Hey all you Super Blogged Up Readers! Here’s another cool post from Mathew L. Cantore about the psychology of Bruce Wayne/Batman. Read on!
What is it about superheroes and supervillains that is so fascinating? For some, it is their powers, what they are capable of doing. For others, it’s their origin: every superhero and supervillain has a unique story of how they came to be who they are. Perhaps one of the most interesting aspects about a lot of them is the psychology.
A classic example of psychology in the superhero world is Bruce Wayne. A young boy witnesses the murder of his parents, who he clearly is very close to. This traumatic event is what causes Bruce to assume the superhero identity of Batman, a dark superhero who makes a vow inside his own mind to protect the innocent from criminals. From the point where his parents were murdered in front of him, Bruce Wayne develops a second personality: Batman. The two are distinct and separate within one body, but perform two very different functions.
When Batman was created in 1939, this would have been classified as schizophrenia. Later, this would be changed to multiple personality disorder, and most recently, dissociative identity disorder (DID). Despite the name changes, the condition remains similar in definition: a severely traumatic event, most often in childhood, leads to the development of two (or more) distinctly different personalities, each of which manifests themselves at different times. In DID, some of the personalities may be aware of others, and other personalities may not have any awareness of the rest. Each personality is created for a specific purpose, often to protect another personality (or personalities) in some way.
To put Bruce in context: as a child, he sees his parents murdered right before his eyes. His mind can’t handle that all at once. First and foremost, he is young, and he loves his parents very much. He’s very close to them, and losing them is too much to bear. Second, like most youth, he probably felt up to that point somehow “invincible,” and the death of his parents in this manner makes him realize how weak and fragile he is, and how powerless he was to stop what happened. The two lead down two very divergent paths: one which is afraid and vulnerable, another which is angry and guilty.
Bruce Wayne retains the love he has always had for his parents, but cannot process the anger and the guilt he has. What he can put into emotions or actions, he does by contributing Wayne Industries’ resources to research and charity that will benefit society, either directly, or by equipping Batman. This is a recognition of that love for his parents, but also the fear and vulnerability for what can happen to loved ones. Bruce Wayne thus becomes a very benevolent, peaceful, kind person. He does not get angry; he remains calm, maybe even impassionate about most things, but he has a great fear of getting close to anyone, and losing them if he does. When faced with a difficult situation involving the peril of a loved one, Bruce struggles. More commonly, he turns to Batman.
Batman is quite the opposite of Bruce in many ways. He is capable of incredible amounts of rage and guilt, which he has learned to channel into a keen fighting ability when combined with the technological resources afforded him by Wayne Industries. Batman has no special superpower, just exceptional training, technology, and a mental condition that leads him to appear fearless, because it is not Batman who processes fear. When faced with a situation where someone close to Bruce is in peril, Batman reacts about the same as when a random stranger is in peril: a deep rooted anger that channels into a strong desire and ability to protect or save them.
While the movies aren’t necessarily a good reflection of the spirit and essence of the original intent of the comic book heroes, there’s a telling scene in the ‘Batman’ movie made in 1989, in which the Joker confronts Bruce Wayne. Bruce grabs a fire poker and says “You wanna get nuts? Come on, let’s get nuts.” It’s interesting because it is not at all what Batman would do. Batman is very quiet, and would likely not issue such a direct challenge, especially if it endangered others around him. Bruce, who is very separate from that, is motivated by fear, not anger, and makes an attempt to gain control of the situation in the only way he knows how. Faced with the same situation, Batman would likely freeze, let his mind work, and harness the rage and anger he would feel at being powerless to come up with a solution in which the innocent are protected and justice is served. Batman as a personality fears nothing, because he feels he has nothing to fear, and also nothing to lose. Bruce very much fears losing that which is dear to him: those close to him, or his life.
Modern psychologists would likely diagnose Bruce with Dissociative Identity Disorder, and attempt to have him undergo therapy to get Bruce and Batman to live in harmony with each other. Through therapy, an awareness can be achieved of each separate personality. This would likely reduce Batman’s effectiveness as a superhero greatly, because he would learn to feel fear, and would likely the deep anger he feels. It would strengthen Bruce, though, by allowing him to feel stronger, less vulnerable, and that could very well affect whether Batman exists at all. If Bruce could come to terms with his fear, his vulnerability, and accept his anger and guilt and learn to deal with them, most likely the Batman personality would completely cease to exist, and only Bruce Wayne would remain.
While Batman is generally accepted to be especially vulnerable to either unmasking, or threatening the lives of the innocent, if they wanted to succeed in taking over Gotham, perhaps the Joker, the Penguin, and the other supervillains he fights simply should have gotten Bruce Wayne to go through therapy.
Mathew L. Cantore