the realities of power too often swamped ideals, many ex-counter-culture participants re-evaluated both the practicality of cooperation and its desirability. Often people left the fray, feeling discouraged, worn-out and cynical.

Is competition all bad, they asked? Aren't the experiences of exhilaration, of competency and — let's face it — pride in winning, legitimate highs? Women began to notice that they were working harder at the cooperation game than men seemed to be. As their brothers embarked on the scramble to the top, they found themselves left behind in non-competitive jobs. Let's join the race, said a new breed of feminists. Cooperation is another ploy to keep us from getting our just rewards.

These arguments in favor of competition deserve careful attention. Indeed, in a competitive setting, to cooperate unilaterally is a contradiction in terms. As we have said, success in a competitive society does demand competitive skills. If you run the race and hope to win, you'd better have trained hard, and be unconfused about wanting to win.

To compete, then, may be a wise and justifiable choice. But too often we compete, psychologically and in actions, when we have not chosen to do so. We compete, at times, because we don't know what else to do, or because the only alternative we see is to drop out. Competition becomes the mode in personal relationships, often against our best intentions.

Sometimes we compete because we want to be wholly and passionately engaged in an activity. Competition can indeed "feel good" : it energizes us, captures our interest, bonds us with others on our team, and makes a bond of a negative sort with those we battle against. In our alienated lives, it is hard indeed to find pursuits that are so compelling. Lacking social movements, cut off from art and learning and growth in our daily lives, sidetracked from intimacy by the battle of the sexes, we turn to competitive endeavors to find that experience of being fully alive. The catch is that intense joyfulness usually comes with winning, and most of us lose most of the time. Even when we do win, we lose, for we are denied another whole set of intensely human experiences: pleasure in the process rather than the end, room to experiment, the joy of appreciating varieties of means, of reveling in the differences among us which are squeezed away in the linear act of ranking winners against losers, best against worst.

Some writers distinguish two different situations denoted by the word competition. In both, winning is the objective. But in one model, more than one winner is theoretically possible. In fact, everybody could potentially win. A race is one example of this form of competition. Theoretically, if eight runners compete, all could cross the winning line together. In baseball, however, the game goes on and on until one team wins. Tennis matches cannot end in a tie. A college professor who grades "on a curve" can award only a finite (usually very small) number of A's, even if everyone does substantially as well as everybody else; not everyone can excel, by definition.

In the first model, people often experience the exhilaration of performing together with a competitor. Indeed, the word "competition" comes from the Latin competere, which is often translated "to run alongside." To pace yourself against a comrade can encourage you to do your best, perhaps even to exceed what you thought your best was. It may be a constructive and inspirational experience.

But in fact, most competition in our society is of the scarcity category typified by many sports. It is this form of competition, where people are not pacing each other but rather ranking themselves, that is most at issue, because it is this type of ranking, which demands that the success of one necessarily mean the failure of others, that invades our hearts and psyches and drives us to distraction. So intricately is scarcity-based competition entangled in our psychology that even when we do "run alongside" each other, we very often find ourselves vying to win nonetheless. The distinction between these two models is, therefore, more interesting theoretically than it is useful in practice.

Win/lose competitiveness is based on the premise that there is not enough to go around of whatever a person needs, even when in fact there is. If the material needs of human beings are in drastic scarcity, it follows obviously that competitiveness is the mode for survival. If there is one loaf of bread daily, evenly shared, to feed twenty families, it is pretty clear that all will starve. If a competitive member of this subgroup manages to obtain the whole loaf of bread for his family, that one family will survive while the others will still starve. The net effect of competitiveness in scarcity is actually a positive one for those who compete and win, and even for the survival of the species. But as scarcity becomes a thing of the past, as it is in the United States, competitiveness actually creates scarcity and hunger. The hoarding behavior which goes along with competitiveness causes certain people to have a great deal more than they truly need, while large numbers of others, who could be satisfied with the surplus of those few who have, go without. Competitive, hoarding behavior is based on unrealistic anxiety based on fears of scarcity. Oppressive as he is to others, the hoarder is himself oppressed by it.

I (Claude) first experienced the relationship of cooperation to scarcity at a large gathering in the Santa Cruz mountains. One evening everyone sat around in a circle in the center of which was the food for dinner. To my scarcity-oriented eyes it did not appear that there was enough to go around. I was alarmed and scared by the prospects of going hungry and in great conflict about the situation. Portions of food began to be passed around the circle, everyone eating from them as much as they wanted and passing them on. The food circulated over and over, and to my amazement, I found that there was actually enough food to satisfy me quite fully. Yet my experience, because of my scarcity-oriented, competitive and individualist training, was one of anxiety and alarm about not being properly fed. As food went by me I took larger bites than I needed; I felt guilty, but I schemed about ways in which I could make certain kinds of food return to me; I worried as food went around the circle as to whether it would reach me again. I ate more than I needed and was, in short, unable to enjoy the meal because I was so driven by fears of scarcity and feelings of competitiveness.

This anecdote illustrates how we are not only mystified into being competitive and individualistic but into believing that competitiveness and individualism do in some way bring us benefit, when in fact, at this point in our development as human beings, the opposite is often true.



Competitiveness is taught us from an early age by our parents, but especially in school. Sports, grades, tests, are all training exercises in competitive skills — mock scarcity situations that prepare us for the business world, for the assembly line, for the job market. Competitiveness is taught to boys in its most blatant form; girls are taught to compete in more subtle, psychological forms.

In the nuclear family we are taught early and hard that there is a scarcity of what we need, and that in order to get what we need we must be better than the next guy. The nuclear family (whether single or double parent) is a perfect training ground for this lesson. There is, in fact, not enough of what children need — attention, time, love, respect, stimulation, praise, space, maybe food — to go around. If both parents are scrambling to make it in the difficult, highly competitive job market, they are likely to be worn out by the end of the day. This family exists within a society that promotes scarcity — both real and manipulated. It is an unassailable belief in this society that people deserve to have their needs be met on a system of merit. Those who have an unequal share of the goodies (an empty mansion in Pacific Heights, fantastic job, several wonderful lovers) deserve that share because they are harder working (smarter, prettier, morally superior). Those who sleep on the streets must have brought it on themselves. Had they worked harder, drunk less, prayed more, jogged longer, they, too, would have a bed in which to sleep.

When the world's resources are divided in a way that is grossly unequal, an ideology must exist to rationalize the inequities. Otherwise, people could be expected to fight for their equal share. It is this ideology — that there is not enough of what we need to go around and that it is merit that determines how large one's share should be — that invades our minds and hearts. It pits us against each other in a lifelong rivalry. We compete for the material things we need — jobs, food, safety, as well as for life's essential intangibles — love, appreciation, respect, self-regard. For a young child who has no understanding of the difficulties in her parents' lives, or the causes of lack of attention or irritability, the message is simple. "I have to be better, louder, smarter, bigger, smaller, prettier so Mommy'll pay attention to me." This message is amplified by well-meaning parents who want their children to succeed and reward them for being competitive: "You can count to ten and you're only two. Johnny couldn't count until he was three." "You have such pretty, curly hair. Poor Annie's hair is straight." "Look how cooperative Katie's being — she shares her toys. You're so selfish."



People with a progressive stance vaguely understand that competition is a politically incorrect attitude and the source of a lot of difficulties. But when we attempt to translate these beliefs into everyday experience in this most competitive of societies, we're not exactly sure how it all works and what to do about it. We vaguely know that we're competitive, and have a feeling that it's not right, but that's where we usually stop and we remain confused and without a clear idea of how to act.

As the human facts of competition are put into an ideology that is basically constructed to serve the rich and powerful in society, competition becomes not a matter of "running alongside" anymore but of winning. And in order to win, we have to be better, we have to assess where we stand in relation to others, and we begin to think in terms of what's better and what's worse — good, better or best. We start arranging all the human qualities we consider important (body, intelligence, looks, success, wealth, age, health) along a straight line on which we rank ourselves as being the best, the middle, or the bottom. This ranking does complete violence to reality, since human qualities like intelligence or beauty simply can't realistically be ranked along a linear dimension.

Of course, we never get a chance to rank ourselves as the best unless we win in a competition that pits us against all comers and proves that we have the best body or the strongest biceps or that we are the best salesman or marathon runner. Most people are really not ever going to be the best anyway. So we resign ourselves to being somewhere below the best, and take a position in relation to other people; we do it constantly, day in and day out in all relationships and situations.

What ranking does is reduce the range of human qualities and the options in the areas that we value. Huge numbers of female teenagers worry about nothing but whether their bodies are OK or not, and huge numbers of students in college worry about nothing but whether they're getting A's or are the best in the class. All the other human qualities that are somehow not categorized become irrelevant and get shunted aside.

When we are so heavily inundated by the competitive ideology, every aspect of life becomes a contest; our heads and hearts are never free of the anxious comparisons that fix our place on the endless myriad of scales. We want always to win; we feel usually that we fail.


One-Up, One-Down

We identify ourselves as being one-up or one-down types. Either we feel we are not good enough, or we feel better than others. People who feel one-down are usually very aware of how competitive they are, of how many there are ahead of them and how low down they are on the scale. Being one-down is an experience that's easy to identify: it is often labeled "low self-esteem," "weak ego," "not OK."

In contrast is the competitive experience of feeling one-up, which is often imperceptible to the one who's feeling it. A one-up competitive person assumes he is better: he knows more, is smarter, healthier, more aware, whatever, than the other person. He behaves accordingly, which may mean that he doesn't behave in any perceptible way at all. One-up transactions are noteworthy for their absence of action. The one-up player doesn't listen, fails to pay attention, does not get uptight. Under all conditions, he remains calm, relaxed, laid back, because he doesn't really care about what anybody else thinks or wants.

In his mind there runs a constant tape: "He really doesn't know. She isn't really smart enough. They don't have enough money, her car isn't really hot, and his body is not as good as mine." To himself, it appears that he's not doing anything competitive; in fact, he's involved in an intense competition in which he always construes himself to be the winner.

We've described people as "one-up" or "one-down," but in fact everyone shares both of these attitudes. Although people may tend to take one position or the other more habitually, everybody is one-up to some and one-down to others when they are in this competitive system. We can always think of people who are better than us and people who are not as good as us, and we relate to those two groups accordingly.



Each one of these positions has associated with it certain feelings. Being one-down is often accompanied by unpleasant physical sensations, such as a driving, burning energy in the stomach and chest. A person often becomes tense and anxious in the presence of the person to whom he feels one-down, as though in the clutch or grip of a pain that is driving him to be noticed. He feels angry, hurt, or envious, or sometimes he experiences feelings of panic, urgency, shame, fear. The compounding of those emotions coalesces into the one-down feeling of competition.

Being one-up is accompanied by its own set of emotions, this time pleasant, calm, relaxed but also perhaps slightly anxious in the knowledge that this one-up position is tenuous and can be easily lost.

Samuel will usually survey a room to see how he compares with others on a scale of handsomeness. If he thinks he is among the best-looking men, he feels happy, secure, sure of himself and well-disposed toward other people. If he thinks there are several men who are much better-looking than he is, he feels embarrassed, even ashamed. He thinks obsessively about his balding head, and does not speak to anyone in the room.

Nancy, on the other hand, does not notice where she ranks on a beauty scale, but knows exactly how many times she spoke in her history seminar. If she did not speak more often than the other students, or failed to elicit particular praise from the professor, she feels frightened, worried, and disagreeable. She is critical of her colleagues and thinks about dropping out of school. If she is the most vocal in his class, she feels excited and pleased with herself. Obviously, it is fine to be excited and pleased with oneself; however, when these feelings are dependent upon being the best — one-up to all other people — they become hard to obtain.

The particular stimuli that elicit competitive feelings vary from person to person. While Nancy feels especially competitive for respect in an intellectual environment, her brother may want acclaim for his creativity, emotional stability, talent, physical fitness, moral rectitude, long-suffering, wit, wardrobe or charm. Some people even feel competitive about being politically correct or about being non-competitive.

The precise rank (best, better, good, OK, among the majority, not awful) that a person needs to feel pleased with himself also varies. Samuel, mentioned earlier, needs to be "among the best-looking" on an appearance scale. He does not feel competitive about creativity or talent, but has to be the most sexy and "win the girl." Nancy is plagued with the need to be best in everything she does. Consequently, she does not attempt very much, and feels bad about herself most of the time.



The desire to be best causes us to rely heavily on power plays to get what we want, because with power plays one can win — or so we think. People who feel one-up in groups often talk too much, interrupt, shout, don't listen, don't address the previous speaker's point, and assume they have the correct approach and need only explain it so that others will eventually agree. One-down behavior in groups is less obviously competitive. Someone may be silent, whisper to a friend, look bored or disapproving, withhold strokes, read a book, listen but say little, withhold opinions while deciding the other people are loudmouths or stupid, leave the meeting and trash people later. The people who remain will be left with a vague feeling of unease that they can't explain.

Acting competitively happens not only in groups, but also in friendship and couple relationships. It is a stunning blow when two people move from the early days of liquid adoration — when comparisons are awe-inspiring (your eyes are so blue, mine so brown, isn't it wonderful!) — to vicious battles of right/wrong, good/bad, one-up/one-down and "I'll tear out those blue eyes if you don't..." This dramatic alteration makes sense when you consider how early love (idealization, adoration) satisfies a competitively one down person. You are finally number one — the most beloved, beautiful, sexy, witty, pleasing — whichever of your competitive categories you prefer. You're in a heaven of feeling good about yourself because of the reflection in your lover's eyes. Inevitably the idealization of each other runs into contradictions. He is grumpy and uninterested. She's tired and has gas. He gets a pimple, then two. It seems impossible to keep him in the rank he's been assigned. When he loses rank, his ranking of her loses credibility.

She starts to feel bad about herself, critical of him, guilty for being critical, angry about feeling guilty. The competitive battle now begins. This must be somebody's fault. The dimensions of right/wrong, good/bad, success/failure lend themselves perfectly to competitive battles being waged for the long-forgotten goal of feeling really good. This is not to discount the serious content to couples' disagreements (see Chapter 10 on Mediation.) It is just fine to argue about the division of labor in a relationship. But deadly fights about the correct way to take out the trash (dress the baby, cook vegetables) are acting-out competitive feelings.

Identifying competitiveness can be difficult. In the cases of Samuel and Nancy, the comparisons and their results were fairly easy to identify. But often competition is much more subtle. For instance:

1. You're involved in a disagreement and you're sure you're 100% correct. You are without self-criticism. You refuse truly to listen to the other person's position, certain that you understand it and that she is simply wrong.

2. You're feeling bad about a relationship and you're sure it's all your fault. You have no criticism for the other person. You withdraw into hopelessness and resignation.

3. You see a friend that you used to juggle with juggling on the Tonight Show. You suddenly feel sick and go to bed. (This could be the flu, of course.)

4. You're working on a project with two other people and you're positive that what you're doing is superior to what they're doing. You proceed unilaterally, without discussion.

5 In a group discussion, you:

- speak numerous times, before everyone else has had a chance to talk.

- always speak immediately after Paul, with whom you especially disagree.

- do not refer to the content of people’s remarks, but state new ideas or disagreements in a declarative manner.

- sit silently, feeling inadequate (the competitive behavior being the withholding of your contribution).

- take notes, writing rapidly when you agree with something said, but keeping your pen conspicuously still when you do not.

- interrupt.

- make faces, laugh, or talk behind your hand to your neighbor, while others are speaking.

6. You are interested in a job (lover, friend, apartment, etc.) that you know also interests your good friend. You silently go about getting it without talking it through together.

7. You know your friend is interested in the same job (lover, etc.) as you are, and so you withdraw from the contest without a word Some months later you realize that you no longer care for your friend, and you silently fade away from the relationship.

8. You comfort your friend (lover, co-worker, etc.) when she is upset, but never tell her when you feel bad or need something from her.

9. You insist on being comforted without trying to reciprocate

10. Your friend says, "I feel so down in the dumps. I just don’t know what would make me feel better." You comfort him by comparing your own experience: "That must be really hard. I’m never depressed for more than a few minutes. I just have such a strong spirit." Your friend never tells you when he’s blue again.

11. You meet a new person and she asks you about yourself in some detail. You tell her. You do not ask her about herself. You feel you’ve had a wonderful time, and wonder why she never calls you.

12. You have a habit of not giving strokes, even when you think and feel them.


It is a challenge to expand this list. Once our consciousness is attuned to notice competition, it begins to appear with remarkable frequency. Competitive transactions can be as creative as human ingenuity (which is considerable) allows.

SUGGESTIONS FOR FURTHER READING: Two recent books present thoughtful discussions of these questions:

Alfie Kohn: The Case Against Competition: Why We Lose in Our Race to Win (Houghton Mifflin, Boston, 1986)

Valerie Miner and Helen E. Longino, editors: Competition: A Feminist Taboo? (The Feminist Press, New York, 1987)


Chapter Seven:

The Rescue Triangle

Sandy Spiker

Beth Roy


(Note: The concept of the Rescue triangle is a derivative of the Drama Triangle first postulated by Stephen Karpman M.D. The reason for renaming it is that the way we interporet Karpman is to focus on the crucial role of the Rescue role in our work. Ed.)

Rescue is a concept that is central to our theory and practice. It describes a common set of transactions that arise from, and contribute to, inequalities of power. Rescue in our jargonistic sense does not mean what the dictionary says it does: "To free or save from danger, imprisonment, evil, etc." (New World Dictionary). Instead, we are referring to the act of "helping out" more than is actually needed, to an unequal distribution of helping or of self-sacrifice.

Rescue describes transactions involving three roles: the Rescuer, the Victim and the Persecutor.

The Rescuer does more than her or his share of the work, or (in an alternative definition) does something she doesn't really want to do. In relationships molded by sexist role training, for instance, women classically do most of the emotional work — initiating conversations about problems, giving strokes, healing wounds, facilitating intimacy — while men do more of the work of taking care of business in the world — earning money, fixing cars, planning finances, and so on. Each Rescues in her or his particular way.

The Victim feels that he or she has inadequate power or capability to do her share. She or he must depend on the Rescuer to "help out." Men who have never had to be tuned in to their own inner lives or to take care of the day-to-day details of domesticity, are thoroughly panicked when their wives vanish (die; pack up and leave; announce a conversion and a new distribution of labor). They may believe that they are not capable of carrying on a one-to-one conversation with the children, or changing a diaper or cooking a meal. And, in fact, they probably are not very capable, because they've had no practice. Women who have never had to negotiate with auto mechanics, or fill out income tax forms, or repair a broken light-switch, are similarly panicked when suddenly faced with the need to do so. It begins to be clear how Rescue and Victim are related; the Rescuer Rescues because the Victim can't do his share. But the more the Victim is Rescued, the less skill she accumulates and the less power she has to do whatever is needed.

But people have a strong urge to be powerful. To feel like a Victim, to be treated like a Victim (with whatever good intentions), sooner or later becomes a disagreeable experience. Victims get mad and begin to Persecute. "Stop nagging me!" the husband protests angrily. "I'll make up with my friend (ask for a raise/take out the garbage/play with the children/talk about our vacation/etc.) when I'm ready. Back off!" Meanwhile, the Rescuer is victimized by her Rescue. The woman could be having a better time, and getting more rewards, if she took an art class, visited a friend, started a new career, soaked in a bubble bath, rather than hounding her man to talk about his feelings. She loses her power to be truly happy, and she, too, turns to Persecution. "I don't know why; I'm just not turned on to you any more."

Persecutions come in many forms. They are power plays (see Chapter 1), and they run the gamut from passive (silence, sulking, etc.) to active (yelling, throwing things, hitting, and, at the furthest extreme, homicide).

Because the roles are interlinked, and people move from one to another with a kind of inevitability, we have arranged the roles in a triangle. To diagram Rescue in this way is to indicate that it is a trap, a sort of pointed vicious circle. Once you begin to play, either as a Rescuer or a Victim, you move around the triangle and are compelled to play each of the other roles as well.

The concept of Rescue has been extraordinarily helpful over the years, because it speaks to some of the most common dynamics of interpersonal transactions in our culture, and because it is a way of analyzing power transactions which are commonly unstated and difficult to articulate.

Parent-child relations, for instance, can be constructively analyzed in terms of Rescue (see Chapter 17): parents see children as being less capable than they are and over-do their "care," tying shoelaces, cooking dinners, nagging about homework and on and on and on. Meanwhile, children rely on parents to do those things and don't do them themselves, and don't learn how. Meanwhile, parents wear out, nag more and more, feel judgmental and become abusive. Meanwhile, children rebel, going slow, making mistakes, being surly, and, when at last they reach adolescence and have grown bodies, become teenage "devils" in all the old familiar ways.

At the same time that the notion of Rescue is helpful, however, it also has a persistent tendency to be misused, to become a new Pig injunction ("Thou Shalt Not Rescue" becomes an eleventh commandment). Moreover, its political implications have been hotly debated, often in ways that have been constructive and clarifying.



Indeed, we are drawn to Rescue as a working concept in large part because it is intrinsically political. It is a description of the uses and misuses of power in relationships among people who have the possibility of equality, or at least have equal rights to the satisfaction of their needs. These equal rights are the precondition for cooperation (see Chapter 4), and eliminating Rescue is an important part of being cooperative. On the other hand, simply to ask the question whether or not Rescue is applicable as a mode of analysis in a given relationship is to raise crucial questions about power (see Chapter 1). A promise not to Rescue, for instance, cannot by itself eliminate inequities based on institutionalized privilege, such as race, class, sex or age. We must ask what the real inequalities of power are, how people may be actual victims (with a little "v" ) as opposed to Victims (big "V" ) in the sense of Rescue.

There are two ways in which people are actual victims. The first is to be physically incapable of an action. Small children, for instance, cannot drive automobiles. They cannot lift heavy burdens or prepare elaborate meals, and so on. A person who is disabled and cannot walk may not be capable of climbing a staircase, or of rushing up a hill. Some women lack the physical strength to lift certain weights.

The second way in which people are victims, however, has nothing to do with innate capabilities, but rather is about socially imposed disadvantages. The woman in our example above, for instance, may be frightened of earning a living. Some portion of her fear may be inaccurate, a learned response to her historic dependency. But some part of it is completely accurate. Women's earnings are 60% of men's. A middle-aged woman who has no credentials and who has not worked for most of her adult life will, in fact, have a very hard time finding paid work. The many skills she has amassed in the years of doing domestic labor are not economically valued.

Institutional racism disadvantages people of color. To have a pessimistic view of the future may be a result of an inaccurate sense of powerlessness. But if you are a teenaged black man in a large American city, if you come from a working-class family, or one where the adults are unemployed, your chances are actually very slim of finding work. The largest cause of death in young black men is homicide. The probability that any given man will reach middle age is very much reduced if he is black. Many studies have demonstrated the greater effort needed by people of color to graduate from college. There is nothing psychological about these facts, although they may certainly have psychological consequences.

To make distinctions between Victims and victims is important. In the one case, help may well be in order, although help, too, must be carefully constructed to avoid indignities and exploitation. In the other case, Rescues beckon, resulting in greater Victimization and, eventually, in Persecution.



The concept of Rescue comes directly out of game theory, which Eric Berne developed in Games People Play. Berne defined a game as " ongoing series of complementary ulterior transactions progressing to a well-defined, predictable outcome." In other words, games are a set of recurring transactions within which people pursue a hidden agenda. Indeed, "concealed motivation" is one of two essential qualities by which Berne distinguishes games. An insurance salesman, for instance, conceals behind his glad-handing the hidden ambition to "make a killing."

The second defining characteristic of games is the payoff. At the end of the sequence is some "reward," an outcome which is the point of the procedure for the players.

Berne and other Transactional Analysts set about to delineate common games. Steven Karpman postulated that the roles basic to all games are Rescuer, Victim and Persecutor, and that these roles could be arranged in a triangle to indicate the way people switch from one to another. He named his diagram the Drama Triangle.

Radical Psychiatrists were enamored of the concept, both because it is descriptively apt, and because it soon became apparent that the triangle is a paradigm of power. It was generally clear how the Victim and Persecutor roles warranted criticism, but we understood that the Rescuer, too, made noteworthy mistakes, because she took and misused an unwarranted share of power. We renamed the concept the Rescue Triangle, to call special attention to the role of the Rescuer. In the process, we sought to underscore the political implications of the game.

Of our early interest in games, only the Rescue Triangle has survived in use over the years. The test of theory is its usefulness; what is most accurate is also most helpful, and theory which falls short tends to be forgotten in practice. Game theory in general is tainted by an attribution of intent and maliciousness to the players, a position which is the opposite of Radical Psychiatry theory. But Rescue, while not a perfect formulation, continues to be helpful and to occupy a prominent place in our practice.

Concepts similar to Rescue have, in recent years, gained popularity in other arenas. Twelve-step work, for instance, derived from the practice of Alcoholics Anonymous, uses the idea of "co-alcoholics" for those who Rescue an alcoholic and thereby contribute to the addiction. In Women Who Love Too Much, Robin Norwood describes the ways in which women try to "fix" their men, taking "too much responsibility" for their partners' emotional availability and in the process losing their sense of self in the service of the relationship. Both these formulations differ from Rescue in the absence of an analysis of power, and their reliance instead on the idea of "dysfunctional" families to explain behavior.



In Relationship: Rescue is a common mode of transaction between parents and children in nuclear families. From the very beginning children are believed to be Victims (see Chapter 17 for many examples). At one time, small infants were fed according to schedules, a practice which assumed that doctors knew better than babies how babies needed to eat. Today, fashions in childrearing show more respect for infants' signals about hunger; feeding has reverted to an "on-demand" philosophy. In general, though, we tend to assume that children are less self-knowing and less capable than they actually are.

Take, for example, the question of helping around the house. Toddlers often like to cook. Mothers, however, who are usually the ones in charge of kitchen-duty, must be patient saints to allow small kids free access to cooking. Kids make a mess, cook inedibly, waste time. They can't reach things in kitchens constructed for adults and need constant help. Moms are overworked, worn out with boring clean-up duties, worried about the children's getting proper nutrition, conscious of neighborhood judgments about the condition of the kitchen floor. Mother therefore shoes children out of the kitchen, preferring to do it herself. Later, though, she complains that kids don't know anything about cooking, are totally dependent on her for their food preparation, and are hostile to the idea of learning kitchen-skills.

Mothers Rescue by doing more than their share of cooking, based on the assumption that kids are Victims, unable to do for themselves. Kids Persecute, pout and complain about exclusion from the kitchen, and later, Mom having been thoroughly Victimized by cooking her three millionth meal, she, too, moves to Persecution, accusing her kids of being lazy no-goods because they can't cook and won't learn how. Notice, by the way, that what starts this vicious circle with points is a combination of structural and ideological factors. If there were four adults minding the kids, rather than only one or at best two, someone would probably have energy and interest to help children learn their way around the kitchen. If mothering were not the predominant duty of women, if women had more relief from domestic duties, and more strokes outside the home, more "mothers" of both genders would be available to take joy in children's messy learning processes. On the ideological level, if Mom were not under injunction to monitor kids' nutrition, nor self-conscious about the censure of her community for messy kitchens, she might be able to relax more and let nature take its (messy) course.

Meanwhile, the Rescue is self-fulfilling. With little or no opportunity to learn their way around the kitchen, kids really are Victims, unskilled and convinced, perhaps, of their incompetence. They conclude they are stupid, clumsy, useless, and then Persecute by rebelling against these cruel judgments from without and within. Mom, realizing she has been mean and judgmental after her last outburst, feels guilty. "Good Moms," she believes, are endlessly patient, and forever willing to "care" for their young. She resolves to "do better," cooking harder, longer and more alone than ever — in other words, Rescues with ever more conviction — until the next time she is worn out, Victimized, and moves again to Persecute her children.

Dads Rescue, too. Classically, they are called upon to provide more than a fair share of money to the family, a Rescue which gives them a disproportionate share of power. In the process they are Victimized by being excluded from the day-to-day lives of their children. Personal contact with the kids is tainted by their culturally assigned role of "discipliner," which means to be traffic-cop to the kids. Again Victimized, they miss the sweetness of children's strokes at the same time that they heartily defend the need for discipline. They come to believe that their kids are really worthless, Persecuting with all the energy of hurt and longing. They feel guilty and take on the role of teacher and provider, or Rescuer, once again.

Heterosexual couples Rescue in classic ways. She is in charge of emotional well-being, while he worries about money, car repairs, and the state of the world. Witness the following recent telephone conversation between lovers:

She: "Today I saw so-and-so, and I filed papers for such-and-such, and do you remember the plans for this-and-that, well we made major progress, and so-and-so is having a really hard time with this-and-that. So how was your day today?"

He: "Okay."

She: "Okay? What happened today with whosis?"

He: "Nothing. It went okay."

She: "What's the matter?"

He: "Nothing. Everything's fine."

She: "Something's wrong. Your voice sounds funny."

He: "No it doesn't. I'm fine."

She: "No you're not. What's the matter? Are you mad at me?"

He: "No."

Fill in several more passes of the same sort, until finally...:

He: "Well, I guess I am a little irritated at you for calling me at work today when I was busy."

She: "See! I knew something was wrong. Why don't you talk to me? You always keep secrets and make me feel crazy."

He: "Well, I hadn't realized it. I'd forgotten."

She: "How can you be so tuned out? You're so out-of-touch with your feelings. I can't stand it any more! (yelling)"

He: "This is why I don't tell you anything. You always flip out. Besides, I didn't want to hurt your feelings."

Familiar? She Rescues by intuiting that something is wrong and then pursuing it doggedly. Her Rescue is fueled by the fear that she is crazy, a belief that makes her feel like a Victim, and the more he denies that she is on to something, the more she feels crazy, is Victimized. Finally, she Persecutes him, accusing him of emotional idiocy, of being "always" out-of-touch. He, meanwhile, is really a Victim because he is not skillful at emotional transactions. Why should he be, when she does all the work? Moreover, he Rescues her, afraid to hurt her feelings, and afraid of her wrath. Then he turns on her, too, Persecuting her with accusations. Eventually, he surprises her by announcing he is no longer in love with her and wants to end their affair, the final Persecution.

Lesbians and gay men Rescue in many of these same ways, and in some that are peculiar to the ways that men and women are differently socialized in a sexist society. Women, for instance, often Rescue by protecting each other from their critical feelings, by being too ready to compromise, by losing track of their own desires and needs (see Chapter 18).


In Groups: It is very common for people working or living together to Rescue by doing more than their share of the work (See Chapter 4). Simon is a firebrand, eating, sleeping and dreaming The Cause. In his heart of hearts, he believes that nobody understands as clearly as he the true dimension of the problem, and nobody can come up with solutions as clear-sighted as his. He smiles at the others in his group, dutifully accepts their efforts, including criticism, makes superficially motions of including them in the work. But in truth, he is a one-man show.

On a daily basis, he oversees every detail. In discussions about plans and programs, he is several beats ahead of everyone else, makes more suggestions and exercises more energy to get his ideas accepted. He is a good-hearted man, sincerely devoted to his group and their shared Cause. But he does far more than his share of the work.

In turn, his group members depend on him. They, too, believe they could not manage without him, that their ideas are not as clear, their skills less effective, their resolve only a fraction of his. Indeed, they are less skilled, because he does so much of the work. They do not think as clearly as he, because he thinks for them; they never have the space to process their own ideas, to sort and refine them, to make mistakes in practice and learn more from the next trip to the drawing-board. Here again, we can see that the Rescue is self-fulfilling.

Eventually, however, people begin to feel bad. For too long, they have thought badly of themselves, believing that they are inferior to Simon. Moreover, their feelings are hurt that Simon respects their ideas and efforts so little. One by one, they begin to drop out of the group. Some caucus, compare notes and plot a palace revolution. They confront Simon and accuse him of being a power-hungry sexist elitist.

Simon is devastated. After all, he has always had their shared best interests at heart. And he's worked so hard! He concludes that people are hopeless, loses his fervor for the social good and drops out.

This example is an extreme one. But to a greater or a lesser extent, similar dramas are played out in many a group. Simon Rescues, the group members are Victims who eventually Persecute, Victimizing Simon, who in turn Persecutes them and the world with his cynicism.

Often old-timers Rescue newcomers; they have too little skill training new members to share responsibility and power. Women frequently Rescue men in groups by hanging back, allowing them to talk more often. Members of a collective household may collude in Rescuing one person who repeatedly fails to do his chores, covering up for him until one day they band together and kick him out.

Ways of Rescuing in groups are many-hued and imaginative. Often, the first sign of them is in-fighting, factionalization, and eventually splits and burn-out.


Most of us are influenced by an ideology of "helping," of what constitutes help and to whom it should be given. So natural do these ideas seem that they are rarely critically examined. It is an ideology based on Judeo-Christian beliefs, and it teaches that we should help others without thinking of ourselves. Ironically, it coexists peacefully with capitalist assumptions of perfect selfishness. Adam Smith and other theorists of capitalism propose the notion that if each individual in a free enterprise system acts exclusively in his own best interest, then the best interest of the community will also be served. Untrammeled competition is supposed to be the mechanism by which the economy grows and a just distribution of resources is accomplished (see Chapter 6).

It is interesting, then, that in an economy propelled by selfishness ("Look out for Number One!"), self-sacrifice is held up as an ideal ("Charity begins at home." "It is more blessed to give than to receive.") To resolve the contradiction we must look at who is to be helped: those "less fortunate" than ourselves. Implicit is an assumption of superiority on the part of the helper and inferiority on the part of those being helped. "Selflessness," we can see, is another way of supporting hierarchy. Governed by such a model, we have no need to seek equality. "Helping" in this conception is an outgrowth of inequality, and, in turn, helps to perpetuate it. People are not really helped by "being done for" by others, as the examples above demonstrate. In fact, they are harmed because they are robbed of their power to learn and to help themselves, which reinforces their position and feelings of powerlessness.

In recent years, we have seen a complicated debate within the black community on this subject. Some people want to refuse government assistance, insisting that people of color must improve their own lot, "pull ourselves up by our bootstraps." What advocates of this position are responding to is the sense of humiliation that has come along with welfare, and the real ways in which it perpetuates disadvantage, ameliorating the consequences without attacking the causes. Others in the community emphasize that the plight of people of color is caused by racism, and that the larger society owes redress. They are often more acutely aware of the institutional ways in which inequality perpetuates itself, and convinced that "bootstrap" operations are destined to fail without more profound and far-reaching social changes. There are dangers on both sides of the debate of "blaming the Victim," and of compounding powerlessness by relying on changes which only those in power can institute. The concept of Rescue is less than helpful in analyzing problems on this mega-level. But the example does contribute to an understanding of the differences between help and Rescue.

None of which is to say that people can't help each other; of course they can. But an ideology of selflessness mystifies the distinction between help and Rescue. The best kind of help is that which is mutually exchanged, or is asked for and freely given in a manner that allows the person helped to put her best efforts into it, matching the efforts of the helper. "Cooperative helping" is neither selfless nor individualistic; it assumes that both parties have some measure of power to effect whatever outcome is desired, and that each will contribute as much as she or he is able. It is based on the premise that both people have equal rights to happiness and well-being.

Why do so many of us nonetheless Rescue? The reasons are both structural and ideological.



Let's go back to the example of Mother in the kitchen. The first glaring reason for her Rescue, as we have noted, is her isolation. She has too much to do, and too little help, to have extra time and patience to let children learn their way around cooking. Jesse, who was raised in a household of four adults, played cooking games especially with one caretaker. Josh, in a family with two primary caretakers and several nearby pinch-hitters, cooked eggs while being carried on his father's hip.

Scarcity of labor often fuels Rescue. So also do institutional arrangements that run counter to people's intentions. Men and women, for instance, more and more often seek to share childrearing and money-earning equally, stopping the traditional Rescues of the genders around these divisions of labor. But when men earn more money for the same number of hours in the work-market, the pressures to revert to the old distribution of roles is great. Time is scarce, good jobs hard to find; it is very easy for the man to work "just a few more hours" at his higher-paying job, while she covers the baby. After all, they really need both the time and the money, and it doesn't make sense for her to have to be away from home a third again as many hours to make the same income. In fact, a couple is lucky to be confronted by this particular problem; maternity and paternity leaves, part-time jobs, job-sharing and other unconventional work arrangements that might foster fathers’ sharing care are only beginning to be available, and are in very great scarcity.

Similarly, between men and women, an enormous array of experiences in childhood promote the divisions of labor that are reflected in common cross-gender Rescues. Girls "gossip," which really means they talk about people, analyze and understand behavior, tune in, and so on — all the work of emotional literacy. Meanwhile, boys play sports, tinker with mechanical toys, and endure teasing that promotes worldly competency and emotional illiteracy. Eventually, his competitive job locks him into an instrumental rather than an affective mode, while her people-related work (as teacher, nurse, waitress, airline hostess, secretary, etc.) all demand emotional fluency. If she tries to tune out his subtle mood changes, she must switch gears from her work life, and so must he if he tries to tune in. (Similar "in-the-world" dynamics between lesbians are detailed in Chapter 18, and Chapter 19 looks at Rescues involving people with disabilities.)


Rescue, as these examples suggest, is not "original sin." Instead, it is a prison in which people often find themselves locked. But if the bars are real and structural, what turns the key is ideological. Numbers of attitudes and ideas help to shepherd us into the cell, and to keep us there. These ideas are what we call Internalized Oppression, informally known as Pig (see Chapter 5).

We have already talked about a generalized philosophy of "selflessness." In day-to-day practice, this philosophy appears as a concept of "goodness." A "good woman" cares about her partner's feelings, intuits them before he knows they exist, spends every moment cooking, cleaning, make domestic harmony, and so on. She may be "liberated," work at any interesting job, but nonetheless believe she should always be interested in hearing the details of his day, and never complain that he rarely asks about hers and doesn't listen when she tells him. A woman who fails in these duties is "selfish, out-of-control, hard, unfeminine." The Pig, in other words, literally polices our actions from inside our heads. Notice that the behaviors that result, the particular Rescues that people do, are socially useful. Men who are busily competing in the marketplace all day do need women to tend the home fires. Women who labor unpaid in the domestic sphere all day, do need men who bring home their wages. Men do so because they believe that "good men" protect and shelter their women and children; that they are responsible for "taking care" of those who are weaker than themselves; that their own needs for human connection, art, and joy are "selfish, wimpy, weak and crazy."

Many other ideas lead to the same behaviors. Jonathan may Rescue, for instance, because he believes Susan is not capable of paying the bills, or because he fears she won't do it to his satisfaction, that she'll make mistakes in arithmetic and lose track of receipts. He does more than his share as a result, and soon is trapped into the necessity of doing many other tasks: reconciling the checkbook, preparing the taxes, negotiating with the bill collector, and so on.

Susan, on the other hand, may Rescue because she wants something for herself. She wants Jonathan to appreciate her, to give her "strokes," and so she cooks his favorite meal even though she is exhausted, folds his socks individually, and carefully arranges a vase full of flowers which he never notices.

Jonathan and Susan are a "traditional" couple in their division of marketplace and domestic labor. But consider Judith and Thomas, both of whom work in an alternative grocery store. He may Rescue by being the creative one, the person who dreams of new displays and innovative ways to organize the groups, while she is in charge of dealing with the public, negotiating with the distributors, and so on. He may feel incapable of doing the "hard-nosed" stuff, while she abdicates to him her spontaneity and artistry. Gender role reversals become increasingly familiar in our "alternative" communities, but Rescue goes on and on.

Guilt frequently leads to Rescue. Indeed, we have noted that it is the leg of the triangle that leads back from Persecution to renewed Rescue. Sometimes guilt provokes new Rescues, when people try to "make it up" to each other for imagined transgressions.

Fear also may prompt Rescue. Nancy pretends to be content in her relationship with Marianne because she is afraid that Marianne will be mad at her if she is critical. Marianne, in turn, stops her beloved dancing, because she is afraid Nancy will be jealous and will leave her.



In general, Rescue depends on a disregard for our own feelings. Either we don't know what we truly want, or we dispute our right to get it. Most people learn to pay little attention to their feelings, because they are not taken seriously by others, or are considered to be "wrong" (crazy, inconvenient, selfish, and so on), or because the ways in which they have been Rescued in the past have trained them to tune out (as in the examples of men who have given over emotional caretaking to their women and never learned to do it themselves).

Even when we do know what we want, however, often we believe we have no right to ask for it. We think we can get along without strokes, while our partner is too fragile and needs to be "pumped up." We think we haven't worked hard enough, been smart enough, acted reasonably enough, to have earned the right to be taken care of. We think others are better people and deserve to come first.

In general, then, Rescue means giving something up, "self-sacrifice." The idea of stopping Rescue is not a very helpful one; it is difficult to know how not to do something, particularly when the reasons to do it are as compelling as we've indicated they are. What is needed, instead, is an alternative. If Rescue depends on giving up our wants, the opposite would be to talk directly and honestly about what we want. We counsel people to escape the Rescue Triangle by "asking for 100% of what you want 100% of the time." To do so is not the final solution. But it is the first step in a negotiation, a cooperative process of discussion and creative compromise.

It is crucial to note that cooperative compromise can only occur in a cooperative relationship, one in which exist equality and a willingness on everyone's part to be cooperative (see Chapter 4).

People sometimes seek to "stop Rescuing" their bosses, or to "ask for 100% of what they want" from someone who is in a competitive struggle with them, and then are surprised and disappointed that the boss or competitor counters with a killing power play. Hierarchical and cooperative relationships are fundamentally different; we want to emphasize strongly the need to distinguish one from the other.

In a cooperative relationship, however, for each person to communicate what she wants is the first step. Once all the relevant information is available to everybody, together they can figure out how to give each one a close approximation of satisfaction. Sometimes, people want much the same things, and resolution is easy. But other times, people's desires may be contradictory. The project then becomes one of finding a solution acceptable to all. This process is an art — a creative act based on hope (in the possibility that such a solution can be found) and goodwill (the belief that everyone has an equal right to satisfaction, and that the others will work as hard to protect your right as you do to protect theirs).

Sue, for example, is on the verge of Rescuing Paul by agreeing to go to his office party when she doesn't really want to go. Instead, she gathers her courage in hand and tells him the truth.

Paul may be relieved. Perhaps he was Rescuing her by inviting her, when he actually preferred to be there alone, without having to introduce her to people he knows and she doesn't.

But maybe he really does want her to be with him: "I'm disappointed. I've been looking forward to my office crowd's meeting you; I feel proud of you, and also I think you'd like Tom and Evelyn a lot and have been wanting to get you together."

Sue thinks through the reasons for her reluctance: "I'm afraid I'll be bored. You all know each other well, and I've never met most of these people. When we ran into Steve on the street that day, you guys talked shop and I felt excluded."

Paul: "Is there something I could do that would make the party fun for you?"

Sue: "Well, maybe you could brief me on people in advance, and then tell people one or two things about me when you make introductions, so they'll have some clues about starting a conversation."

Paul: "That's fine. What I'd like is for you to tell me if you're not having a good time. I'll be willing to leave pretty quickly if it's not fun for you after you've tried."

Sometimes, these sorts of conditional compromises are not possible. If Teddy wants to see the movie at the Roxy, while Sam is dying to go to the one at the Fox, neither is likely to be consoled by popcorn if he’s given up seeing the film he wants. But Sam might be willing to trade his movie for first choice of a restaurant. Or Teddy may give up the Roxie this time if they go to his film next time. The art here is to watch the concessions made over time, so that ultimately they equal out.

What is important is that the solution arrived at is mutually acceptable, that each person has access to all relevant information and is making a free choice.

The process is similar in groups, although there are likely to be even more possibilities for solutions. When there are enough people involved, the likelihood is greater that someone will enjoy doing a particular task that others dislike; people won't need to Rescue. If not, the disagreeable deed can be shared around, so that no one is too oppressed by it.

What is often frightening in groups is the moment of truth when someone who has done a major share of the work pulls back. Suzanne has been the person who generally volunteers to book the hall, design the brochure, sort the bulk mailing, write the checks, and so on. When she realizes she is furious, and becomes self-critical of her Rescue, she decides she wants to stop doing most or all of those tasks, that she's been further Rescuing by not asking to do the more appealing jobs: presenting material, brainstorming about ideas, and so on.

Anti-Rescue is one possible move for Suzanne here. One day shortly before the conference she appears at a meeting and announces that she has had a revelation: she's been Rescuing, and has decided not to finish any of the work. Since she's always done it, however, nobody else in the group knows where the printer is, how much money is owed to the conference center, what the registration system is. They are truly Victims, because they have given over all that responsibility (and, it now appears, power) to Suzanne. The morally-superior position of anti-Rescue ("It's not good for the group for me to continue this Rescue..." ) is actually veiled Persecution (" ____ you!").

But even if Suzanne is more cooperative, announces her desire for a change and trains people to take over and waits until the task at hand is completed, her fellow group-members may be frightened at the withdrawal of her seemingly crucial energy.

This juncture is familiar to many people working in well-meaning, progressive, socially responsible groups. The hard truth is that, if a group's work depends on the disproportionate overwork of a few members, then the group is doing something intrinsically wrong. Political Rescue is a very common affliction. We work too hard because we think the world needs us to do it, will not survive without our correct analysis of the problem and irreplaceable endeavors. The result is burn-out and another important worker lost to a good cause. As hard as if often is to accept, the fact is that, if our political agenda is fundamentally sound, we can usually afford to adjust the amount of work downward, or new people may come forth to do them, or the historic moment is not yet come (or already past) to do the work. Indeed, as we have seen in some of the above examples, Rescue often discourages participation and diminishes the amount of labor available to a group. The tension between political vision and vigor on the one hand, and Rescue on the other, is a constructive one. To discover oneself in the middle of a political Rescue is an opportunity to re-evaluate the essence of the politic.

Thus, an analysis of the Rescue triangle suggests a new model for helping based on equality. Understanding Rescue is an important basis for cooperation, as both a theoretical position and a working tool.