An iconic scene in the movie Spiderman: No Way Home is a scene when Norman Osborn, smashed his Green Goblin suit in a fit of frustration and left it at the trash. The suit represented his alter-ego, the Green Goblin, who had a hold on his decision making, and he did not like that. Smashing and leaving his suit in the trash represented his desire to be free from the Green Goblin’s influence over him. Yet, he is ultimately unsuccessful as the suit continues taunting him even as he walks away.
While this is a scene from the marvel cinematic universe, it is poignant as it resonates with so many people. It represents a desire to get rid of a part of ourselves that we cannot control, tolerate, or a part that holds us back. It represents a fantasy that we can simply ignore and leave what we do not like about ourselves in the trash.
I would like to use this metaphor of the Goblin to discuss three characters within us, that reside just below the surface of our consciousness. To introduce this process, I would be informed by and draw inspiration from three psychological schools of thought – Psychodynamic, Transformational Chairwork and Schema Therapy.
The Inner Critic
Some of us have a brutal inner voice that is critical of us- it is never satisfied and pushes us to do more and yet more. When that voice is punitive, that voice would say things such as ‘you are not good enough’, ‘you are only this unqualified/ junior/ incompetent, what makes you think that you can match up with them’. When that voice is demanding, we can never seem to do enough to satisfy it. Every achievement is just mediocre and we are on a tight leash to do more. Some people experience both voices, which leaves them discouraged and exhausted. Notice how I used the pronoun ‘it’ to describe the inner critic. This is because ‘it’ is not a real person, ‘it’ is just a voice. This idea, from the psychological approach of Transformational Chairwork, brings hope that the inner critic can be overpowered and shut down once and for all. The inner critic can emerge from a myriad of areas, including relationships with authority figures, statements of tough love, projections of unmet desires onto the child, or a child’s idea of the conditions that they need to satisfy to receive love.
The Shadow Self
Some might find themselves unconsciously self-sabotaging their accomplishments for fear of surpassing an accomplished parent, as doing so would diminish the image of that idolised parent, figuratively killing the lion king. Others might unconsciously hold on to aspects of their culture as a default approach to solving problems even while they consciously seek to pull themselves away from those same aspects of their culture. Yet others might be surprised that they can speak without suppression from others, therefore transcending their position as the least favourite child. In Psychodynamic literature, Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung writes about the shadow self- It refers to the parts of ourselves that we might find difficult to accept in our conscious awareness. This is the same reason why, like Peter Pan’s shadow, aspects of our shadow self can range from the positive to negative, benevolent to villainous. Depending on the individual, they can range from a hidden capacity for anger, thoughts that are less socially acceptable, the pressure to remain on a pedestal for the admiration of others, the fear of surpassing a figure that we look up to, to the ability to speak up without the burden of submitting to others.
The Vulnerable Child
Speaking about receiving love, the psychological approach of Schema Therapy refers to the Vulnerable Child. This is the part of us that desires to attach to others. It is the part of us that wants our feelings to be acknowledged by others, for others to be attuned with our emotions, and to feel that our relationships with others is secure and can be trusted. When this need to be securely attached with others is not met, we react with feelings of loneliness, insecurity, shame, fear or anger. Like what its namesake suggests, the vulnerable child too can eventually be soothed and strength can be derived from the other parts of ourselves.
The Closing Act
Now that we are introduced to what our goblins might be, let’s get down to wrestling with them and knowing ourselves a little better.