Since my last post on helper syndrome, I have been doing more research into the topic, and giving more thought to the toxic lawyer and the toxic mediator. In my research, I read a long article "Wounded Healers" by Thomas Maeder in the January, 1989, edition of Atlantic Monthly. Here is an excerpt for those of you wanting to ponder the darker sides of the helping professions.
Altruistic people, who work hard to help others, should not be suspected ipso facto of harboring ulterior selfish motives. Nevertheless, the "helping professions," such as nursing, charitable work, the ministry, and psychotherapy [and I would add some lawyers and mediators], attract people for curious and often psychologically suspect reasons. Something is a bit odd about people who proclaim "I want to help others"—the underlying assumption being that they are in a position to help and that others will want to be helped by them.
Why do some of these helper professionals enter their line of work?
Such people may be lured, knowingly or unknowingly, by the position of authority, by the dependence of others, by the image of benevolence, by the promise of adulation, or by a hope of vicariously helping themselves through helping others. Though some helping professionals have humbly and realistically perceived that they have something to offer and are willing to accept the
responsibilities inherent in their calling, others use the role to manipulate their world in a convenient, simplistic manner, . . . .
If the helping professional is a wounded healer, one who is trying to cure his own problems by assisting others, what options do these helpers have in moving forward?
The danger [to clients] occurs when the wounded healer has not resolved, or cannot control, his own injury. The helping professional's career can follow either of two paths. The more difficult, but ultimately more satisfying, road leads . . . to self-knowledge. [Then he has] a clearer perception of his ambitions and needs and their relationship to the task at hand. He can approach others with honesty, compassion, and humility, knowing that he is motivated by genuine concern, and not by some ulterior motives.
The other path is easier but often disastrous. . . . [He or she] comes, consciously or unconsciously, to see in his profession a means of avoiding the need to deal with his problems. He gains authority and power to compensate for his weakness and vulnerability.
In choosing his profession, the [professional] may even make his problems much worse, because he discovers a justification for divorcing himself from the emotions that have caused him so much pain. He is to become a cold, accurate instrument instead of a sloppily warm and vulnerable human being. He may console himself with the heady deceit that he is martyring himself for the good of others: rather than live a happy and self-interested life, he says, he will forgo his own satisfaction in order to transform himself into someone who can do greater good. The flaw in this idea is that he is not being selfless at all but seeking, through the very medium of ostentatious self-denial, a perverse gratification of his personal needs. . . . Since his energy is directed toward defending the status quo, he is diverted from the arduous and humbling process of self-examination which might otherwise have made him whole, and is forced, continuously and forever, to work just to stay where he is. . . . His situation is almost Faustian: he has sold his [possibility for self-awareness] in the future for power, comfort, and knowledge in the present.
Note: Other writings on the wounded healer or helper syndrome"