The White Knight Syndrome: Understanding and Overcoming It

Other unstable women might take advantage of his need to please and fear of abandonment by using it to excuse her own bad behavior. It’s his fault she made a scene while they were at the gallery show because he’s being overbearing… or not attentive enough to her needs. It’s his fault that she cheated on him because he abandoned her when she most needed him, so she had to find someone else to take his place.

White Knights often find it difficult to extract themselves from these sorts of relationships once they’re in them; emotional abusers and grifters are masters at using a White Knight’s sense of responsibility against them. One of the most common complaints you’ll hear from a White Knight is “I can’t leave her, I’m afraid she’ll hurt herself.” And to be sure, threats of self-harm or even insinuations of suicide are a common way that abusers keep White Knights in line.

Not seen here: the hostage negotiator needed to extract him from the relationship.


The Difference Between White Knight Syndrome and Genuine Respect.

The label “White Knight” is frequently applied as an insult, often online, and can have the effect of blurring the lines between treating someone with respect and genuine White Knight behavior. Trolls will call other men White Knights in order to shut them up; calling trolls out on shitty behavior or for being insulting isn’t being a White Knight, it’s about not being an asshole yourself.

Similarly, being willing to help someone in need isn’t White Knight behavior; it’s being charitable.

It’s only when a man’s “defense” or aid to a woman comes with unseen strings, the way a Nice Guy’s “friendship” comes with an agenda, that a line gets crossed

The line between being a good man and a White Knight is like the difference between a good guy and a Nice Guy – it’s about application and intent. A White Knight’s “respect” for women is in the form of worship and fetishization; a woman is someone who needs to be defended.

A good guy’s respect is just that: respect. Respect doesn’t imply a lack of agency or the need for someone else to come riding to the rescue, nor does it carry with it the hope of a reward or brownie points that can eventually be traded in for sex.


Treating White Knight Syndrome

As with being a Nice Guy, White Knight Syndrome ultimately is a case of low self-esteem. The White Knight’s need for external validation and  his discomfort in dealing with women as individuals is what leads him towards this unhealthy behavior. He needs to learn to accept that he has intrinsic worth and doesn’t need to prove himself worthy by “rescuing” people.

By building his confidence, he’ll be reducing his neediness; that fear of rejection and abandonment comes from the belief that he has no value outside of what he can do. Similarly, by learning how to act around women, how to build genuine attraction and pursue an honest relationship, he won’t fall back on outdated (and frankly, insulting) views of relationships.

He also needs to find a passion in his life, besides women. Part of the cause of White Knight Syndrome is the feeling of emptiness in one’s life and being convinced that women are the cure. Having interests that are fulfilling intellectually and emotionally, whether it’s work, a hobby or even a pet charitable cause will help find a purpose outside of trying to rescue people for his own selfish interests.

He’ll be better prepared to have an actual relationship, a partnership of equals rather than one of the Defender and the poor Damsel in Distress.

If a recovering White Knight wants to feel that he’s being truly altruistic, the best thing he could do is find a cause to volunteer for; local animal shelters and non-profit organizations are always looking for people to volunteer their time and energy.

Plus, they’re a great place to meet new people.

Folks who would love to learn more, visit my YouTube channel.

Written by DR. NERDLOVE
Originally appeared in

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The White Knight Syndrome Understanding and OverComing It

Harris O’Malley
Harris O' Malley is a dating coach who provides geek dating advice at Paging Dr. NerdLove, as well as on Kotaku  and elsewhere. He and his work has been featured on Nightline, Vice, The Guardian, New York Magazine, The Huffington Post, Wired, Sex Nerd Sandra, Daily Life, Slate, The Austin-American Statesman, Austin Monthly, Geek and Sundry, Boing Boing, Everyday Feminism, Buzzfeed, The Daily Dot, The Washington Post, Kotaku, Lifehacker,, The Good Man Project, MTV’s Guy Code, The Harvard Business Journal, and many others. Paging Dr. NerdLove has been featured as one of the top 10 dating blogs on
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