Do You Have White Knight Syndrome?

A man with white knight syndrome intensely kissing his girlfriend on the beach.

It’s a tale as old as time: the knight in shining armor who saves the damsel in distress. We’ve seen this narrative play out time and again in books and movies, so much so that now the idea of saving someone is seen as romantic and alluring, and so is the idea of being saved.

While wanting to nurture someone, especially someone we care about, is basic human nature, this type of behavior, which is also known as White Knight Syndrome, can lead to toxic patterns and unhealthy relationships.

White Knight Syndrome is defined as men or women who enter into romantic relationships with damaged and/or vulnerable partners, with the hope that their love will transform their partner’s behavior and, in essence, save them from themselves.

So who are these white knights? Some of them look like nice girls/guys; the people who prove they’re the opposite of a bad boyfriend or girlfriend and want to save their partners from the emotional trauma their exes left them with. Others might be the sugar daddies or mamas who want to indulge your every whim and treat you to the luxe life you never had, much like Richard Gere in “Pretty Woman.”

However, white knights can also be people with unhealed emotional trauma that are trying to repair the damaged sense of themselves that developed in childhood.

White knights might look different, but they all insist on saving their object of affection from unhappiness, financial ruin, depression, substance abuse, or anything else that’s left them wounded. Essentially, their focus is on the need to rescue their partner from themselves.

While most white knights often have the best of intentions when it comes to their damsel, experts feel that their actions are misguided and seldom result in happy endings.

Most rescuers ride into their partner’s life, going from one partner to the next, insisting on saving the day. While their actions might be appreciated and welcomed at first, problems arise when the white knight begins to put their partner’s needs above their own or when they start to control their partner’s behavior.

Take a moment to do an inventory of your last relationship. You may have White Knight Syndrome if you have the following behaviors or traits:

1. You see your partners as fixer uppers.
You pride yourself on your ability to mend the wounds of your broken partner. You are drawn to mostly unhealthy partners with emotional issues and feel an urge to heal them in any way you can. You are so committed to healing your partner that you often neglect your own emotional needs and traumas.

2. You have a history of abandonment.
If you have a history of loss, abandonment, trauma, or unrequited love it could be manifesting itself in this new behavior.  Maybe you had to rescue or take care of your parents or siblings, and it’s become a role that you now associate with being at the core of who you are.

3. You often idealize and micromanage your partner.
White knights tend to put their partners on a pedestal, and overly romanticize them. If you treat your partner as if they weren’t able to take care of themselves, this can create an unhealthy co-dependency. In turn, you attempt to micromanage, and even control, your partner’s life in an attempt to heal them for their own good.

However, for all the championing and caregiving, real life sets in. Often a white knight might not be emotionally equipped to handle the complexities of what it takes to sustain a real relationship, especially one in which a partner requires not only autonomy but also external support. Problems that the White Knight was supposed to be able to “take care of” rears its ugly head, revealing that they’re more permanent than at first assumed. The White Knight must face who their partner really is opposed to the fantasy they had initially conjured.

If you feel you suffer from White Knight Syndrome, you must evaluate your relationship patterns and how they might connect to any childhood trauma. While it would serve you to examine how you might be projecting old wounds onto your partners, it might also be in your best interest to seek professional therapy.

Ultimately, in a healthy relationship, no one requires rescuing. While emotional baggage and personal crises are inevitable, implementing boundaries are just as important as seeking support from one’s partner. Strong partnerships involve two independent people who both hold command over their own lives while desiring to grow a relationship in which they both have equal parts, including their own horse.

Brianne Hogan

Freelance Writer

Brianne is a Canadian freelance writer who’s been writing about dating and relationships longer than any of her relationships. She applies a “do what I say, not do what I do” approach to her articles, and believes you can find Your Person mostly when you aren’t looking. So enjoy your life, and eat lots of cheese (at least that’s her motto). Her byline’s been featured on Thrillist, The Huffington Post, HelloGiggles, Elle Canada, Flare, Awesomeness TV, among others.

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