Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Batman and the psychology of trauma

Some people cope with trauma and devastating loss by becoming a stronger person, working through their pain and using their experiences to help society. But some people who endure severe trauma turn inward, crumple into depression or, even worse, go on to inflict pain onto others.

What is it about the human psyche that sets individuals down such different paths? That question drives everything from modern-day neuroscience to the plots of great literature and comic book super heroes.

In “The Dark Knight Rises,” the third and final installment in a Batman film triology, Bruce Wayne finally confronts the pain of loss that he has kept masked by fighting criminals.

In the above video, taped before the tragic real-life shooting at the film’s opening in Aurora, Colorado, Emory psychologist Jared DeFife discusses the dark themes of pain, anger and fear that shaped the character of Bruce Wayne.

“You can’t really understand Bruce Wayne without understanding the childhood trauma of seeing his parents murdered in front of him,” DeFife says.

On the one hand, Wayne turned his pain into a force for good, by battling for justice for others, Defife says. But in order to fight crime, Bruce Wayne created the alter ego of Batman.

“A split-off identity comes at great cost,” DeFife says, noting that it also happens sometimes in real life. “After a traumatic experience, whether it be combat trauma, motor vehicle accidents or crimes that occur, people can begin to split off aspects of themselves even more so than other people. Because dealing with those events, trying to make sense of those events, can lead people to disassociate. They sort of withdraw from the stimuli going on in the world.”

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