Happy Batman Day!
Today is the day DC Comics has set aside to celebrate Batman, one of the most well-known, beloved, and influential comic book characters of all time. Batman is my favorite superhero and has impacted my life greatly. I’d like to share with you several of the things that I like about Batman and to focus on the main aspect of Batman that I talk about in therapy.
- As a fearful child myself, Batman was scary, as were his villains. However, over the years, it became clear that Batman turned fear on those who prey on the fearful.
- Batman has no superpowers, yet he is constantly the one who saves the day. He is the go-to hero when others need help, and god-like beings such as Superman and Wonder Woman would often be lost without him.
- Batman often works in the shadows and in the background without need for recognition.
- Batman uses his intelligence to solve problems just as often as he uses his fists.
- Batman cares about others more than most, though he typically hides this under his gruff exterior.
- Batman created his own Bat-Family (e.g., Robin, Batgirl, Batwoman, Nightwing, Alfred, etc.). Bruce Wayne (Batman’s alter ego) lost his family as a young child, yet he creates a surrogate family. It’s by no means perfect, but they love each other and make it work.
- Batman has the best rogue’s gallery in all of superhero comics. His villains tend to not have powers, either, so their battles with him are as psychological as they are physical.
- Batman is committed to making sure that what happened to him as a child never happens to anyone else.
This leads me to one of my favorite aspects of Batman, and something that I’ve talked about with many children in therapy: Batman demonstrates posttraumatic growth. As a young boy, Bruce Wayne witnessed his parents’ deaths; they were gunned down in front of him. Losing one’s parents so violently would be incredibly traumatic. When confronted with traumas, we expect people to have difficulties in response. Sometimes these difficulties are subclinical, and sometimes they meet criteria for DSM diagnoses, such as an adjustment disorder, acute stress disorder, or posttraumatic stress disorder. Trauma can also play a causal role in a variety of other disorders that do not specifically mention trauma in their descriptions, such as depression and anxiety disorders. We expect traumas to cause problems, because they shake up our worldviews, impact our physiology, and disrupt our emotions like few other things can. Bruce experiences fear and anger in response to his parents’ deaths. We might have expected him to curl up in his room and never come out. We might have expected him to view the world and everyone in it as dangerous and untrustworthy. We might have expected him to lash out at the world and those around him. We might have expected him to refuse to live his life.
However, that’s not what he does. And though this is what happens to some people who experience traumas, it’s not what happens to all of them, and even those that do experience these responses do not always experience them forever. Sometimes people experience posttraumatic growth, finding or creating positives out of the negatives they have endured. Bruce takes it upon himself to learn detective skills, marital arts, and survival skills. He increases his knowledge, hones his intelligence, and improves his strategic mind. Bruce travels, studies, and trains for years. He develops a plan to rid Gotham City of both street crime and systemic crime and to protect those who cannot protect themselves. Bruce makes it his life’s mission to make Gotham a better place. Of course, one could argue whether or not the path Bruce takes to realize this mission is ultimately positive or at least whether or not it is one of the better possible paths he could have taken toward growth and healing. This idea has been explored multiple times in the comics, including Bruce wondering whether his parents would have wanted him to become Batman. Putting the means aside, though, Bruce’s desire to make his city a better place and to protect those within it is positive.
Posttraumatic growth doesn’t mean that people don’t experience traumatic symptoms. Bruce certainly did. In fact, it’s more rare for people not to experience some disruption in their functioning after experiencing traumas. And even with posttraumatic growth, sometimes those symptoms persist, though perhaps in a more manageable form. Bruce has difficulty trusting. He sees danger all around him. Bruce protects himself in relationships, which makes them difficult to navigate. Posttraumatic growth does not inherently remove the pain and hardship that trauma often brings. However, it can help to alleviate or mitigate those issues, or at least to bring some positive in the midst of such horrible events.
Let me be clear: posttraumatic growth does NOT mean that the trauma was good or desirable on any level. The Waynes’ deaths during a mugging gone wrong were not a good thing. However, it does mean that good things can come out of bad experiences. And what a blessing that is! It seems that this blessing must be discovered, though. People need to be ready to explore the possibility of posttraumatic growth; it cannot be thrust upon them. Doing so can sometimes lead therapists (or family and friends) to be dismissive of how bad the trauma was or to expect clients to move forward before they are ready. We can plant the seed of posttraumatic growth as a possibility once clients seem ready, but it must grow in its own time. Sometimes the very thought of something good coming out of a trauma seems ridiculous or even offensive to people, especially at first. However, it can be a powerful way of moving forward and finding healing in the midst of difficult times.
What might have happened to young Bruce Wayne had he not created Batman? How might his life have been different (positively and negatively)? How might the lives of Gotham’s citizens have been different? Perhaps the most beautiful part of Bruce’s posttraumatic growth is that it leads not only to help and healing for himself, but also to service toward others. How amazing that a violent event that left a young boy parent-less ultimately led to self-sacrificial care for others on a large scale! One boy’s worst day led to life and hope for many. Thankfully, this doesn’t only happen in fiction.
What are some of your favorite things about Batman? How do you use superheroes and other fictional characters in therapy? How have you seen posttraumatic growth operate in your work? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below or on our Facebook page!