As survivors of trauma, we push away the past. We tell ourselves that the way we are feeling and behaving is due to something else besides the trauma. We tell ourselves, “It was something I ate,” or “It’s because I haven’t hit the gym in a while. That’s why I’m so irritable.” In fact, this may be true. Feelings of anger, frustration, anxiety, fear, and memories of a past we can’t explain may return because the coping mechanisms of the past no longer become effective. The “runner’s high” isn’t quite the same, or the yoga session wasn’t as fulling as it had been before. This is because the past is pushing back, fighting to be remembered.
We ask ourselves, “Why is this happening to be?” or (in J’on’s case) “Who am I?” We question our existence and whether or not we deserve to be alive as questions of the past cause us to question our role and place in the lives we have built.
We may attempt to cope in a way similar to J’on who copes with his past by denying it has happened. Similar to Batman, he remains hypervigilant in his belief that he can not only control and fight the creator, H’rommeer, that is attacking him, but control himself as well. He refuses to remember and believe it happened. He is stuck in the first stage of the healing process.
Like J’on, we feel like a failure.
We feel weak.
We feel vulnerable.
He fights he maintain his form in the same way we fight to “hold it together.”
And we wish for things to return to the way they were before. We pray for the memories to fade and return to who were. We ask, “Why isn’t this working the way it used too?” There are numerous reasons.
One reason may be because we are now safe and our mind knows it. Past trauma, especially childhood trauma, cannot be handled or understood because of the circumstances of our situations. Whether it be an abusive household that cannot be escaped, or an inability to process what has happened to us, we push it away. We compartmentalize the pain and push it away, creating a façade to hide who we are and how we truly feel. We create an image of ourselves based off how others believe we should look and behave in the same way J’onn became a hero based off Dr. Erdell’s interpretation of what it means to be “Martian”. Dr. Erdell explains:
“You couldn’t think. You couldn’t function. And you had to function if you were going to survive here. You needed a mental structure that would allow you to function. The time we’d spent together — your psyche to open to me — had created a bond between us…mind-to-mind. I decided to use that bond to — not exactly fabricate, J’onn. I borrowed bits and pieces from the pulps…created the kind of Martian I knew best…the kind Edgar Rice Burroughs would’ve been proud of… What I did was suggest your new shape. I figured a beetle-browed Martian right out of a ‘50s sci-fi movie would still be an alien– but he’d be an alien that folks would be more comfortable with. He’d fit their concept of what a man from mars shouldbe.”
Like J’onn, we push away the past until we are able to handle the truth. Until then, we dissociate and cope through workaholism, perfectionism, denial, excessive exercise, humor, drugs, alcohol, addiction, and self-harm. We live a life of cognitive distortions until we make the choice to heal, or have no other option.
J’on refuses to face his fear of fire until the last possible moment. Until it appears the pain will become unbarable, and we keep a safe distance from our fears through dissociation.
Even when Dr. Erdell calls for J’onn’s help, he cannot move, in the same way those closest to us need us, but we feel trapped inside our own minds attempting to cope with PTSD.
We are paralyzed with fear, hypervigilance, and disbelief until, like J’onn, we collapse under the weight of the past. It is not until then we begin to remember the past trauma and believe it happened.
Slowly, we begin to grieve and mourn the way J’onn grieves for the daughter he lost.
We grow angry as we attempt to piece together the past and come to understand who we were and who we are becoming. How we are transforming into someone new. Someone better.
The transformation is hard and difficult, but it is the only way to grow and become who we were meant to be.
J’onn teaches us that the healing process does not happen in a straight line, moving from step to step until we reach the end. It is a river with streams that loop in and onto themselves, causing us to return to places we have previously visited, but with new perspective and understanding about the journey ahead. Martian Manhunter shows this when it takes J’onn 2 ½ issues to make the decision to heal. Throughout each scene, J’onn fights the images of the past. He is confused about what in his past is real and what is not. And each battle with the villain appears to be layered with a deep spirituality. It is a journey that is different