I have had many sessions with clients (mainly men) on a concept for which they struggle to overcome. That is, trying (and usually failing) to be Superman in their everyday lives. I believe at some point in our lives, we want to be a hero or at least experience something which identifies us as heroic. We dare to dream of taking the hero’s journey in one sense or another from the time we can imagine and wonder. We yearn for that adventure or moment when we complete a rite of passage or engage in some heroic act. Our popular culture is saturated with hero myths whether from ancient/modern literature or visual arts. Every society and every age has at its core hero mythologies that are embedded within the fabric of their civilization. In our time, Superman has become that iconic symbol for what stands for the ideal hero.
Superman is an entirely different construct compared to most hero myths/journeys. Superman is a god-like idealized, aspirational concept that we strive to become. However, Superman is beyond the hero’s journey in large part because his powers are near infinite in measure. In addition, there is a sometimes forgotten fact that he is not human which again reinforces the notion that he is beyond the human hero construct. Superman does not really have to struggle with finding himself; rather, his struggle is to understand humanity. He must struggle with not becoming apathetic to the human condition because he is beyond the human condition. In other words, Superman’s quest is trying to be more human. The irony then denotes that while we try to be Superman, he tries to be more like us: fallible, fragile, overwhelmed, confused, yet hopeful, strong, courageous, and determined.
What we do not like to ponder is that even Superman has Kryptonite. For our purposes, it would make sense to consider that if Superman has a weakness, then we must weaknesses abound. The challenge is to admit our fragility, gain insight into our weaknesses, and produce a plan of attack. Our greatest weakness is the hubris it takes to believe we can be Superman. We pile on too much. We focus on making a difference on large scales instead of realizing we are making such a difference in our own little worlds. We try to take on every responsibility, every task, or fix every problem. We usually try taking on the world all alone, isolated, and without help. Hell, even Superman had the Justice League to help shoulder the responsibilities of saving the world. If Superman can defer some responsibility, we are allowed too as well.
I believe the notion of becoming Superman-like puts us out of rhythm. I think as a society, particularly our Western society, we have no sense of balance or rhythm. We vacillate from one spectrum to another. We are either trying to live up to the Superman ideal or failing so miserably that we wind up in the gutters of Gotham City. The latter can be expected when we inevitably fail at trying to become Superman. We suffer and struggle to cope with our inability to become Supermen. We find things to numb ourselves or escape from the pressures of more human-like responsibilities such as being a good citizen, spouse, parent, friend, or human.
Damon Neely MA, LMHC