The Superman Complex

When we are young, even the most seemingly insignificant events can greatly influence our personalities. More often than not, many of the disempowering beliefs we hold as grown ups crawled into our minds from a very early age. In my case, the Superman Complex was by far the most damaging one.

 

While growing up I saw myself (or the man I want to become) as someone with a strong sense of truth and justice, someone who will not allow emotions to prevent me from doing what was right and honorable.

I worked hard to achieve this vision of myself, and I knew anything else would make me feel like a failure.

It was easy to envision my future self this way because I already knew someone who was an example of each one of these qualities: Superman.

 

Who We Want to Be

I was very sure about the kind of person I wanted to be even from an early age.

I had a clear idea of how I wanted life to turn out: I aimed to become an honest, loyal, trustworthy individual. Even as a kid, I used to understand the importance of courage as a fundamental quality in a successful human being. I saw myself (or the man I wanted to become) as someone with a strong sense of truth and justice and the ability to not allow my emotions to prevent me from doing what was right.

I worked hard to achieve this vision of myself, and I knew anything else would make me feel like a failure.

I aimed to become an honest, loyal, trustworthy individual because I used to understand (in a subconscious way) the importance of courage as a fundamental quality in a successful human being.

 

The Superman Complex

At some point, we all have wanted to be better persons and in order to achieve such goal the first thing we do is look for role models as a guide.

When we were kids the easiest way to find an exceptional role model was to look to comic books, movies and TV. Later, as we grew up, we became more “realistic” and replaced those role models by actual persons, yet we assigned those superhero-like qualities to these individuals.

Some kids replace the ethical sense of Superman by a strong father figure, others replace the “coolness” of Tony Stark by looking up to influential figures, such as Elon Musk.

The problem is that even when we replace our childhood superheroes by actual individuals, we keep looking up to the superhuman abilities that amazed us in the first place. And by doing so, we are setting standards that we will never be able to meet. I call it the Superman Complex (Probably not an original idea and I’m pretty sure it must have been discussed with other names).

Every time we take a wrong turn or make a bad choice, we feel like a failure. Every time we become paralysed by fear, we feel inadequate or not good enough. Because, after all, Superman makes no mistakes; Ironman fears nothing; and apparently, neither does our parents nor Elon Musk.

When we try to become Superman or Ironman, we are set to hit a hard wall; and then we wonder why we feel like a failure.

Superman doesn’t exist. Neither does Ironman. And those superhuman qualities that we have assigned to our real life role models are a fallacy. They do make mistakes and they have pretty much the same fears and insecurities we do.

 

No Such Thing as Broken

There’s, however, an antagonist to Superman, someone who is the opposite of the black and white view of justice that makes Superman so annoying for me (now): Batman.

Bruce Wayne, on the other hand, is by all means an imperfect individual. He has fears, makes bad choices and he inadvertently hurts those he loves. His character is usually portrayed as a broken man, but I don’t think he’s broken.

It seems to me that he’s just a more realistic portrait than most superheroes.

Yet, despite being an imperfect individual, he tries to become the best version of himself. Not the best version of who others think he should be, but the best person according to his own standards and points of view. That, for me, sounds a lot more relatable.

After all, throughout the course of our lives we will make mistakes, a lot of mistakes.

We will make bad choices, wrong turns, we will burn bridges and we will hurt those we love.

Sometimes we will say things we don’t mean and things we shouldn’t have said, we will have regrets and we will be afraid.

We will back down when we should have kept pushing forward and we will push forward when we should have backed down.

This is called life. And is a part of living. Not the only part, but some of it nevertheless.

 

The Dark Side

This is the very motivation behind this blog.

In the personal development world we find a lot of Superman’s: Authors who talk about courage and productivity, about how we must vanquish our fears as soon as they appear and how we must aim to be the best of the best.

Most of such authors don’t do so with bad intention; yet, I have found that, for me, such approach has little or no effect on the long-term. Because those advises are aimed to Superman and I am not Superman.

I make mistakes and I get confused. I am, in any case, a clueless Clark Kent.

The very name of this blog came out of the same reasoning. Being a Star Wars fan since, well, ever, I actually enjoyed the new trilogy (Episode I, II and III) way more than the old one (Episode IV, V and VI).

Please hold back your torches and allow me to explain.

The whole Star Wars universe is centered in two main characters: Anakin Skywalker (later Darth Vader) and his son, Luke Skywalker. Each character is the main protagonist of each trilogy, starting with Anakin in Episode I, II and III and later Luke in Episode IV, V and VI.

Even being father and son, these two characters couldn’t be more different. Luke (the son) is brave but cautious (for a teenager), he has a strong moral sense and a very black and white sense of ethics. He’s Team Superman.

Anakin (the father), on the other hand, is brave but reckless. He is selfish (for a Jedi) and he’s willing to do everything he has to do in order to save his loved ones, even if this means to defy everything he believes to be right and sacred. And he finally does. He makes many mistakes and loses everything. He is consumed by rage, by jealousy and by fear. He belongs to Team Batman.

Anakin, however, ultimately redeems himself by accepting his mistakes and by accepting himself as an imperfect human being.

For me Luke, as a character, is one-dimensional and unrelatable. There are no real Luke’s our there. There are people with strong morals and ethics and they deserve our admiration, but let’s never forget that everyone makes mistakes, even the best of our peers.

Anakin is a more practical role model. Not because we want to make as many mistakes as we can, but because we must understand that when we do make mistakes, when we do fail (and we will), acceptance and self-redemption is always a possibility, no matter how bad things get.

And by doing so, we break free from the Superman complex.

This is what theGoodVader means.

This is not an ode to mediocrity. I believe we must give our 100% to become better fathers, mothers, better friends and overall better persons.

But in order to really make an effort to improve, we must first accept our limitations. We have to accept that we are imperfect, that we make mistakes and that this is ok as long as we keep moving forward to improve.

We must accept that we are neither Superman nor Luke; we are Anakin’s in our own journey to happiness.

 

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If you enjoyed this article, you might also like The Wounds of Failure and Fail Your Way to Success. Check them out and let me know what you think!

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20 Comments

  1. First of all, I had a suspicion as the purpose of your blog’s title but now you’ve set the record straight! Thanks! Second, I totally agree that we should not strive for Superman-like perfection. We need to remember that real heroes are human! Thus, we have flaws. But those flaws are what make us heroic, when we conquer the challenges our flaws may throw in our paths.

  2. Fun to read and really hits the mark. Thanks Clark 🙂

  3. Thanks so much GoodVader. I really like this article and appreciate you walking us (the reader) through the characteristics of these fictional personalities to draw comparisons to real life, as you make your insightful points about the Super Man Complex.
    I think some of the blogs that display the Super-Human complex, is really highlighting that often times the human majority does not want to rock the boat or go against what is expected. They are fearful of appearing broken or disagreeable or seen as the bearer of bad news. While displaying the less than ideal personality or circumstances.

    Subsequently, instead of telling it like it is, some may want to tell only the good parts that are fluffy and sweet and spend incredible amount of time creating the illusion of perfection or the way we want to appear. As a result this complex has mushroomed into an entire culture aka the Super-Human culture that causes many to become involved in non-stop self-aggrandizement and narcissism.
    This can also create problems if the lines get blurred and one becomes delusional and start believing the alternate ideal is indeed real.

    Cheers to the Good Vaders of the world and keeping it real…I am en route to join Team GoodVader or Team Batman or a hybrid version of the two :). As I do not have neither the time or the patience to pretend and embrace my imperfections without qualms. Peace to you.

  4. We all have to remember to live ‘our’ life and not the one society or other people; expect us to live. We become, disheartened if we’re not being true to ourselves, and sometimes when we’re in that space, it’s hard to escape it.

    • Sometimes when we live how others expect us to live for too long, we forget who we really are. A truth hard to remember, but worth it!

      • I agree, I think we all, need to step back and look at ourselves, and our environment from time to time.

      • I truly believe, we all need to step back and look at both ourselves and our environment on occasion to see what needs amending.

  5. What a fantastic post. I loved every word. You made some very valid points and ones that I need to remind myself of from time to time. Today would be a perfect example of that….I had to take the afternoon off after feeling really quite poorly. I don’t really get poorly but felt that even walking up the stairs was a huge effort. I started to feel guilty because there were jobs that needed my attention but that guilt would only cause me to feel worse. I took the time to rest and I still feel poorly but I know my body is telling me to stop because it needs to put all of its effort into healing. I’m only human after all.

  6. I’ve always told my kids that the only way you can truly fail is if you never try. Your post was very well said and I believe perfection is just as subjective as beauty.

  7. As a teacher, I constantly tell my pupils to embrace their mistakes as it is through that process we learn. Not to be embarrassed or ashamed, as the errors, when we become coscious of them, lead to discovery and improvement. I think, as adults, we tend to be harsher/less forgiving of ourselves and I know I don’t always apply my own advice to myself.
    I like the comparisons you make above and the explanation behind your blog name. I was always more of a Superman fan than Batman. Time to switch my allegiance, perhaps. 🙂

  8. Great stuff, thank you.

  9. Useful posts, undoubtedly. Many thanks.

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