When you google “How to become a superhero”, google delivers. It seems as a culture we have been fascinated by superheroes for years. And apparently many people want to become super versions of themselves, because there is plenty of “how to” information out there.
Having recently visited Disney World with family over Halloween weekend (now that’s another blog entirely), I was reminded of the power of the costume, the magic of the make-up and the thrill of taking on another persona.
It was no surprise to see a cornucopia of superhero characters roaming the Magic Kingdom. Average humans draped in colorful layers of protective materials with the accompanying gear and gadgets to protect themselves and drive away danger with their uniquely unusual powers. These humans are heroes, and these heroes are super for a reason – to preserve the good and eliminate the evil in society.
We are easily swept up and inspired by the original stories of a superhero, hence the box office success of superhero films. How did they become what they are? What happened to them in the past? Who hurt them? Many questions we might curiously ask in a therapeutic setting.
Superhero histories are often stories of overcoming adversity, coping with trauma, finding meaning in loss and discovering what strengths can emerge from such experiences. As we know, posttraumatic stress often yields posttraumatic growth, the process of bouncing back from a traumatic experience and realizing a sense of resilience that can be put to positive use.
I suppose it isn’t surprising that Wonder Woman was created by a psychologist. Like many others, I chose to embody Wonder Woman this Halloween. Fully equipped with our tiaras, capes, gold ricochet bracelets and lassos of truth, we were prepared to face the world, or at least Disney.
But I was soon sharply reminded, ironically on Halloween, that there is no superpower that can entirely prevent events from occurring that may harm us. When it comes down to it, we are as vulnerable as the non-super human can get. No matter how many vitamins we take, how many hours we pump iron, or how many weapons we acquire, we are limited in our power to protect and prevent. Perhaps this reality check feeds our superhero fantasies – that when we fall, Superman will swoop in to catch us and say, “Don’t worry, I’ve got you.” But as Lois honestly asked, “If you’ve got me, who’s got you?” And that is the question. There will always be heroes who come to our aid, who we will wrap our arms around when they pull us out of the rubble. But they are still human, and even they are not super.
Our strength isn’t found in our costumes, capes or masks. It’s found in our ability and determination to keep going despite efforts to knock us down. This resilient muscle that springs into action when the sirens soar is the one superpower that lives within each of us and cannot be extinguished. #NYCStrong