Matt Reeves’s new movie, The Batman, is a case study in psychology.
Both Batman and Riddler have deep psychological trauma. They both handle it in immature ways. And it reminds me of almost all guys who are trying to do better with women.
Batman, Riddler, and many single guys who can’t get women create a false self, disown their shadow parts, and exile their inner child out of fear. But they don’t realize this cripples the healing process.
In this episode, you’ll discover what Batman and Riddler should’ve done instead to heal their traumatic lives. And how you can heal yourself from any wounds you picked up.
Show highlights include:
- Why the “False Self” depicted by both Batman and Riddler sabotages your happiness (even if you think it’s helping) (8:31)
- The insidious way men trying to get better with women become like the Riddler and ruin their chances of succeeding in a long-term relationship (10:56)
- The dangerous “Superhero Psychology” trap that fools you into believing you’re better with the ladies while making long-term love impossible (11:11)
- Why using your anger and rage to do good in the world like Batman actually makes you feel worse (18:53)
- Mr. Roger’s “anti-superhero” method for magnetizing love to you like honey does bees (21:18)
- Why Spiderman and Batman are not as psychologically strong as Iron Man (and how to be the “Iron Man” in your life) (22:56)
- Batman’s “Shadows Secret” for confronting your shadowed parts and unlocking peace and harmony in your psyche (32:57)
- How suppressing your shadow parts causes chaos like Riddler’s armed goons in your personal life (34:39)
- Why big muscles won’t help you find a girlfriend (and what to build instead) (40:52)
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Note: Scroll Below for Transcription
Welcome to the Masculine Psychology Podcast, where we answer key questions in dating, relationships, success, and fulfillment, and explore the psychology of masculinity. Now here’s your host, world-renowned therapist and life coach, David Tian.
David: Welcome to the Masculine Psychology Podcast. I’m David Tian, your host.
This episode is going to be a little different. This is an analysis that is using The Batman movie starring Robert Pattinson that came out in 2022, directed by Matt Reeves. It’s not going to be a full review by any means. I am simply using it as a springboard to draw attention to some really important key, necessary, essential psychological concepts and themes that are important for everyone, I believe, to understand, because those are the key to understanding their lives in the modern world, and finding happiness and fulfillment and love and worthiness. [01:02.7]
I’ll be covering four big themes, the themes of the false self. I’ll also be looking at the root of all evil. I’ll put it that way just so it’s easier to remember, the root of all evil. I’ll be covering the power of the inner child and why the inner-child work is a gateway to further growth as a necessary phase of growth. The fourth point is looking at the shadow and we’re going to be looking at the real shadow. It’s not the shadow that you probably would think it is.
Why these four points? Because they are the key to understanding yourself. If you don’t understand these concepts and themes, and you just uncritically, naively, like a child, adopt the value system that is on the surface of most superhero stories, but especially Batman and many of the DC stories, then you’ll miss. In fact, you’ll miss the truth of the matter, but even more dangerously or damagingly, you are going to imbibe a set of values that will prevent you from finding self-worth, true self-worth, and happiness and love or lasting fulfillment. [02:12.5]
Without further ado, let’s get into The Batman, but before we go any further, big spoiler alert. If you haven’t seen the movie yet, go and watch it. I watched it just a few days ago, so I’m recording this fresh, but I record these episodes a few weeks before they’re released. I try to anyway, and I’m trying to keep it relevant here. But part of it means that I’ve only seen it once, so I know that if I saw it again, I’d pick up a lot more, but I know I won’t have time for the next at least three weeks before I could see it again, so I am going to record it now.
Therefore, not a full review, but I will be referencing plot points that are spoilers, so if you haven’t watched it yet, pause it here. Go watch it and then come back to this episode. It will make a lot more sense, obviously, and you’ll enjoy the movie a lot more. [03:05.0]
Also a big caveat. I am not a comic book aficionado. I poked around before recording this on various platforms to look for reviews of The Batman movie and a lot of these reviews were referencing, to me, arcane facts about various plot lines or timelines or versions of the Batman. They were very informative, giving kind of the context to understand what Matt Reeves is doing here with this particular Batman.
But I’ve only watched The Batman movies. When I was 11 years old, for, I don’t know, six months or so, I was really into the comics, but then I ended up choosing Dungeons & Dragons and spending my allowance money on that instead. This is not a detailed breakdown or review of the actual movie. There’s tons of those online. This is using The Batman movie as a springboard and as a case study for understanding those four points I mention and for deepening our own understanding of ourselves. [04:03.7]
Okay, so here we go. Spoiler alert. If you still haven’t paused this, in case you haven’t watched it yet, spoiler alert is coming up. Okay, in this episode, I’m going to be drawing attention to lots of points that show that Batman is not, should not be a psychological ideal, right? It should not be what we would call a narcissistic ideal. It should not be your ideal.
However, of course, growing up watching and reading The Batman, as a young boy, of course, it would be an ideal, and along with Superman and all these other superheroes, I love superhero movies, especially. I just don’t have the time to read the comics, but I’m sure if I got into those, I would love them, too. I am going to, in a way, attack this sacred cow and I want to point out and I’m going to be pointing out how the Batman character, especially in this Matt Reeves depiction of Batman this year, 2022, I loved it the most. [05:01.8]
I’m going to just full out just tell you whether I liked it, thumbs up, thumbs down. Thumbs up, big thumbs up from me because I love the grittiness and the realism. The storyline, the setup, the character is a lot more believable and realistic than any other Batman movie depiction I’ve seen and I really appreciated that.
It’s important to realize that this is the beginning of apparently a trilogy that Reeves is going to be releasing. I didn’t know that until I watched these reviews on it, so that put it into context, too. We’re seeing a relatively young Batman who is two years into his journey as Batman and I thought it was a really deep psychological depiction of a Batman who is burdened and troubled, and in pain and hurting, and fearful.
To a certain extent, I saw the same burdens and troubles, and pain and hurt, and fear, in all of the Batman depictions, though what’s frustrating is often you see a more mature Batman, who is sort of one dimensional and it’s just not realistic from a psychological point of view. This was the most realistic one. [06:05.7]
There was also realism in the sense that this Batman didn’t go apparently through a hero’s journey before becoming Batman versus what you see in Christopher Nolan’s Batman, depicted by Christian Bale, which I loved. Totally loved that trilogy, but I watched those before I had a deeper understanding of psychotherapy several years ago, more than a decade ago, I suppose, and I would like to re-watch those at some point, though. It would be tough to find the time.
But I loved them as entertainment and I love this movie as entertainment. It was beautifully shot, and just from an entertainment perspective, I found it incredibly gripping, much more so than I expected. I was expecting when they announced Robert Pattinson’s casting as Batman. I kind of recoiled because I saw a skinny, a thin, kind of depressing vampire. I thought he did really well in this particular Batman, because the depiction was of a character, who, at this stage in his journey, was still very much looking for revenge and it was very angry, and, anyway, I’ll get into that. [07:13.3]
But I love this grittiness to it, and in this Batman, you see the depiction of his burdens that he’s caring and the fear that they actually discuss in the script in the dialogue. You see this also in Christopher Nolan’s Batman and in other versions of Batman, but in Nolan’s Batman, he went through this whole hero’s journey at the beginning, the first movie, through the League of Shadows and Ra’s al Ghul and all that, and that explained how that Batman developed all of these ninja skills.
But this one in Matt Reeves’ Robert Pattinson version of Batman, apparently he just learned his fighting from Alfred, who was an intelligence officer, and that explains also why he’s not a perfect fighter. He gets hit a bunch of times and it’s a lot more realistic, and I really appreciated that. [08:05.7]
That was a really cool part of the entertaining aspect of this particular movie and the psychological elements were most at the fore of any of The Batman movies I’ve seen. I’m going to take advantage of that and use this as a springboard to discuss those, and I’ve got four that I pulled out, though when I first made my brainstorming list, there were over a dozen, but I just don’t have the time. I picked the four most salient ones and here we go.
The first one is on the false self and the clearest depiction of this is in the dialogue is when a Batman finally confronts Riddler face to face in Arkham Asylum and Riddler says something along the lines of “This is the real you, not the you behind the mask. But, this, Batman, is the real you, just as I, this Riddler, this is the real me,” and whatever alias like his real name isn’t the real him. [09:02.5]
It was the perfect depiction of what a false self actually is. If the view, let’s take Riddler as an example, if Riddler saw himself, his true self saw the Riddler persona of his as just a persona, then it wouldn’t be a false self. It would just be a part of him, just as you might have a part of you that comes out when you are on the basketball court and you’re like a beast or a part of you that comes out when you’re playing with your three-year-old niece and you’re a really playful uncle or something, and there’s a part of you that you are in the boardroom at work.
Those are all perfectly fine parts of you if they’re happy in their roles and they only turn into a false self when they, when the part itself, like the Riddler part, or other parts, make the Riddler part into the true self, right? This is the real you, when, in fact, obviously it’s not the real him, but they desperately hope that it’s a real them because of shame. [10:05.6]
In Riddler’s case, it’s obvious, the toxic shame that he’s ashamed of how he is in day-to-day life on the streets, his normal self. I guess we call him Edward. I think his name’s Nashton. The Edward Nashton and his day-to-day persona, which was not noticed, not getting love and not getting his needs met, and out of shame about his unworthiness, he created or out of that pain arose this other part of him, the Riddler, and out of that toxic shame, his desperate belief and hope is that this is now his real self, the real him.
I’ve done many seminars and episodes, and I’ve put this in “Rock Solid Relationships” and “Invincible”, my courses on the false self, because this is a common pattern for men who are trying to get better with women that, instead of giving love to and being there for their more vulnerable parts and meeting the needs of their more vulnerable parts themselves as their higher self, instead of doing the healing therapeutic work, they instead create or bring up a false part of them that they hope is the true them, the real them, the real you. [11:21.8]
Then it becomes a false self. It’s false in the sense of it’s not your true self, but it has been thrust into the role of the true self or has taken it, or usurped the role of the true self out of shame as a reaction to the shame parts and hoping that the shameful parts will go away, because there’s not the real you anymore, those shameful parts.
This is the biggest theme and the biggest danger to imbibing superhero values or superhero ethics, or superhero psychology, which is that the Batman who’s superior to the wounded boy or the Riddler is more worthy than Edward Nashton or the true Edward Nashton, or the wounded Edward Nashton. [12:10.7]
To get rid of the wounded boys in you or the wounded inner child, the move here is to destroy it, to get rid of it—to exile it, in IFS therapy terminology—and, instead, put this other part in the position of the true self and that’s why from our objective perspective, the more objective perspective on the outside, we can label it as a false self.
Then all of the literature, the research literature around narcissistic personality disorders, psychopathy, antisocial personality disorder, the Cluster B disorders, is easier to make sense of because they use this dichotomy between original self and false self, and it actually can fit into the much richer, more complex analysis of IFS therapy. The false self is a part that has either usurped the role of the true self and exiled the shameful parts or the parts that, from its perspective, are shameful, or it’s been thrust into that role by other parts and has accepted this role. [13:10.6]
Here the Riddler is trying to do that to Batman and saying, Hey, this Batman I can tell is the real you, and in the movie, it largely is. Just like the butler, Alfred, keeps telling Bruce Wayne, the Bruce Wayne character, that he ought to actually be Bruce Wayne, be as Bruce Wayne to go out in public, and Bruce Wayne is empty in this movie. He hasn’t created the Bruce Wayne of Wayne Enterprises persona, the playboy persona or even the businessman persona, and as a result, they’ve just been spending money creating weapons and all of this and burning through the budget apparently, and he hasn’t stepped into that other persona. [13:51.0]
But that also as a persona, and if I were his therapist, I would be helping to just separate out all of these various parts of him, the Batman part and there are multiple Batman parts, and then the later on when he creates a Bruce Wayne personas, to make sure that those are kept clear and that he’s very aware of those and has a good relationship with those two, so that the more you individuate, get clear and get to know each of these parts, the more room there is for Bruce Wayne’s true self to emerge, though I have not seen a good depiction of that happening in the Bruce Wayne character.
Moving out away from the Riddler, I thought that was a really great dialogue point there of the real you, bringing in an explicit way this distinction between the false self and other parts of you, and, of course, versus your true self.
Then you can see that the Batman is an extreme protector. The canonical version of things is, around eight years old, Bruce Wayne saw his parents killed in front of him in the alleyway. I’m not sure if that’s actually the story they’re going with in the Riddler trilogy, but there’s some kind of traumatic event. As a result of dealing with that pain, he learns how to fight and just starts trolling the streets at night with sort of vengeance, as anger, as revenge, as his motivation. [15:13.4]
First it’s exacting vengeance out of this anger, not knowing where to put it, and this anger channeling into revenge against the evil or bad elements at night in the shadows. He is not just in the shadows. He is the shadows, something I’ll be getting back to in Point 4. But then you notice that as the movie goes on, you start to see what the anger starts to transmute into, another motivation, or there’s been another motivation alongside it all along, and you’ll see that Batman is an extreme achiever as well, but in a firefighter. [15:52.4]
Firefighter is a category of parts in IFS therapy. It’s a very extreme protector that arises out of a reaction to triggering, and triggering as a result of some kind of trauma, and the Batman can be seen as a kind of extreme protector and there are even deeper, even more extreme protectors in the Batman that you see towards the end of the movie where he just loses it because of the adrenaline shot he took or that venom, or whatever it was that he took to wake himself up at the end, and he just pummels this guy. He just goes enraged, so there are even more extreme versions of the protector part.
But the Batman is an extreme protector, arising out of trauma, and in this movie, you’re seeing the first stage of it as anger. But then there’s also a deep desire to save, to save, to not just take and exact as anger with no other good out of it. The motivation is to save somebody else and it doesn’t take much deep psychotherapy to understand that what he is really trying to reenact is trying to save his parents. [16:59.5]
But he cannot do that, and so he’s reenacting the trauma every night, going out in hunt of the guys who killed or the evil ones who killed his loved ones, and then re-scripting it for him every night, but in a way that’s haunting and gives him no peace. Anger is revenge morphing into what is underlying it, a desire to save his parents who represent good and the first scene starts with that. He is fighting the bad boys, the bad guys, letting the ones go that are on the fence and then see the innocent one, the victim, who is actually afraid of Batman and seeing this anger.
As guys, you might also notice that when the extreme protector comes in, you might think that you’d be rewarded because you saved the woman from some evil threat, but then when you turn towards her, still angry and still with that. I mean, obviously Batman still looks very menacing and intimidating and scary, right? [17:57.8]
But even with that, coming with that anger, if you use anger as a fuel to beat up the bad guy, and then you turn to your wife or your daughter, don’t expect them to embrace you right away, because the fear is that can turn on them if they’re not careful. So, it was very realistic that this innocent one, the innocent person, was afraid at first.
This is a good segue into just pointing out that being a crime fighter and doing lots of good and defending against evildoers is awesome. I mean, that’s why I watched this movie. That’s why I’m a big fan of the Batman character. And you’re rooting for him the whole time, right? It’s awesome. But what, as a therapist now, I’m feeling in this character and every time I think back to other Batman movies I’ve watched, there’s a compassion for this person who needs a therapist very badly.
It’s that he’s fueled, especially in this movie early on, right, two years into his journey, he’s fueled by anger and fueled by revenge, and there is clearly a redemptive cycle here. He’s trying to live out the pain and the trauma to actually save the ones he loves and cannot do that, and so he takes this sort of minor version of it as a kind of salve for his wounds. [19:16.5]
But they never actually [work], because he never is able to meet the needs of the wounded inner child because he has exiled him and refuses to go there, but in this movie, there’s a move towards it, which is beautiful. As a result of that, his good acts are fueled by a kind of self-righteous anger and it doesn’t feel good to do that. There you can still stop evil and do good, and save others, save the innocent, without needing all of that extra energy of anger and rage, because that certainly is a fuel, but it is a fuel that’s toxic and burns you up inside, and burns you out much faster and is not enjoyable. [20:01.5]
Even just in fighting, if the fighter gets angry and loses it in the middle of the cage or in the middle of the fight, he starts to get sloppy. You can see it sometimes, right? Versus the fighter who is keeping his cool, keeping his breathing under control, and is kind of detached in a way because he is able to see the punches coming, to see the strikes coming in and to see what the other opponent’s doing. Time starts to slow down because he’s in flow and you’re not going to get into flow in an effective way, in a skillful way, if you’re driven by rage or anger or vengeance. That’s what you see at the beginning of this movie and I thought it was very realistic.
Ironically, I’ve been calling the type of achiever part or pleaser part who tries to save, fix, rescue others as a way of getting the worthiness, getting the love. I’ve been calling that the white knight, and in this case, it’s the dark knight, but the dark knight is a white knight and the dark knight is an extreme white knight. [21:00.0]
There’s another character who is an extreme white knight, Catwoman, and I just don’t have time to get into that, but that’s in the other white knight and it’s paralleling, and they have chemistry, but ultimately they can’t stay together because they’re both white knights.
Anyway, there is a point I wanted to bring up. Mr. Rogers, I think it was in the ’80s, campaigning against superhero movies when the first Superman movies came out and kids were, I think one or two kids, put on a Superman Cape and tried to fly and then died, something along those lines. Don’t quote me on that. I didn’t have time to research that fully.
But, as a result, he had produced a lot of content to tell children that they didn’t need to be the superhero in order to be worthy of love and that they were just fine the way they were. I mean, they’re just as worthy and valued for love just the way they are without having to achieve. [21:58.0]
Now, I’ve done a lot of episodes about how people get so messed up about what real value is and what real worth is, so some people look down on that or attack Mr. Rogers’ theme, misunderstanding him. He’s not saying you’re going to be worthy of money or a job or something like that if you don’t do anything to earn the money in the job. He’s talking about worthiness of love, these deep core insecurities that you’re not good enough unless you save others.
Okay, that’s a non-extreme protector who just does it for worthiness. This more extreme protector is doing it out of pain, out of anger, out of revenge, as a deeper desire to save because of the more extreme trauma as an eight-year-old, seeing his parents slain in front of him, but that Mr. Roger’s message is even more pertinent here.
Then just one other thing that I was thinking of when I was watching the movie and that struck me when I watched the recent Spiderman movie, the one where there was a crossover, the multiverse one with Dr. Strange and one of the remarks that Dr. strange gave to Spiderman was, These problems are coming up for you because of your bifurcated identity, because you insist on keeping this secret. [23:13.4]
That was a really good call out because right from the beginning, the first Marvel Universe movie of Iron Man, at the end of it, he says, “I am iron man,” which is a huge move from Batman, because at the end of this Batman, another reason I love this movie, at the end of this Batman, the Riddler keeps saying to him, “Bruce Wayne, Bruce Wayne,” until I totally thought that he knew and then that was like a weird plot twister, and then that he didn’t do anything with that knowledge.
But then I realized from the reviews I watched that he actually said later on, and then I realized that was the case that he was just saying, Bruce Wayne, Bruce Wayne is the one that got away. Big spoiler there. But anyway, you’ll notice that, that he clings to that, this two-faced nature of it, this false self, right? As a result of that, insistence on the false self and different personas kept completely separate. There is a prevention of integration, of psychological integration. [24:09.8]
What makes the MCU journey for Tony Stark so wonderful to watch, because he goes through this pretty big character arc, is because he begins right with that first movie, facing the shadow and the false self, and beginning that integration process. As a result, he comes into his own and becomes the king, really, against all laws because he was really not a kingly character. Anyway, this is not going to be on the MCU.
But that Spiderman Dr. Strange, and Dr. Strange, of course, is not hiding behind any kind of … I mean, that was a joke running through the movies that Spiderman thought Dr. Strange was a moniker or an alias, but it’s, in fact, just his name and that that was a much more powerful, ballsy alpha—and, of course, saying those words because they appeal to men—but, of course, a more psychologically-integrated move on Dr. Strange’s part not to live out a persona or false self. [25:08.0]
Now, there, of course, there are all kinds of practical reasons for it. I totally get it, as you can tell with the Spiderman thing, and he’s a minor and all this. He doesn’t have the means and so forth, but part of the fallout for the Spiderman and for Batman, and for many of the DC characters, is this bifurcated idea entity and the shadow, the hidden, the shame of it, having to keep a secret identity, and the psychological burden of it is not healthy and will actually prevent psychological integration, and healthy ordering and balance and harmony of his inner parts. [25:47.0]
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Okay, the second theme is looking at the root of all evil and you see this at the beginning of the movie, right at the beginning. The Batman got this voice over and he is talking about how he’s not in the shadows. He is the shadow, and how he uses fear to control the evil. The fear is his greatest weapon. The fear right from the beginning, it’s a great theme. Then it comes to bite him in the ass later because we learn that the fear is what actually is driving him, not even the anger itself. [27:00.0]
The fear of “it happening again, the fear of losing someone I care about, as you see in those rare moments of vulnerability. When Alfred is in the hospital, he’s sitting with him there and finally he’s opening up and Alfred reaches out his hand and then they hold hands, and then he sees the bad signal and, boom, the false self has– For Batman, it’s not quite the false self yet, right? It is for Riddler, but not for Batman yet, but it’s on the way.
He’s on the cusp of it and, luckily, towards the end, the movie pulls back from that and it’s a beautiful thing to see where he is playing with the discovery of his true self, who is the true self, and he still hasn’t found it, of course, and very few superheroes have and it’s returning to the fear. The fear of it happening again is what drives him to go out and reenact the trauma in a way to save it from happening again and really his greatest fears of losing someone he loves or cares about. [27:56.3]
I’m going to now quickly move to the third point. You see this in the way the Pattinson character looks at the mayor’s son repeatedly. Maybe that was a little bit too heavy-handed. I don’t know, to me, it was all the time. It was like, wow, this is a pretty strong light motif here, but it is a great segue to Point 3, which is the inner child.
The reason, kind of the gateway to his salvation, to his healing, to Batman’s healing in this movie is actually the mayor’s son, because he sees in the mayor’s son, obviously reflected his own inner child that he has exiled as a result of the decision he made to exile that inner child, the pain, the wounded one, and instead the firefighter, the extreme protector arises and trolls the streets at night, looking for people, innocent ones to save from bad guys and in the kind of haunted, burdened, troubled, pain, hurting way, all fueled ultimately by fear.
This is why the foundational question in most of the IFS therapy process, the foundational question is, once you get to know a part, you ask the part, “What is it that you are afraid might happen if you were to stop doing this job that you’re doing?” [29:06.5]
To ask the Batman, when you’re sitting in your therapy room and you access Batman and you ask the Batman, or one of the Batmans, the one that’s trolling the streets and maybe a dominant Batman, “What are you afraid might happen if you didn’t do your job?” and there you will find the things that–
You’d probably just come up with some service-level thing. You’d just keep asking this same question three or four times to get to the real root fears, and ultimately who will be as he’s being vulnerable as he was in Alfred’s hospital room, the fear of it happening again, the fear of losing someone he loves, and he’s preventing that from happening, the fear of it happening again and losing someone he loves, by reenacting and what we call redoing, re-scripting the trauma event, the inner child, and coming to– [29:56.1]
The defensive mechanism, the coping mechanism with the trauma was to become Batman. That’s obvious, right? And the healing is to stop the coping long enough to discover the vulnerable inner child within and go to this part, get to know it, hear everything he wants to share with you and see everything, witness everything he wants to share with you, and then to go through this unburdening process for the inner child.
Once the inner child parts, especially the eight-year-old who saw his parents get killed in the alleyway is unburdened, and for something that traumatic, this might take multiple unburdenings, unburdening various beliefs that he took on at the time or emotions and letting go of those and giving them up to the elements and so, and that is the healing process.
Once the vulnerable inner-child part is released of its burdens and is no longer haunted by fear and shame, and anger and unworthiness, and most importantly, fear, and of course, the beautiful sadness that he would obviously be feeling. It’s called beautiful sadness because it’s an empowering sadness, because the sadness itself is healing in the presence of your true self, your higher self. [31:09.3]
Okay, I’m just sort of previewing the healing process. This is something that you would need to go through the therapeutic process to experience either with a good IFS therapist in private or through some of my recorded courses, like “Freedom U”, the therapeutic ones “Freedom U”, “Rock Solid Relationships”, “Lifestyle Mastery”, “Invincible”. Even “Invincible” has inner-child healing processes embedded in it.
Throughout the movie, you can see him coming out of being driven by anger or revenge, and instead moving into empathy and compassion, and having that motivate the same actions and that feels a lot better, by the way, if you haven’t experienced that that you could do good, not fueled by self-righteous anger, but by fueled instead by compassion, and he does that in a few different places in the movie. Then, at the end, the big transformative point in the movie is him being with the mayor’s son as he is being hoisted up into the air. [32:07.8]
Now you can understand how this child was the conduit, the gateway for the Batman to encounter his own inner child, and for very driven ultra-achievers, it’s very difficult to access your own inner-child parts directly. Often the way that it can happen, and it happened for me as I’ve shared in a video on my YouTube channel that’s currently on the homepage, that I call the true meaning of life and I share the story of how I discovered my inner child, inner-child parts used with my god-daughter, my young god-daughter as a proxy and gateway for that, and you can see the same parallel process happening for the Batman character in this movie.
The final point I wanted to bring up is the real shadow. Where is the real shadow? At the beginning of the movie, Batman says, “I am not in the shadows. I am the shadow,” and it’s really cool to think of Batman as a shadow. It makes sense. Batman is a shadow. [33:06.3]
But the real shadows are actually the villains. The shadows of society are the villains, and just like with our own shadows, we will not have any peace or harmony without going to the shadows courageously and confronting them with—and learning about them. First learning about them, seeing them, understanding their hurts, their pain, and what needs they have that are not being met, and then meeting those needs, meeting those emotional needs for them—first and foremost, being compassionate and listening to them, and in just bringing your presence.
Instead, if you were to further exile them, guess what’s going to happen? These were exiled shadows, of course, and the villains in this movie, Riddler and his gang of incels, basically, I don’t know what the term for it is, but there were 500 fans he had on some shadowy social media or some kind of forum, a community forum online, and a whole bunch of them showed up with rifles and were going to exact revenge on the people that ignored them, that caused them hurt, that did not see or understand them before. [34:15.3]
Their way of doing this versus Batman was similar. I mean, that’s the whole point that Batman is just like them in many ways. Depending on how you see it, it’s all relative, right? And he was also vengeance and they are also vengeance, and he did it through crime-fighting and saving innocent people, and they’re doing it through chaos, through killing, and mostly through chaos and they have chaos in a community.
Those are two really important aspects that one of the things that they’re really looking for is community, because in a community, they are seen and understood, and as a result, their needs for connection are met and their needs for significance. Now they’re going to collectively get even more significance by causing chaos, and then, finally, people will know their names, so to speak, right? [35:00.7]
All of this is exactly what our shadow parts do when they’re not attended to and you can’t actually exile them for long. This repression will eat away at you from the inside, just as the “self” of society, the shadow eats away at it on the fringes and then from the inside.
In case you think, Maybe I don’t have a shadow like this, this is exactly the hero arc that boys grow up with. I grew up with it and it’s toxic. This is toxic masculinity. Again, not all masculinity is toxic, but to this, what I’m going to share with you and what you see in the villains in this movie, and the Batman character is unwittingly and unconsciously skirting with, is what we, as boys, buy into as a lie. It’s a lie about what will actually make us feel significant and get us self-worth, and it’s a lie that’s perpetuated in all kinds of media. [36:00.0]
I remember seeing it in one of the iconic forms in this famous copywriting advertisement, The Insult that Made a Man out of Mac, and I went and looked for it online, to just to give you the comic version, and it was originally a comic that was an advertisement for Charles Atlas’s fitness program and this advertisement was placed in a lot of comic books in the ’70s and earlier, and it was also the same plot line.
You see this in one of the Christopher Reeves’ Superman movies and this is just the plotline of dudes that they’re living out this narcissistic fantasy without realizing it, and it’s being supported and promoted by pop media because they know that it’s eating away at your core insecurities and you’ll buy stuff as a result of them triggering those core insecurities in men.
Okay, I’ll read out the comic. The Insult that Made a Man out of Mac.
“Hey! Quit kicking that sand in our faces!” says the guy, the skinny guy, and then the girl in the bikini that he’s next to on a date, I guess says, “That man is the worst nuisance on the beach!” and it’s this bigger guy kicking sand in their faces. [37:07.8]
Next frame. The bigger guy grabs the skinnier Mac, grabs him by the arm and says, “Listen here, I’d smash your face … only you’re so skinny you might dry up and blow away!”
Then in the next frame, the bully is gone and now the skinny Mac is there with his girlfriend or the girl he is dating in the bikini and he says, “The big bully, I’ll get even someday!” and the girl says, “Oh, don’t let it bother you, little boy!” Okay, that will eat away at the core insecurities of masculinity for boys, young boys.
He’s at home now, dressed in his street clothes, and he kicks the stuff in his room and says, “Darn it! I’m sick and tired of being a scarecrow! Charles Atlas says he can give me a REAL body, all right! I’ll gamble a stamp and get his free book!”
Then the next frame, the last frame says, “Later.” Then now he’s looking in the mirror and he is this big buff guy in a speedo basically, and he says to himself, looking in the mirror, “Boy! It didn’t take Atlas long to do this for me! What MUSCLES! That bully won’t shove ME around again!” [38:15.2]
Then next to it is a photo of Charles Atlas, the real-life figure here awarded, and it says, “Awarded the title of ‘The World’s Most Perfectly Developed Man.’”
This advertisement did so well that it ran for over a decade and it still appeared, and I Googled that the last appearance of it was in 1997, but it was already all over the comics in the ’70s, and it taps into the insecurities that boys have around their masculinity and it feeds them a lie that, if they become a false self, then they’ll get all of the things that they’ve been yearning for. [38:53.3]
Not just that they’ll get muscles and a six pack—it may be a better fitness level and better health, which is what, in fact, that those things will give them—but, even more, it will give him psychological and emotional gifts and value that he’s really yearning for, because he’s not really just getting the muscles or doing the workout for however long it will take for a skinny guy to become that buff, which is definitely more than a few weeks or definitely more than “later” as it shows in the comic book.
For him to do all that, he’s going to go through a lot of hard work to become that, and then he has to maintain that and maintaining it often means continuing to grow. All of this really is being driven by a core and deep insecurity that he’s not man enough, and that, if he’s not man enough, he won’t get the girl, and if he doesn’t get the girl, then he’s not worthy. He’s not worthy of not just sex and pleasure, but not worthy ultimately of existing, of being someone who is worthy of love or significance. [39:54.5]
If you can tap into those much deeper core insecurities, these guys will buy whatever you give them, and, unfortunately, this ad did really, really well. This is also the time that Mr. Rogers was putting out content and this is a great counterpoint to the Charles Atlas ads, that toxic messaging that you have to compensate, overcompensate for perceived weaknesses by being whatever it is that you think is necessary.
Often, it’s some tough guy or whatever so that you can finally be worthy of the woman or whatever, and so it’s not just a self-defense move or something like that. It is a psychological and emotional move to toughen yourself up in the hopes that you are now going to be worthy. I’ve addressed why that is so toxic. I’ve addressed that in many other episodes.
But it’s a great counterbalance or counterpoint, I mean, to Mr. Rogers’ messaging and, really, the messaging of all good psychotherapy, which is that you are worthy of love just the way you are, and if you want to get big muscles or if you want to learn self-defense, then, by all means, go for it. But don’t be under the illusion that those things will make you more worthy of love. [41:08.4]
They’ll get you whatever they get you, more money, safety, whatever it is, better health, bigger muscles. I mean, bigger muscles might be intrinsically valuable. You can lift more stuff, I don’t know, and if you enjoy the process or if you want it badly enough because it’ll help you get something that you want and you enjoy it, then, by all means, do it, just like there’s nothing wrong, of course, with what the Batman character is doing of defending innocent people and protecting against bad guys and all that.
That’s one reason why, on the surface, it’s so easy to love and root for this character. But, ultimately, if you look below the surface, you can see the motivations of what is actually driving the Batman character and what’s driving the deep insecurities, these deep insecurities that are driving even in the Mac comic book, the comic strip, driving him to get the body of Charles Atlas so that no bullies will push him around anymore and, finally, the girl will like him. [42:11.0]
Not realizing, of course, while what he wants is actually connection and love, not just sex, any girl who wants him just because he’s buff now, he’ll always lose out and that that’s not actually love, and it’s not actually valuing him for who he is, but for what he has or for what he can do rather than for who he is.
Just as Mac created a false self at the end of that comic strip, the Batman created a part of him that arose as a result of and in response to deep pain and anger, and deep sadness and ultimately mostly of fear, the fear of it happening again, the fear of losing someone he loves or cares about, and to prevent that from ever happening again. “Never again,” says this part. He trolls the streets at night, looking for a way to reenact and save, save the innocent people in hopes that this will salve his wounds. [43:09.7]
But those actions cannot do that. The only thing that can actually do this in a permanent way, in a lasting way is true healing, not compensating for it, not compensating for the pain and the fear through this tortured existence, through this tortured protective work.
Ultimately, this Batman movie is a great depiction of real life, which you wouldn’t expect to find in a superhero movie, so I highly recommend it to everyone.
Just as a recap of the four main points, the first one being that you see a great depiction of the false self and, ironically, the dark knight is a white knight and the Batman is an extreme protector, and so is a Catwoman, and that this bifurcated identity that you see also the tension between and the difference between Spiderman and Dr. Strange, and that came up in that movie. [44:03.4]
It’s all a manifestation of the problems of adopting a false self and, ultimately, Riddler did really have a false self. I’m not saying that and hope I didn’t say that the Batman is a false self, but that Batman could become a false self, that the Batman part could be coming false self, but, of course, the Batman part and parts are extreme protectors of the little boy at eight years old, who was traumatized.
Second point being fear. Fear is the root of all evil and fear is what ultimately is driving these Batman parts to do what they do.
The third point is that the way to healing is through the inner child and healing the inner child, because once the inner child parts are healed and unburdened, the ones protecting the inner child parts realize that they don’t need to protect them anymore, and so they’re not tortured or driven by fear any longer, and now they can move into more healthy roles. It might still be fighting crime and protecting the innocent, but they won’t do it through this haunted tortured way. [45:02.0]
Then, finally, noticing that the villains in this movie are actually the real shadow of society, not the Batman, and that what they need just like all shadow parts need is to be seen and understood to be brought out of the shadows, seen and understood, embraced and given compassion, because that’s actually what they’re looking for, community, to be seen and understood, and to have their hurt and pain seen and understood. Then they will be on their path to unburdening.
By the way, if you liked this analysis, I highly recommend Richard Schwartz’s book, No Bad Parts that goes through these themes of the shadow, the villain, in different terminology, of course, purely IFS therapy terminology. I highly recommend that book, No Bad Parts, and I hope that you have derived some deeper understanding of yourself or maybe a society, and if nothing else, at least of The Batman movie and that I recommend that you go see The Batman movie. [46:00.0]
I’d love to hear what you think about it. I am also just a person putting out my thoughts and ideas and analysis of these things. I’d love to hear yours, so please give me some feedback, and thanks so much for the feedback I’ve gotten already. I look forward to welcoming you to the next episode. Until then, David Tian, signing out.
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