The undoing”: What exactly is the “Rescue Romantic Syndrome”?


In the latest episode of HBO’s limited series, The Undoing, the world of Grace continues to be, well, undone. The third episode is entitled “Do No Harm,” an allusion to the Hippocratic oath that doctors take and which outlines the obligations and proper behavior they must follow. Part of it says that they promise first and foremost not to do harm. However, Hugh Grant’s Dr. Jonathan Fraser seems to do more harm than good.

Jonathan’s wife Grace (Nicole Kidman with the fabulous hair) learns more details about his affair with Elena Alvez (Matilda De Angelis). In conversation with a colleague of her husband, Stuart (Jason Kravits), she learns more about Jonathan’s affair.

Stuart explains that Elena’s seven-year-old son Miguel (Edan Alexander) had Wilms’ tumor (a form of kidney cancer that typically develops in children) and that Dr. Fraser took care of him.

“They were not discreet,” Stuart notes. “They weren’t even trying to be discreet. Warnings didn’t seem to matter. He wanted them, and he was willing to risk everything, which he clearly did.” Jonathan told Grace earlier that Elena was not well and that she was obsessed with him. Grace tried to explain herself but Stuart cut her off.

“Jonathan cultivated her,” he said, adding that he fed on Dr. Fraser when people became obsessed with him. “His patients loved him, his parents adored him, he saved their children. He blossomed to be the center of intense emotions, in a very narcissistic and unhealthy way.

Stuart also claimed that at a certain point he thought it was more about the emotions Jonathan was feeling than the patients, and he even went so far as to call him a psychopath.

Grace later referred to it as “Rescue Romantic Syndrome”, which is related to hero worship but not exactly the same. So what exactly is the “Rescue Romance Syndrome”?

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Washington Newsday spoke with Arden Greenspan-Goldberg, psychotherapist and relationship expert, about the dynamics between Dr. Fraser and Elena. “It’s very easy to fall into this trap. Obviously, the mother is very grateful for him and idolizes him and maybe does what many people do with doctors,” said Greenspan-Goldberg. “They put them on an ivory tower, and it’s like being with God,” said Greenspan-Goldberg. And maybe this guy likes to be treated like that – that he knows everything.”

She also postulated that something is going on inside Dr. Fraser, and he acts on that urge. “He might have a thought or a feeling and be attracted to that person. But it’s what his urge is… an urge does not have to lead to action. Many feelings do not have to lead to action. But here it is.”

Greenspan Goldberg also wondered if Jonathan was interested in Elena at all. “She feeds on his grandiosity… he is the one who will heal her, save him [her son Miguel]and save her. In the midst of all this, she becomes very dependent on him. It’s complicated. It turns him on,” she remarked, calling it an “ego massage.

Unfortunately, this kind of dynamic happens very often when people feel that they can take advantage of those under their care and get what they want in return. Unfortunately, Elena and Dr. Fraser get caught in this vicious circle of an affair and she gets out of control.

“She is not breaking up with him because she is madly in love with this man, but because you are really madly in love with him, or because you simply desire him very much? Greenspan-Goldberg noted. “You give him that kind of attention so that he will give your son that kind of attention. He is not aware of it either.”

Ultimately, there are needs that need to be met for Jonathan that he could not find in his marriage. “His need to be idolized by someone weighs more heavily than the reality of what might happen,” Greenspan-Goldberg concluded. “Surely the marriage is undone, and his entire career could be undone as well.

New episodes of The Undoing will be broadcast Sunday night at 9am on HBO….


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