What’s your superhero? And do they have a darker side?

Bonnie Tyler’s 1980s lyrics continue: 

“And where are all the gods?
Where’s the streetwise Hercules
To fight the rising odds?
Isn’t there a white knight upon a fiery steed” 

Has anybody ever paid real attention to those words? And I know that she is talking about a man with those traits, which is another story for probably another piece in my blog around expectations. 

I wanted to talk about superheroes today… the ones we all got inside us… I had at least two incidents within four hours, one was a client, and one was from a very beloved friend whose heroes came out, with capes and all, swinging swords about, making statements, etc. you know, the whole shebang.

It’s very different if I say, “I really want to achieve this” compared to “I really want to achieve this at any cost”. Or if I say, “this is nothing serious, I have checked it and it will be fine” compared to “this is nothing serious, I will endure the pain and it will be alright at the end”. Sounds familiar? The first statement on both scenarios comes from a strong Adult position, while the second statements come from somewhere else. We all have those superheroes that come out when we are triggered and are under pressure and we don’t even realise that we have transformed into that hero, faster than Clark Kent who used to go into the telephone booth and come out as Superman. 

There are many frameworks that explain the superhero effect and I am choosing Dr David Kantor’s model today as it resonates with me personally. Specifically, he referred to three archetypes that we tend to hold on to when the stakes are high which can be situations like being under pressure, exhausted, or triggered. He called them “Heroic Modes” that included the “Fixer”, the “Survivor” and the “Protector”

How are those illustrated behaviourally? They are on a spectrum, so each has a light, a grey and a dark zone. In the light zone the heroic mode is what makes you feel alive, authentic and real. In the dark zone (crisis, pressure), mostly brought out in high stakes situations, this is what connects you to your own dark side that you have built up since childhood, your demons. These are usually coping strategies or mechanisms that we once upon a time (unconsciously) “decided” that they will help us achieve what we want. 

The Fixer has a deep drive to preserve harmony, so he fixes things. On the dark side, we could add the by-line: … at any cost. This is why when the fixer gets into hot water, they have a tendency to cross boundaries. “Wall? Which wall? I do not see a wall!” and then bulldozers through it.

The Survivor usually has a long-term goal in mind and focus, so does not mind navigating and making some concessions along the way. Until… it’s enough. On the grey end, Survivors are good at checking out mentally. On the dark side, they abandon. (Seven years of a dysfunctional marriage ends with a sticky note on the fridge: “I am outta here.”).

Protectors shield who and what is important to them. When that comes under threat, in the dark zone, they will blame others or themselves for failing at that. 

Any of those sound familiar? Some of us have a clear heroic mode while others have a combination. It’s important to recognise our own, what the impact is and what triggers us. Also, are those behavioural patterns still serving us or are they getting in the way of achieving our full potential?

Whatever the answer, above all, remember that we are all human after all… 

PS: The photo is from a 1970s carnival school party of the Greek Community in Lagos, Nigeria. I am dressed as an Amazon (female warrior) which I still remember was my most favourite dress ever. I felt really cool, powerful (two traits that I so was NOT) and I can still remember the feeling to this day.

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