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Hurt and Rescue principle


Principles > Hurt and Rescue principle

Principle | How it works | So what?



'A drowning person will clutch at a straw', so push them in the water, then throw them a rope.

How it works

'Hurt and Rescue' is the underlying principle beneath many different persuasion methods.


Hurting the other person does not mean physical harm and it may not even mean making them feel bad, but it does mean creating a tension that they want to resolve.

Negative and positive hurt

Negative hurting means making them feel pain of some kind, pointing out what is wrong, making them want to get away from something.

Positive hurt, on the other hand, means making the other person want something, creating desire, seeing what is good.

Active and passive hurt

Actively hurting someone means taking deliberate action, setting them up, causing them pain by what you do.

Passive hurt may mean deliberately allowing a person to be hurt when you could rescue them earlier (perhaps to have a greater effect later).


Rescuing a person means removing their hurt, saving themselves from their pains. It creates closure and relief.

Rescuing can be a bit like fishing. It's not just about reeling in the fish. If they feel you pulling, then they may pull back and you end up either with a tug of way or a broken line and a fish disappearing into the distance.

Grasping hopefully at straws

Rescue may start with hope, as people envisage and predict the relief of being rescued. Thus they will grasp at straws in the desperate hope of rescue.


In the ideal rescue, the solution is available and the person rescues themself without your intervention. This can be arranged, for example, by putting it in their path and helping them to 'find' it. You can then be suitably impressed and congratulate them.
A key benefit of self-rescue is that they fully own the solution hence are likely to adopt it more fully.

Requested rescue

It helps a great deal if, rather than having rescue thrust upon the person, they ask for it first. This helps to ensure they appreciate and own the solution.

Offered rescue

In practice, it is often necessary for you to offer rescue, such as when they cannot see a solution even when it is in front of them.
When doing this, you may get some objections and resistance which you must handle.

Enforced rescue

Finally, you may effect the rescue without their permission, for example when they are in imminent danger.
In such cases, they may not realize they are hurt and may strongly resist your rescue attempts.


Another way of using 'hurt and rescue' is to show that you are hurt and let them be the hero, rescuing you.

So what?

'Hurt and Rescue' seems pretty negative, by the way, but do not be fooled by the wording. As with most methods, it can be used for good or bad.

Hurt and rescue methods can range from the classic 'Good cop--bad cop' routine to the most principled of therapeutic technique.

See also

Theories about how we handle discomfort, Theories about power

Push principle, Pull

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