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The rescuer and the bird with the broken wing -

One of the most difficult bonding patterns

(from Growing Awareness 2000 Edition)......

In this bonding pattern there are two powerful inner selves each playing deeply significant roles. In both partners, the selves playing these roles keep their real motives (protecting the underlying vulnerability in the person they belong to) hidden behind a mask that suggests the opposite is the case.

Setting the scene

The rescuer self presents an image of strength, self-confidence and the ability to overcome problems, typical of a primary self. The wounded bird or bird with the broken wing self on the other hand characteristically has much to say about how helpless or disadvantaged he or she is.

When they meet, this sets the scene for a rapid connection, since the wounded victim bird self is in need of the very things the rescuer is able to provide and is more than willing to express gratitude and abundant appreciation in return.

The relationship typically moves forward very quickly, driven by the obvious neediness of the bird self, and the over-eagerness of the rescuer to help. It’s beautiful to watch (at first) but one of the clues to future problems is the complete absence of any kind of conflict or anger about even the most irritating things either person does, things that in a healthy relationship would normally create an understandable reaction of some kind.

Meanwhile, behind the curtain ...

But wait, there is much more going on under the surface. Keep in mind that in its heart no inner self is philanthropic or unselfish enough to make sacrifices on the part of the person it is protecting unless there is a clear and realistic pay-off that makes the effort worthwhile.

So what is really going on inside the rescuer? As with all selves its primary mission is to reduce underlying vulnerability. Let’s say for example that Jim has an underlying vulnerability about not being worthwhile and many unresolved childhood issues about being unable to rescue his parents from their pain and wounding or to get things to work in his family.

Like all of us, Jim’s inner child will be looking for opportunities to resolve these old issues and like most of us, his inner selves, particularly his rescuer self, mistakenly believe that the only way to do this is by sorting out other people’s problems so well that they will tell his inner child that he is at last worthwhile and a success as a rescuer.

NOTE: this is described somewhat cynically as “Expecting someone else to help you improve your childhood!”

As your awareness grows you will discover, or may already have discovered, things don’t work out this way, but the rescuer self does not have this awareness.

Underlying issues (I forgot to mention that ...)

Meanwhile the bird with the broken wing also has underlying issues that are far from obvious. Let’s say that the wounded bird whose name is Arial has always been troubled by feelings of being controlled by others and expresses this by depicting herself as weak, helpless and damaged as a result of being controlled in this way in the past.

Arial’s weaker or disempowered wounded bird self also describes her as having lost the power to fly, to the delight of Jim’s rescuer who knows he can restore her flying self again and thereby gain the appreciation he is looking for.

He didn’t mention it to Arial but Jim’s rescuer is also troubled by his underlying fear of being abandoned and has become rather attached to her. The rescuer plans to keep her close to him forever after she has regained her strength so she can fly around him in circles, appreciating him every day for the rest of his life.

Unfortunately, this does not fit in with Arial’s long term plans, which her wounded bird self forgot to mention to Jim when they got together. Since her vulnerability issues are about being controlled by others, her primary aim is to break free from that control. Once she can fly again (thanks to Jim’s rescuer) what she really wants to do is to fly faster and further from control than ever before.

At some time these issues have to surface since the they represent the most important reasons behind the positive bonding pattern. (Let’s be honest, this relationship is lacking  most of the features of true grown-up teamwork.) However, for the selves running each side of the bonding, this is not important at the present time.

Unfortunately, it’s at this moment that all the hidden resentment surfaces in both people. Jim will be triggered into anger if Arial wants to fly away. That will trigger Arial’s resentment because she feels he is trying to control her. Jim will then become even more critical because now she is failing to show the appreciation he needs and expected in return for all he has done for her.

Breaking free of the bonding pattern

To get away from Jim’s resurfaced controlling selves, Arial may need to call on some of her hidden selves, ones who will ultimately create so much conflict between them that Jim will be the one to end the relationship and tell her to go. Alternatively, once she stops appreciating him, Jim may become so resentful he will dump Arial and go looking for a new wounded bird to be rescued so he can start all over again.


The rescuer and the wounded bird is a characteristic codependent relationship in that each person’s primary self works hard to meet deeply felt needs in the other person. However, it does this conditionally with a strong but hidden expectation that their gift will be repaid in the way the giver wants, not the way the other person would like to show their appreciation.

It is not a grown-up relationship, rather it is a series of bonding patterns, and because of this it cannot last. While on the surface each seems ideally suited for the other, there is a deep conflict between the underlying needs of each person.

In this climate there is no room for the essential elements of adult-to-adult linkage to develop.

Instead two primary selves who initially danced rather well together and complemented each other’s needs, have managed to get themselves bonded together into a repetitive pattern which is doomed to fail.

Copyright © John Nutting 1996- 2009   GROWING AWARENESS PTY LTD -   All rights reserved World Wide  

Last update  -  Thursday, December 11, 2008  

Positive and negative bonding patterns in a relationship?

If person A has selves that regularly cooperate with or fit in well with selves in person B the result can look and sound like a “good relationship” but it is really only the selves dancing together. This is a positive bonding pattern.

If person A has selves that react against, resent or are annoyed by polar opposite selves in person B (and A and B are unable to keep these selves separated) those selves will battle each other over and over about the same things and there will seem to be no escape. They are enmeshed in a negative bonding pattern.

Sooner or later, as in the case below,  a positive bonding pattern turns into a negative one.