TheCredits.org recently put a clinical psychologist to the test by presenting her with the thinly veiled backstories of several of our favorite superheroes to see what kind of diagnosis she’d give each. Dr. Natalie Petyk was chosen because she wasn’t very familiar with the genre, but that doesn’t mean she didn’t get surprisingly close to figuring out where these alter egos wound up.
Patient Name: C.K.
Core details: Raised by loving parents, discovers in adolescence that he was adopted through a traumatic experience that showcases his ‘otherness.’ Both his biological parents (who are not American) are dead. Feelings of alienation increase as he discovers special abilities he has are related to his biological parents and their birthplace, the latter of which is no longer a viable travel destination. He wants to know who he is—the person he was raised to be, or the person he feels he was born to be. Despite an array of specialized skills, he actually chooses to go into journalism.
DR. PETYK: I think for this young man there are parallels of being a part of two worlds. The core of the therapy would be about helping him integrate both the nature (where he’s originally from) and the nurture (how his adoptive parents raised him). The part that he feels he’s learned and the part that he feels more in his core—which is his generational heritage. These issues are only complicated by this push-pull between an adoptive family versus a biological family. One of the ways someone can work through this is by trying on different identities for size, which could result in a real amplification of those attributes or traits. Almost like a kid playing with masks.
Patient name: B.W.
Core details: Born into an incredibly rich family with a loving mother and father (and butler). Trauma began in childhood when he fell down a well and into a cave on his family estate, where he is engulfed by a swarm of bats. Soon after this trauma his parents take him to the opera. What he sees on the stage reminds him of the cave and he’s panicked and terrified, forcing his parents to grab him and leave early. They exit through a backdoor into an alleyway, where a thief shoots his parents dead. Along with the crushing guilt he feels is an overpowering desire for revenge. He devotes his life to instilling fear in criminals.
DR. PETYK: He’d be an unlikely dude to stumble into therapy–it sounds like you’re describing someone who’s not experiencing much remorse or universal attributes likes compassion, so we’d likely maybe not see him inside the walls of my office. But, should he come through my door, it sounds like he, very early on, learned to associate his own fears with danger. He seems like he then gets his rocks off later in life inducing fear in other people and putting people in that state, almost to do away with any sort of processing or realization about his own needs. He just turns into a predator and puts fears in others – which is very retaliatory. I also think it’s a coping mechanism to no longer really be in touch with the vulnerability of his own fears.
Core details: Raised by his aunt and uncle after his parents died, he has had feelings of inadequacy—the girl he moons over feels always out of reach, he never has enough money, he’s a dork— for a long time. His world is forever altered by a moment of inaction, when he had a chance to stop a petty crime from taking place, but instead let the criminal go, resulting in the death of his beloved uncle. A sticky situation that devastates him.
DR. PETYK: What I’m hearing from him is that the primary conflict here—in all aspects of his life—is the dilemma between passivity and action, a fear of his own action, but also guilt around his inaction.
I think therapy with him would really focus on getting a sense what he makes of this dynamic. Also, we’d revisit and work through that trauma with his uncle. It sounds like he’s avoided doing that, and only come up with the narrative that he’s at fault for allowing this criminal to escape. So we’d try to contextualize that more for him so he can forgive parts of himself that didn’t choose to intervene, but then also motivate engagement in other parts of his life where it makes more sense.
See more analyses at The Credits.