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What Batman Can Teach You About Dealing with Pain and Loss

“Bruce Wayne is privileged. Yes, it was sad his parents died, but his piles of cash should have made him feel better. Most people don’t have that luxury.”

This is a common criticism of Batman, which implies it is completely unrealistic that someone in Bruce’s situation would ever decide to “dress up like a bat and beat up criminals”. While this is technically true, it is a severe oversimplification of Batman — one that actually does make him seem unrelatable.

It is no secret that I’m a huge fan of Batman, as I have noted in many of my articles. The main reason for this is that I am more interested in Batman’s psychology as a human being.

Not the superhero, punching and kicking, Batmobile driving stuff, but how he approaches situations, communicates with people, and deals with emotions all of us experience.

In fact, the most popular and interesting Batman stories focus on this aspect. This is why so many people love Batman — yes, he is cool and edgy, but what makes him more interesting than most other superheroes is that he is relatable.

So in another edition of Lessons From Batman, let’s explore what you can learn about dealing with negative emotions such as pain, fear, and loss in life. 

Understanding Batman’s Loss

Have you ever experienced the death of a loved one?

You probably have. If not, you will. Family members die, spouses die, friends die. I personally know people who lost friends and close ones to car crashes, suicides, and “natural” death which was painful to watch. I’ve attended more than a few funerals myself and they make me feel hollow every single time.

Now, let me ask you this — how old were you when it happened? 

You can see where I’m going with this. The older you are when something like this happens, the easier you can deal with the outcome. Bruce Wayne was no older than 10 when his parents were murdered in front of his youthful eyes and he was left alone, quite literally, to cry over his parents’ corpses in a dark alley.

While most of us have experienced loss in many ways, few of us have experienced it to this extent. Most of our loved ones were not murdered. Definitely not in front of our eyes. And we weren’t children when it happened, who were also left alone in a strange place filled with blood and corpses.

It is not unusual for an event like this to drastically change a person. In fact, it is not unusual that this moment haunts you for the rest of your life.

This is the driving force behind Batman. The reason Bruce Wayne constantly focuses on his parents’ murder is that it literally haunts him. He cannot get it out of his head. This is something you will see in most stories that dive into Batman’s psyche:

Yes, including the Batman v Superman.

In a sense, Bruce Wayne died that night in the alley with his parents and the idea of Batman was born. From that moment on, he wasn’t a rich, spoiled kid anymore. He was changed forever.

Even though he was still years away from gathering the skills to become Batman, he had gotten the mindset of Batman:

  • He became determined to stop others from experiencing the same pain.
  • He felt alone and isolated, so he decided to use that to his advantage.
  • He was filled with pain, rage, and fear — and he used these things toward his cause.

Of course, these things can be obvious to us in hindsight.

Many stories highlight Bruce’s struggle after his parents’ deaths, including his desire for revenge, trying to find meaning, and inability to control his emotions. He also had other people who helped him throughout this hard time, like Dr. Leslie Thompkins, who runs a shelter for abandoned children:

All of this shows us his arc; that he is just like the rest of us and that he was also lost, angry, and depressed. However, in the end, he decided to do something better.

But this is not where Batman’s loss ends…

His parents’ murder is definitely the driving force behind the character but, over his many years as Batman, he constantly experiences more loss. In fact, this loss may even be greater because it is partially his fault.

For those not familiar with the Batman mythos, here are some of the popular examples:

Batgirl is shot and crippled. In The Killing Joke, considered one of the best Batman and Joker story of all time, Barbara Gordon is shot by the Joker, stripped-down, photographed and shown to his father (Commissioner Gordon) in hopes of driving him insane. As a result, she ends up in a wheelchair.

Robin is beaten and murdered. In A Death in the Family, Joker (once again) kidnaps the second Robin (Jason Todd), beats him up with a crowbar, then blows him up as Batman is too late to save him. This is noted as the “trigger point” for most of the dark and more violent iterations of Batman.

And many, many more. There are many more examples of Batman losing friends, girlfriends, and colleagues. Every time he does, he gets a bit more broken, a bit darker, a bit more violent. With this in mind, it makes sense that Batman tried to be as alone as possible — he doesn’t want others to get hurt.

But he never gives up. And as you’ll see, this is his defining quality — and something you can apply to your own life as well.

Turning Negative Emotions Into Something Positive

“Batman is in pain, which makes him angry so he dresses up as a bat. This makes no sense — what can we possibly learn from this freakshow?

Well, when you put it like that, not much. But every point in that sentence can actually teach you a lot of very practical things. So let’s dissect it one by one:

1. Dealing With Anger

Anger is one of Batman’s defining qualities. As cool as he is, he isn’t pleasant to be around. Even his colleagues and friends don’t think that. He’s always brooding, moody, and filled with rage.

And as fucked up as it may sound, this is actually a somewhat good thing. Now, Batman is not a good example of dealing with anger in your life. Instead of resolving it and learning to live with it, he embraces it and lets it define him.

However, anger — like any other emotion — is not necessarily bad. Every emotion serves a purpose; it is only when an emotion is out of control that it creates problems. 

For example, anger can make you:

  • Stand up for yourself and push back against bullying
  • Instinctively create art without thinking logically about it
  • Take action against injustice or tyranny

It can also make you lash out at friends, hurt people unnecessarily, and make you intolerable to be around. As I said, it’s all in the balance.

Batman uses his anger to intimidate and dominate his opponents. He uses his hate towards crime to dedicate himself toward his cause to the fullest. He uses it as motivation to achieve his goals rather than something that depletes his energy. To Batman, anger is fuel.

You, on the other hand, should focus more on learning to dissolve anger in most situations — but it is also necessary to recognize the benefits of it. If something angers you to the core, use it as motivation to improve things, but don’t do so from a position of anger.

Use anger as fuel for finding solutions, not as a solution itself.

2. Dealing With Fear

Let me ask you this — do you know why Batman dresses up as a bat?

This is often the most ridiculed part of his persona but, if you know the real reason, it is one of the best examples of what makes Batman Batman.

When Bruce was little, he fell into a well of bats. This scared the shit out of him, as it probably would any of us. This traumatic event caused him to be completely scared of bats.

Years later, at the beginning of his vigilante career, he realized he could not be as feared as a human as he can as a symbol. So he decided to embrace his own biggest fear and use that as a symbol to intimidate wrongdoers.

Criminals are a superstitious cowardly lot. So my disguise must be able to strike terror into their hearts. I must be a creature of the night, black, terrible… a bat.

Detective Comics Vol 1 #33

In many iterations, this epiphany is symbolized by an actual bat flying through his window. This is best shown in Batman: Year One, a story arc which showcases Batman’s first year:

Batman embraces his fears and uses them for his goal!

In many situations, we allow our fears to cripple us and prevent us from doing things that may improve our lives. Instead of dealing with and accepting our fears, we hide from them, run away from them, or try to ignore them.

What makes Batman great is that he accepts himself — the good parts and the bad — and then aims to improve himself to become even better. As a result, he turns his greatest fear into a symbol of hope

This is something all of us can aspire to. It is also one of the reasons I made this a part of the mindset training everybody can join for free.

3. Dealing With Pain

Consider this quote:

James Gordon: “Batman, are you in pain?”

Batman: “I work through pain.”

Batman: Gotham Knight

This, in a nutshell, tells you everything you need to know about Batman and pain. But if I left it at that, that would make me a pretty shitty writer.

Unlike most of us, who try to avoid pain at every turn, Batman seeks it out. He is unafraid of pain as he has embraced it as part of life. Due to this approach, he is able to persevere in spite of everything he encounters.

Loss. Fear. Regret. Remorse. And yes, above everything else, pain. So much pain.

There is a great short movie named “Working Through Pain“, which I believe everybody watch, Batman fans or not. The story is less about Batman and more about the things we all struggle with — pain and how to overcome it.

And who doesn’t want to learn how to deal with pain better?

This 18-minute movie focuses on Bruce Wayne’s journey to India and his effort to deal with the pain of his parents’ murder. He seeks out shamans and mystics to help him do this but, along the way, he realizes how much his perception differs from other people.

This is something that truly anybody can learn from. The less you are scared of pain, the less control it will have over you. The more you embrace the pain, the less that same pain will actually hurt.

Batman feels pain just as all of us. He just doesn’t let it control his life — and neither should you.

So what is the moral of the story?

While it’s true that Bruce Wayne was in a privileged position in life, that allowed him to overcome his loss much better, the trait that makes him so inspiring is that:

He did the complete opposite.

  • Even though he could be selfish, he decided to be selfless.
  • Even though he was riddled with pain, he decided to seek out more of it.
  • Even though he was filled with anger, regret, and a lot of fears, he decided to embrace them and use them to become even better.

This is why he is often considered “the most relatable superhero”. Bruce Wayne is a man but Batman… Batman is a symbol. He is something all of us can aspire to be. All of us can decide to become Batman in a sense that we can learn to deal with our own loss better.

We can decide to embrace our fears and pain and be empowered by them, rather than crippled. Just like Bruce Wayne, we have that choice. We can’t avoid anger or pain or fear… not even loss.

What we can do is choose how to deal with them.

My parents were never gunned down in an alley. I never fell into a well of bats. But I’ve experienced and will probably always experience feelings of fear, of depression, of anger, of angst. It’s in my nature as a human being to experience those things. It’s in all of our nature. It is what we choose to do with that pain that we all feel that defines us.

Batman Does Not Kill, HiTop Films

In The Dark Knight Returns, Bruce Wayne is older, angrier, and quit being Batman a decade ago. However, certain things push him to down the cowl once again. And all of it culminates in this scene, which perfectly shows everything I’ve talked about:

He is angry toward crime and injustice he witnesses. This anger is intercut with the pain of his parent’s murder. The regret over Robin’s death. He’s fearful once again and tries to run away from his dark self… until the symbol of his fear smashes through the window once again and reminds him of why he was Batman in the first place.

As a result, he decides to embrace the negative emotions and make a change.

While it’s true that, as much as he helps others, Batman uses vigilantism as a way to deal with his own issues, does it really matter? Despite his initial motivation being selfish, what he does is selfless. He doesn’t get shot or stabbed or hurt because he enjoys it…. he does it to help you. He puts his own life on the line to help those who are weaker. 

I mean, just watch this 2-minute clip. Seriously, watch it right now. It is one of the best moments that show just how caring Batman really is:

Imagine if more of us were like Batman. Selfish like any other human being, yes… but in a way that makes this world better. That helps others. That improves the society as a whole.

I have the audacity to say that I’m at least trying to be that way. This website is my livelihood so yes, I view it as a business and a way to make money and support myself… but I also care very deeply about helping people, which why 95% of what I do is free for everyone.

So I dare you to be Batman. Not literally and not in the same way; but I dare you to embrace the core concepts of Batman. Dealing with pain. Embracing your fears. Helping others.

All it takes is a decision. Nothing more.

Want to become real-life Batman? You should check out the book Becoming Batman: The Possibility of a Superhero by a professor of kinesiology and neuroscience E. Paul Zehr. He breaks down a realistic way you could become Batman.

This article is part of a series on Batman. Check out other Batman Lessons on self-improvement and being human.

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