Quiz: Are You a White Knight?

You remember the tales, don’t you? About the knight in white armor rescuing the damsel in distress and carrying her off into the sunset. Are you a male (or a female) white knight? That is, do you have a pattern of rescuing intimate partners? Take this quiz to find out.

Decide whether the following statements are mostly true or false for you:
True False
1. My partner made me feel idolized in the beginning of our relationship. ____ ____
2. I have to be extremely watchful of what I say or do, lest I upset or
anger my partner. ____ ____
3. I feel that the responsibility of managing my life, together with my
partner’s, all rests on me. ____ ____
4. I have stayed in relationships out of a sense of guilt or worry about my partner. ____ ____
5. At the start of the relationship, I saw my partner as dangerously exciting or
exotic. ____ ____
6. Often I know better than my partner what is best for him/her. ____ ____
7. People don’t realize that I am extremely self-critical. ____ ____
8. I often disregard my own needs to focus on my partner’s needs. ____ ____
9. I often feel that my partner doesn’t appreciate all that I do for him/her. ____ ____
10. I look back on many of my relationships and realize I have been rescuing
my partners. ____ ____

Scoring: If you answered true to 5 or more of the questions, there is a good chance that you are suffering from the white knight syndrome. Mary Lamia and Marilyn Krieger, who created the above quiz, articulate the symptoms of a white knight in their book The White Knight Syndrome (New Harbinger Publications). They include:

  • Having a strong sense of empathy and willingness to be self-sacrificing
  • Wanting to be idolized, admired and needed by an intimate partner
  • Choosing a partner who is volatile and has poor control over his/her emotions
  • Choosing an emotionally unstable partner who would have a hard time managing on his or her own
  • Having strong feelings of self-criticism, guilt and shame—and of being defective, flawed or unworthy
  • Seeking to heal past hurts, often from childhood
  • Repeatedly finding partners in need of rescuing

In a nutshell, the theory works like this. The white knight, having low self-worth and a low opinion of him or herself, attempts to overcome a negative self-image and critical self-talk by being essential to someone else who is in great need of help. The hoped for outcome of the white knight is to be admired, respected, loved and cherished—all of the qualities s/he would like to feel about him/herself, but doesn’t.

So what’s wrong with being a white knight? That’s not bad, is it?

Well, yes it is. The problem with being a white knight is that you are not in a reciprocal relationship. You’re not able to lean on your intimate partner, and s/he will likely get upset with and critical of you if ever you go through tough times and are in need of someone rescuing and caring for you. You see, white knights tend to choose people who are self-absorbed, self-centered or narcissistic. A relationship with such a person tends to be one-sided—that is, you are to be there for him or her, but s/he makes no promises about being there for you.

Far better is to choose someone who is able to participate in a caring and reciprocal relationship. If you, therefore, are a white knight currently in a relationship, ask yourself how you could make the relationship more reciprocal, more give and take instead of give, give, give. You also might try rescuing yourself, and building up your own self-esteem.

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