As a superhero fan and former therapist, I love finding positive messages in comics, movies, and pop culture characters. The best part is connecting mental wellness themes with characters that people can relate to. An overall uniting theme in superhero character development stories is overcoming barriers and setbacks. During treatment for mental health issues, people tend to experience multiple setbacks which are clinically called “relapses.” While relapse connotes a negative, each setback provides an opportunity to overcome. The chronic pursuit of overcoming obstacles is what turned Carol Danvers into Captain Marvel.
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In the Captain Marvel movie, there is a powerful scene where Carol Danvers is kneeling in front of the Kree Supreme Intelligence. It’s a dramatic scene, human female bound and subservient to an all-powerful AI that manages an entire civilization. At this point, she knows the truth about who she is and the energy that courses through her. The Supreme Intelligence gloats with power and takes credit for "making her" as she forces Carol to relive memories of failing, falling, and getting knocked down throughout her life. The goal is to torture her, to make her think she is not good enough or strong enough, thereby creating a dependence on the AI. The Supreme Intelligence drives the manipulation home when it tells her, "Without us, you're only human."
But then the music changes. Carol agrees, "I'm only human," and removes the device that allows the AI to control her. As the AI loses control over her, we see the full truth. Carol’s memories don’t conclude with falling or failure. Each time she fails, she tries again. Every time she gets knocked down, she gets back up. When people tell her she cannot do something, she works harder to prove them wrong. As she taps into the human side of her that motivates her to keep going, she manifests her full power, kicks butt and becomes Marvel's most powerful superhero.
Every time I watch or imagine that scene, I get a huge lump in my throat and tears threaten to spill. A surge of "Go girl!" courses through me, and I want to shout to the rooftops to everyone on the planet, "get back up!"
Everyone falls. Everyone fails. Everyone gets knocked down. Everyone has memories of intense shame and degradation from some point in their life. Everyone has a version of the Supreme Intelligence trying to keep them down. Anyone who tells you they have never experienced any of this is either in denial or lying. Sometimes, the people who are in denial or lying are too scared and hurt to go there. Falling is defined by the person who falls as is the severity of the fall. Judgment and failure hold hands, but if your hands are pushing you back onto your feet, there's nothing for judgment to hold onto. Each person has a choice to either stay down or get back up.
It doesn't matter what caused it, whether it was self-inflicted or other-induced, it doesn’t matter how old you were when it happened, and it doesn't even matter how it makes you feel now. The ONLY important part is whether you get back up. Whether you got up immediately or it takes a while, or you're still trying to get back up, it’s ok, sometimes it takes time, but you can do it. Even if you have to keep getting up repeatedly, choose to get up.