White Knight Syndrome: When the Knight In Shining Armor Is Actually the Damsel in Distress

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White Knight Syndrome: When the Knight In Shining Armor Is Actually the Damsel in Distress

The ones who are rescuing damsels in distress are the white knights. / Photo by: Anna Yakimova via 123rf


White knights symbolize the ultimate hero and are considered the epitome of chivalry and nobility, Eduard Ezaunu, a confidence and communication coach says. They are the rescuers of damsels in distress who are often threatened by villains such as witches, ogres, and dragons, and will sacrifice everything even their lives in doing this. In fairy tales, they are the victors and usually ends up with the fair damsel who gratefully accepts their declaration of love. However, that only happens in fairytales.

In real life, monsters are no longer the ones who hold the damsel hostage or cause her distress. Her monsters now take the form of emotional trauma, abuse, self-harm and other drama that surrounds her. Sure enough, the white knight comes to her aid, or what it looks like on the surface. The white knight, who secretly also has his inner monsters, brings with him the craving for approval, the need to have all his rescuing efforts to be repaid, and the often unconscious desire for control.

He adores the damsel, and his empathy for her knows no bounds, as he treats her gently and showers her with affection. Suddenly, this gentleness becomes her “shackles”, and when she tries to break free, he finds a way to make her come running back or tightens his grip. This is how it is for those who have the "White Knight Syndrome".

Most of the time, the White Knight Syndrome applies to men, but this, in fact, can also manifest in women. Shahida Arabi, author of Power: Surviving and Thriving After Narcissistic Abuse, says women who have this syndrome tend to be captivated by men who have developed unhealthy addictions, have commitment issues and are abusive.

Characteristics of Those With White Knight Syndrome

According to Thought Catalog, for one to be able to determine if someone is suffering from White Knight Syndrome, they must look for the following signs:

Self-esteem comes from being able to save others

The white nights feel validated whenever they feel that they are able to save someone. Their relationship is founded on their need to rescue. Instead of looking for relationships where they can experience real intimacy and can be emotionally satisfied, he purposely goes after those who are emotionally unhealthy. He is charmed by women who suffer from intense emotional issues and soon concentrate on trying to fix them. As a result,  they fall prey to toxic relationships without being able to attend their own emotional issues first.

Were abandoned or had toxic caretakers

They are often people who did not experience being part of a family. White knights are usually individuals who have been abandoned by their parents or caretakers. They have also had toxic caretakers or parents. They may have even had parenthood unwillingly bestowed upon them as children borne out of having an alcohol-dependent mother or father.

Due to not having anyone to rescue them from their traumatic childhood, this suppressed longing comes out in other ways. They become the rescuer they never had. 

Attracted to the needy or overly dramatic

White knights are usually lured in by their partner’s dramatic and destructive behavior. They tend to idealize them. They view their partners as delicate and not having the capacity to look after themselves. As they continue to do this, their partner grows overly dependent on their emotional support.

Trying to control their lover’s life as a way of assisting them

In order to keep their significant other from being hurt, they tend to dictate how they should live their life. However, this is just a cover-up. This hides the fact they are unable to take charge of their own life. In the pretense of helping their partner improve their life, this serves as a distraction from facing their own traumas.

Attempts to keep their partner dependent on them

When their partner tries to become independent, the white knight will try to re-establish their control, whether consciously or unconsciously. They will try to make it impossible for their partner to go on without their encouragement and support by making them feel vulnerable without them.

Subtypes of White Knights

According to PsycholoGenie, the four kinds of white knights are:  

Overly Empathic White Knights

These are the white knights whose main feature is being afraid of being emotionally neglected and abandoned by their partner. Due to this fear, they try to make sure that their partner will always be emotionally attached to them. They do this by spoiling them with love, care, and affection. They are always concerned about the welfare of their partner and will feel especially anxious about how they are doing when their partner is not beside them. These type of white knights view themselves as the ones who are accountable for what happens in the relationship.


Overly emphatic white knights is when an individual gets scared of losing their partner, they tend to spoil them with love and affection. / Photo by: akz via 123rf


Tarnished White Knights

White knights under this category take pleasure in feeling loved and needed. Their characteristics resemble that of a narcissist. When someone needs and loves them, they also draw power from it. They will often select partners who have a lot of emotional baggage. Usually, they will find themselves in a relationship with someone who will induce many conflicts later on. Since they want to feel valued, they are often inclined to cheat on their significant other. Their traumatic past has caused them to have low self-esteem which makes them blame everyone else for their failures.

Terrorized/Terrorizing White Knight

These are the white knights who are extremely insecure and ashamed about themselves because of their past. As children, they may have been subject to physical, emotional and sexual abuse. They find it difficult to handle emotions as a result of this trauma and end up becoming an oppressor. In order to cope with their traumatic childhood, they resort to manipulating others such as their friends and teachers.

Eventually, as they enter a romantic relationship, they project this anger and frustration on their partner. This projection comes in the form of shaming their partner, threatening them so they get scared, making them feel guilty and making them feel insecure. Being able to witness another person suffering makes them emotionally satisfied. Their anger issues and violent tendencies stem from a hidden sense of shame.

These white knights search for those also experienced a toxic childhood. When they find an individual with an equally or more traumatic past, they move on achieving their goal of making them more optimistic and confident. After this reformation in the attitude of their partner, they begin to ask more from their partner and become more controlling.  When their partner attempts to oppose them, they retaliate by abusing them emotionally and physically.

Balanced White Knight

Balanced white knights truly desire to help and are delighted to see their partner doing well in life. Even if their partner may be more successful than them, they do not feel themselves getting envious of their success. They have a balanced perception of life. They will often look for the positive in everything and will bravely confront any challenge that comes their way. They possess great willpower and can change for their partner for their happiness. Their trauma has not impacted them in a negative way. Instead, the trauma which they have gone through has made them into stronger and balanced people.



Psychologia.co suggests that people, mostly men, who have White Knight Syndrome consult a therapist or psychiatrist.




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