In the book Talent and Genius: The Fictitious Case of Tausk Contra Freud, the late psychoanalyst Kurt Eissler stated that the so-called rescue fantasy is rooted in narcissism.  But see, Sterba, R. “Aggression in the Rescue Fantasy.”    Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 9: 505-508 (1940).

Dr. Eissler wrote:  “Annie Reich has written on the function of rescue fantasies in psychoanalytic work, and has dealt with the conditions under which they are helpful or cause damage. The rescue fantasy is a highly important psychic structure, on which the socially valuable behavior of many people depends. Yet the fantasy is the outgrowth of ambivalence . . .; it makes social behavior dependent on the object’s being in a critical condition. A person has to be in dire distress before the appropriate social action is initiated, and the positive object relationship is usually discontinued soon after the object’s full restoration. The man who is preoccupied by an excessive rescue fantasy seems to say: “If you want me to love you and to win my affection, you must first jump into the lake.” It is noteworthy to observe how often subjects in whose lives rescue fantasies occupy a prominent place, are deficient in affectionate behavior toward members of their immediate environment. . . .  The exhibitionistic, narcissistic background of the rescue fantasy is evident: accomplishment in the service of the object leads to a narcissistic elevation of the self. [I]t is striking that [in some cases] rescue actions [are] more often than not combined with a considerable aggression against authority. It is hardly possible to estimate what might [be] the stronger motive in [the rescue fantasy]: the rescue of a person in danger, or the showing up of abusive authority.”

I have been able to show that the rescue fantasy may have its origin in the ego defense of undoing — the need to rescue may be mediated by a sense of guilt in cases in which the object of rescue was the target of the rescuer’s hostile or aggressive impulses.  The need to rescue may undo the original hostile or aggressive impulses directed at the object to be rescued.

In individuals with a rescue fantasy perhaps one should be on the lookout for guilt 1/, aggression, and undoing as well as narcissism.


1/ The role of guilt in the rescue fantasy seems consistent with Freud’s belief that the rescue fantasy is a derivative of the child’s relation to the father, in which case the issue of Oedipal guilt, perhaps, cannot be overlooked.  See, Sterba, R. “Aggression in the Rescue Fantasy.”    Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 9: 505-508 (1940).