By Yoni Sobin, PsyD
Lesson #1: Origin Stories
“A hero can be anyone. Even a man doing something as simple and reassuring as putting a coat around a little boy’s shoulders to let him know that the world hadn’t ended.” Batman reflected these words at the end of The Dark Knight Rises (2012) to the chief of police, who did this very act for Batman after his parents were murdered in front of his eyes. This was Batman’s origin story – an event or series of events that lead us to become the person we are today. Without this event, Batman may never have donned his cape and cowl and saved Gotham time and time again.
Like Batman, we all have our origin stories. Which means we all can become superheroes, larger than life. Becoming a superhero is no easy feat, but luckily, using a series of strategies, you can transform yourself into your own version of a superhero to fight and combat your inner demons or monsters. In becoming your superhero self, it is important to acknowledge the events that lead you to become who you are today, whether positive or negative, pleasant or unpleasant.
Lesson #2: Weaknesses are Normal
All superheroes have weaknesses, their personal monsters. Expose Superman to Kryptonite and he becomes weak. One way to make our minds less scary is to think about our negative thoughts, emotions or behaviors as ‘monsters.’ This can help create distance between the idea of our ‘self’ and our thoughts, and helps us to recognize the true fact that who we are and what we think, feel or even do, are not one and the same. Taking things a step further: The ultimate goal is not to exterminate our monsters, but to learn be a superhero despite them.
Lesson #3: The Importance of Mentorship
Every superhero needs a mentor. Batman had Alfred, Spiderman had Uncle Ben. Take a moment to think of someone who you look up to – someone who you might consider to be a personal hero, who you view as being a source of wisdom for life. In moments of distress, it can help us to try to take perspective and think about what this person might say to us. Imagine that this person knew your entire story, even the things you’ve never told anyone else (maybe not even your therapist!) Thinking about what they might say is a great strategy to get through challenging moments.
Lesson #4: Choose Your Arsenal
Every superhero has a weapon. Like Harry Potter, you can use a proverbial magical wand to change how you think, feel, and act day-to-day. Here are two ideas: The “gratitude charm” and the “diffusion spell”. The gratitude charm is done by thanking your monsters for trying to protect you from harm. Imagine talking back to anxiety, depression, or shame and saying something like “thank you for your concern and trying to protect me from danger, but I can manage without your beating me down and making me feel badly about myself. I’m strong enough to handle this. I know you care, otherwise you wouldn’t be here.” The diffusion spell changes your relationship to your thoughts, by reminding you that who we are is not the same as how we think. Along these lines, someone with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder may say “I’m having the thought that something bad will happen to my children if I step on the ground in the wrong way. I’m experiencing the emotion of fear”. By taking this approach, our personal monsters become something we experience rather than something we are.
In summary, becoming your superhero self can be a scary process, but in the end we come out feeling significantly more empowered knowing that we have tools to combat the darker corners of our mind.
As Alfred told Batman: “Why do we fall sir? So that we can learn to pick ourselves up.”