White Knight Syndrome and Saviors

White knight syndrome characterizes many people who grew up neglected. Their need to save others is almost compulsive, although they don't always do it in the most efficient way.
White Knight Syndrome and Saviors
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by the psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 15 November, 2021

A person with white knight syndrome has a compulsive need to save and help people and try to solve their problems. There’s a history of abandonment, trauma, and unrequited affections behind their behavior. Hence, they have a high ability to empathize and will try to help others, even though their efforts may not always be appropriate.

Who doesn’t know a born rescuer? A person who seems to have a need detection radar and is always there when you need them. They can become intrusive at times, as you well know. Their “kindness” can even make you uncomfortable. Perhaps this is because it takes away your opportunity to be responsible and solve your own problems.

Other times, of course, you may appreciate someone’s sincere and dedicated altruism. However, what you may not see at times is the background behind their dynamic, their needs. White knight syndrome defines a part of the population. These people are often invisible. Thus, their behavioral profile consists of hidden wounds that few people notice, things they haven’t yet effectively resolved.

This syndrome was first described in 2015 by the University of California, Berkeley psychologists and professors Mary C. Lamia and Marilyn J. Krieger. Continue reading about it below.

“Tears come from the heart and not from the brain.”

-Leonardo da Vinci-

A medieval knight.

The characteristics of white knight syndrome

In storybooks, a white knight is often a man who saves a woman in distress. In real life, this figure could be a man or a woman. Also, they have a tendency to initiate emotional relationships with vulnerable or damaged people. This bond allows them to feel useful and their intention is to affectively repair one another. In other words, to affirm themselves and their significant other at the same time.

However, injured people can seldom repair anything. Instead, they often enhance their wounds by being the mirror for trauma and suffering to reflect and magnify. Their failed rescuing attempts only frustrate them and inevitably lead to unhappiness. Thus, what’s hidden behind white knight syndrome and can explain their behavior is:

Possible causes

Abuse, authoritarian parents, or the lack of healthy and affectionate bonds during childhood are all common in those who suffer from this syndrome. Abandonment is a common trigger, both at a family level and in romantic relationships.


  • These people are scared of experiencing emotional distance and being hurt, betrayed, and abandoned once again.
  • They’re highly vulnerable people, with a low tendency to frustration. In fact, they’re often offended and disappointed by the most insignificant things.
  • These people have low self-esteem and are highly insecure.
  • Also, they lack empathy. In other words, they don’t separate the emotional reality of others from their own, hence their abundant emotional contagions. These people don’t know how to set boundaries. Not only that but they identify with those who suffer, are worried, or scared to such an extent that they often further intensify everyone’s suffering.
  • Finally, these people are prone to falling into highly dependent affectionate relationships. Also, they long to be everything to the other person. They seek to be that essential support, that daily nutrient, and that other indispensable half. But this only leads to unhappiness and takes a high emotional toll on both parties.
A pair of hands trying to break free.

Types of white knights

White knight syndrome manifests in many ways. It’s a part of a behavioral spectrum that ranges from normal characteristics to pathological extremes:

  • The highly empathetic white knight. In this case, someone establishes an excessive emotional connection with their partner or some other person. Here, empathy often becomes a source of extreme fear. Hence, the jealousy and the desire for control, the anguish at the idea of ​​being betrayed.
  • The idealistic white knight. This defines a figure that seeks people they can rescue and fix. They long to create a perfect someone. Being responsible for that improvement, in turn, enables them to be filled with glory.
  • The scared white knight. This is the most troublesome of all the types of white knights. A person locked behind severe trauma (abuse, mistreatment). They have a need to help others, however, they don’t know how to help, approach others, and offer affection.
  • Finally, there’s the co-balanced white knight. This person is a focused and respectful savior who meets the needs of their environment. They offer support, respect others, and always strive to do their best. However, their behavior is compulsive.

People afflicted by white knight syndrome need to save themselves

Being a “balanced” white knight doesn’t exempt you from the real problem. This is because you’ll continue to kill foreign dragons while holding a sword and a helmet to fight battles that aren’t yours to fight. Helping people in need is indeed noble. It’s good to lending a helping hand to the people you love. However, no one deserves to live their life as a mere savior.

You can only resolve white knight syndrome in one way: by saving yourself. You must undertake the most difficult journey of all. One in which you take a trip to your internal universe and confront your own demons in order to understand and overcome them and enlighten yourself.

The bravest deed a white knight can do is save themselves.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Mary C. Lamia, Marilyn J. Krieger (2015). The White Knight Syndrome: Rescuing Yourself from Your Need to Rescue Others. Echo Point Books & Media

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.