I would like to define emotional rescue as the conscious or unconscious tendency, based on someone's past wounding or present difficulty, to protect him or her from natural consequences, the assertion of boundaries, and social friction generally. All rescue is attempted help, but not all help is rescue. A willingness to help as well as a tendency to rescue is fundamental to being human. However, at a certain point, never easy to identify, treating people differently because of past or present difficulties defeats both growth and satisfaction.

There is also a style of trying to earn love by imposing help on others with or without invitation, and usually insensitively. This is illustrated by the rescuer role in the Karpman Drama triangle. While this is an important topic in its own right, it is not exactly the rescue referred to here. For this discussion, it is considered self-evident that some type of forbearance and extra allowance is at times appropriate in healing relationships. However, if an entire relationship becomes built upon rescue, it becomes caretaking.

Caretaking is having the responsibility for cleaning up future messes, but no control over the actions of the person causing the problem. Caretaking is a strategy of both trying to be lovable and quelling existential anxiety by protecting others from the consequences of their actions.

In sane relationships, autonomy and dependency are inversely related. Caretaking disregards this and so produces a farce. Caretakers end up trying to control, but of course they have no real control and no influence either because the controlling attempts engender resistance. Healthy help, on the other hand, is not open-ended, is given without expectation of return, and is geared toward making it possible for the recipient to do more, not do less or feel less.