When You Have to Save Everyone: The Warning Signs of Hero-Savior-Martyr Syndrome

Anonymous asked a question:

Hi Pastor Park! Over the years of following your blog, i’ve heard you mention that people are not “projects” and I recently saw the same phrase. I was wondering if you could explain more of what you mean by that, or some practical things to look out for so we could recognize if we’re falling into that mindset? A part of me worries i’m thinking of other people that way, so if you have more insight, i’d love to know. Thanks, and have a blessed week with your wife and dog!

Hey dear friend, thank you.

You may be referring to one of these posts:

– No One Is a Charity Case

– One of the Most Important Things I’ve Learned

While this is not a new thought, many of us are at risk of falling into a “Hero-Savior-Martyr Syndrome.” This was most classically demonstrated by the Karpman Triangle, in which interactions tend to fall into a triangle of Rescuer, Victim, and Persecutor.

Since I truly believe that many of us are good people who care about others, we want to help as many as we can. This is a good thing; it’s a good motive. But left unchecked, we fall into a Rescuer mode in which all people and situations become a “Heroic Drama” in which we are the Protagonist, rescuing someone from their poverty or trauma or sadness or villain. Then it no longer becomes about actually helping the person, but rather boosting our own ego and getting high off dopamine and adrenaline.

Of course, you can feel good about helping people. It’s okay to get the little dopamine surge when you encourage someone or alleviate someone’s suffering. The problem is that when you commodify people into subhuman secondary props for your catharsis, you end up doing the very thing you least wanted: dehumanizing them as mere objects who are only vehicles for your hero-story.

Here are some ways you know you’ve fallen into this:

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The Dangers & Myths of Personality Tests

Anonymous asked a question:

I’ve followed you for a while. I find solace in your blog. I recently did a Spiritual Gift Test in my leadership group at church. I scored a 23 in Mercy and Administration (out of 25), but I scored an 8 in Faith. The test is a tool to show your best qualities to serve your church. It really struck me hard, as I struggle with what God’s intentions are for me, and what my path is. A lot of the time I feel like I’m just going through the motions. I just don’t know what to do anymore. 

Hey my friend, thank you for sharing your struggle here.

Please know: there are a lot of “spiritual tests” out there, and I wouldn’t trust them all very much. In fact, there are thousands, if not millions, of personality tests and horoscopes and “strengths finders” and “which Marvel character are you,” and while they’re fun, they should never become permanent labels that determine your growth and journey.

I have to ask, who is developing these tests? Is it like every other westernized test with a western bias? Are they evidence-based? And if so, how? How many people have been misled by these things? And in a hundred years when they develop better tests, are we all just doomed today?

The most famous test of all time, the Myers-Briggs, is absolutely not based on any evidence or science at all. It’s also highly binary without any sort of continuum or grey area. And since major companies have been hiring and firing people based on tests rather than interaction, it’s a really big deal that we take a step back from them without condemning ourselves to one singular fate.

In fact, if we take a step back from a lot of books and blogs, many of them can be helpful, but they should all be filtered through skepticism. Authors, pastors, celebrities, and “experts” can offer good-sounding advice that does nothing but sound good. Always, always discern.

Continue reading “The Dangers & Myths of Personality Tests”