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Getting to Know Yourself

Getting to Know Yourself by George Hankins Hull, Dip.Th., Th.M

Self-awareness as a pastoral care giver is essential to good pastoral care. Issues of transference and counter-transference loom large in pastoral encounters. Therefore, it’s of vital importance for the pastoral care giver to understand the use of the Self in the pastoral role.

In her book, When Helping You is Hurting Me, Carmen Berry addresses the detrimental aspects of a lack of self-awareness in the person of the care giver in what she calls the “Messiah trap.” The “Messiah trap”, is defined as continued circumstances in which individuals are persistently putting their own needs aside in order to help others.

Berry offers an important caution to all in the helping professions against becoming addicted to helping and then, like an addict, seeking out supplies for their fix. Further complicating the issue is what Berry calls the double-sided trap of helping: ‘If I don’t do it, it won’t get done’ and ‘Every one else’s needs come before mine’. In addition, she demonstrates how falling into this trap can hurt the person of the care giver as well as the one in need of care.

Individuals addicted to caring have a deep need for approval and engage in caring for others as a means of self-care.

Berry identifies the following as Messiah characteristics:

One who tries to earn a sense of worth by "acting" worthy.
One who lets others determine his or her actions
One who needs to over achieve.
One who is attracted to helping those with similar pain.
One who experiences difficulty in establishing peer and intimate relationships.
One who is caught in a cycle of isolation.
One who is driven to endless activity.
One who stops only when they drop .

The following are Berry’s seven distinct types of the ‘Helping Messiah’:

The Pleaser: This individual tries to earn a sense of self-worth by acting worthy. This is someone who doubts his or her own self-worth.

The Rescuer: Lets others determine their actions. This is someone who needs a response from others to feel self-worth.

The Giver: This person is driven to overachieve in an attempt to earn self-worth.

The Counselor: Is attracted to helping others with similar issues, hurts and pains. It’s easier to deal with others hurts than one’s own.

The Protector: Is an individual who finds difficulty in establishing peer and intimate relationships that are equal. This person is someone who always has to be helping and looking out for others.

The Teacher: Is someone who is caught in a cycle of isolation. The teacher is one who needs to feel special in the midst of others and sense that they are needed. This person cannot feel both part of a group and special at the same time.

The Crusader: Is one who is driven to endless activity and stops when they drop. This person takes on too much in a crazy attempt to earn a sense of self-worth and value

Published twenty years ago When Helping You is Hurting Me is a useful book to read for anyone entering the caring professions because in the end there is no short cut to self-awareness.

The perfect man of old looked after himself first before looking to help others.
-Chuang Tzu
When Helping You is Hurting Me: Escaping the Messiah Trap, Carmen Renee Berry, Harper & Row Publishers, San Francisco, 1988

George Hankins Hull

CPSP Dipliomate in Clinical Pastoral Education

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