Grace for the Injured Self: The healing approach of
Terry D. Cooper and Robert L. Randall
The Lutterworth Press £17.50
Dying to Self and Detachment
Church Times Bookshop £45 (Use code CT618
I FOUND Grace for the Injured Self clear and engaging.
Prior knowledge of psychology and theology may be useful, but did
not seem essential. The authors lay out the approach of Heinz
Kohut, who recognised that the self in everyone is injured through
living. In other words, both in childhood and throughout life,
people do not reflect back to us in ways we need, and this affects
the core of who we are.
The key to addressing an individual or a group's difficulties,
therefore, is to deal first with the reality of these psychological
injuries. Kohut argues that solutions are relational, and that in
practice empathy is the essential start. From my experience of life
and church, I found the argument convincing: the descriptions of
church conflict and the solutions were particularly illuminating,
but I would need more information to be confident of identifying
the appropriate approach for myself.
Cooper and Randall then record two interviews between Kohut and
Randall, from which they comment separately on Kohut's view of
religion. Kohut sees religion as essential for human society,
and he focuses on religion's human benefit. Readers may or may
not be sympathetic to this view, but, with the authors'
reflections, it gives plenty of material for further
While helpful for the practicalities of church, Kohut, Cooper,
and Randall do not address the call of Jesus to deny self.
Thankfully, Kellenberger, inDying to Self and Detachment,does so in
detail, with clarity and precision. Kellenberger assumes that
Christ fully lived this "detachment", and that Meister Eckhart and
St Teresa of Ávila model it appropriately; but he also draws on
others from Christian and other traditions, particularly Buddhism.
He explores humility and pride, noting the different meanings in
common use, and builds a picture of "detachment" (Eckhart's word)
that is not aloofness.
I welcomed the serious consideration given to the reality that
some people negate or have an undeveloped self. In fact,
Kellenberger argues that "detachment" includes appropriate
self-respect and self-love. Also, a "detached" person knows peace
and joy, but remains affected by stress and sorrow, as Christ was
in the wilderness. Altogether, this makes "detachment" sound a
desirable quality; so how does one become "detached"?
Kellenberger investigates chemical stimuli such as LSD and some
things that might be mistaken for "detachment", including religious
ecstasy. Nevertheless, he is clear that, although in Western
tradition "detachment" is given, in all traditions it is something
to seek and strive for.
Yet it is many years since I have heard anyone preach on dying
to self. Presumably, this is because it is assumed to be a
negative process, at odds with psychological insights. So
Kellenberger's study is an important analysis, encouraging a fresh
look at this aspect of a continuing spiritual journey. All the
same, other issues still need exploration.
For example, I wonder how a nuanced understanding of
"detachment" fits, say, with the Ignatian tradition, and how
contemporary psychologists might respond to such a subtle
understanding of dying to self.
In practice, I found Kellenberger's study inspiring, but his
contention that a "detached" person may engage with people and
institutions is a long way from exploring the reality of the
pastoral issues that are Cooper and Randall's focus. Nevertheless,
both books offer plenty to think through as we grapple with both
the ideal and everyday reality.
Dr Anne Spalding is a member of the Third Order of the
Society of St Francis, and lives in Suffolk.