I Fell For the “Damsel in Distress” Syndrome

Photo by Simon Hurry on Unsplash

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A widow recently contacted me. Her husband was a C-suite executive and handled all the finances. He had a will, but she had no idea how to go about getting everything organized.

She was acutely and understandably stressed.

Her husband handled their finances without professional help, because, “he didn’t want to pay someone to do things he could easily do himself.”

I volunteered to help.

In retrospect, while my intentions were good, I made a critical mistake. I want to share it with you.

The “damsel in distress” syndrome

Until I did the research for this article, I didn’t realize there was something called the “damsel in distress” syndrome. It’s technically defined as, “where you feel compelled to ‘rescue’ your partner, often at your own expense.”

Although the widow who called me was a stranger, she was a woman in crisis and I (as a male) felt compelled to help her. I was genuine in my concern, but those of us who exhibit this syndrome may actually hope our behavior would be reciprocated with love and affection and be rewarded for our effort.

I wasn’t (consciously) hoping for any reward, but my desire to assist clouded my judgment.

Hammers and nails

You’ve probably heard the expression, “to a hammer, everything is a nail.”

She came to me with a well-defined issue: how to organize her finances. I have a vast network of financial advisors and hourly planners. I immediately put her in touch with a financial planning firm and assigned them the task of sorting through her financial documents and making sense of them.

This involved a meaningful commitment on her part. The firm needed access to financial documents, and she was tasked with the responsibility of going through a disjointed pile of papers to locate them.