Forget Perfection: We Love Superheroes Because Of Their Flaws, Not Despite Them.

{Photo credit: Carla Poertner}

{Photo credit: Carla Poertner}

I love superheroes. I am the mother who, for years, told bedtime stories to her young boys of her epic midnight capers as Catwoman.

My children believed for the longest time that I was out fighting crime while they slept, and yet I still managed to bake fresh blueberry scones for breakfast. Each night before bed I would reveal details of the last evening’s escapades and then swear them to secrecy. That was so my enemies wouldn’t find us.

This was a source of excitedly hushed discussions between my boys. As they grew older, they realized first, it wasn’t true. (“I saw you sleeping in your bed last night, mom,” I was accused, “you were not in a black leather suit jumping over rooftops.”) But next, they understood that the Mom/Catwoman they had come to see me as was… complicated.

They read in their comic books that when Catwoman was not fighting crime, she was actually the one causing the mayhem. Mom. Catwoman. Villain. Hero. Huh? This conundrum had them steeped in cognitive dissonance for some time.“Who is our mom, really?”

And that’s a good question.

Who are any of us, really?

Some of us are posing as the squeaky clean hero. Pure, unquestionable apple pie goodness. But no hero fits that restrictive description. Then there are a few among us who believe we must act out the opposite, the villainous character that breaks every rule in opposition to all that is.

And the superheroes we love, well, that limit doesn’t fit them either: they do a lot of awesome stuff.

Besides, acting out anything too simplistic is just not human.

Because to be human is to be real in all its complexity. And to be real is part of what makes us truly heroic.

So why do we love our superheroes? Is it not for their deeds of courage and valor? Sure. I, for one, love to see the bad guys get pummeled Marvel-style. But why I’m so fascinated by superheroes, so in love with them, now that’s different all together.

Because it’s not just for their good deeds, and it’s not just despite their character flaws.

I love superheroes for their flaws, and for the action they take to both reconcile and harness them. Do they somehow, over time, find a way to abandon their dark side? Hell no! This is what makes them powerful.

These mythical men and women operate with gusto as they first try to reject, then battle, and finally accept and harness their shadows. They don’t overcome their dark sides as much as integrate them. Their shadows propel them forward on their quests, their hero’s journey; with focus and determination they become powerful forces for crime-fighting.

And just how do they fight the bad guys? Hello, dark side.

Think about it. How does Batman’s obsessive compulsiveness, The Hulk’s rage, Wolverine’s temper and brooding, or Storm’s claustrophobia actually operate as a source of, or motivation for, powerful action?

Each of the superheroes we adore is imperfect, and endures an epic battle, not only with the evil without but with the darkness within.

As humans we are also on the hero’s journey, as elucidated by Joseph Campbell in his life’s work on myth and the human heroic journey.

For many of us, it’s our life’s work to wrestle with our demons, to move through that battle to the other side with acceptance, and finally, to integrate this shadow, moving from shame to light, from powerlessness to action.

On our human heroic quest, we are learning to take what we formerly denied, to make actionable what used to terrify, petrify and immobilize us, and to harness it for a higher purpose.

And if even a semblance of this is true, then why are we trying to be perfect, or one-dimensional in any way? All this striving for perfection can feel both self-righteous and ironically inhuman.

I’m not knocking healthy living and high aspirations. I’m impacted by the power of my own self-discipline or lack of it, and I get that we always have choice. But how can anyone pretend to be so good all the time? And what other human can authentically relate to us when we are modeling a pretense?

Rather, isn’t it exquisitely disarming when someone reveals their flaws in an authentic way, without shame, and embraces their entire humanity, foibles and all?

Yes, we love our superheroes because of their flaws, not despite them.

And think for a moment of all the real depth and growth you’ve had in your life, with your commitments, relationships, and learning and development of all sorts. Where did it actually come from? For me it has grown in tandem with the challenges imperfection dutifully, and thankfully, throws in my path.

Very often, my greatest growth has bloomed from a conflict, a disagreement, a disruption, a change, a discomfort, or even a deep grief that was first stepped into, and then transcended.

And what about those touching and vulnerable times: the deepest conversations, the closest connections, the most open hearts. All that is raw, and real. Someone was willing to split themselves wide open to get there. Someone else was willing to embrace the raw.

Conversely, can you recall the sense of disconnection when we, or another, insisted on staying muted, cloaked, or hidden? Notice how connected and disconnected we all have the power to be each moment in our human relationships.

And what about those truly powerful times, when we feel our cape is securely fastened and we really are leaping over rooftops? Times when we are vibrating with aliveness? Are we not somehow harnessing that deep, and authentic part of ourselves, a part that we may have been fearful of, or even tried to hide in the past?

And isn’t it also our darkness brought to light ultimately where not only true connection, but deep desire, breeds in our intimate relationships? The longings? The cravings? The deliciously daring?

The truth is, we don’t really want another human who is perfect. So why are we trying to be perfect?

And how would today look if we asked ourselves this question and then took appropriate action, “How would it feel to drop even a small part of my facade and embrace something inside I’ve been denying, for example, my compassion, my softness, my sexuality, or my powerful, warrior self?”

I’m guessing that, in that moment, it would feel super-heroic.



CarlaPoertnerCarla Poertner is a writer, certified life coach, and mother of three boys. You can read her latest articles and hear about upcoming free webinars by visiting herwebsite and subscribing there.


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