Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


Why We Need Redemption Stories

Redemption stories help us see the potential in others and ourselves.

It was an episode of Netflix's 13 Reasons Why that made me think: "Could that character be redeemable?" I immediately felt uncomfortable at the thought that anyone might be irredeemable because that's not me. I'm a mental health professional! I help people be better versions of themselves! So it was a great reminder of how vital redemption stories are. We need them to help us see the potential in others, and ourselves, to grow, move beyond our mistakes, and not let past actions hold us back.

So let's take a look at some popular redemption stories we can use to remind our clients, and ourselves, that change is possible.

One of last year's most popular video games, Red Dead Redemption 2, is a story about a gang of outlaws in the wild west trying to leave that life behind. If you reach the end of the game you'll find that not everyone is able to move on, but some do, and that's enough to show us that it's possible.

One of my favorite examples is the manga and anime franchise Dragon Ball. Throughout almost 600 episodes, the protagonist Goku finds himself surrounded by friends who had initially been his enemies. Goku sees the potential in his former adversaries to do good in the world and invites them to help him save the world. In some cases, he'll even offer to train them so they are at their best when the world needs them.

On Buffy the Vampire Slayer, we see two very different examples of redemption. When we meet Angel, he's already a hero. Despite being a vampire, he has spent a hundred years trying to offset all of the bad things he did as "Angelus." He struggles with the guilt of everything he did, but that doesn't stop him from being a hero. Angel lost his soul when he became a vampire and his redemption story began when his soul was returned to him. But the character of Spike, also a vampire, began his redemption arc before reacquiring his soul.

On Dragon Ball, Buffy, and Angel, we see that although the choice to become a hero may take a moment, it is a process. We see these characters struggle with becoming this new version of who they want to be. They stumble, but they keep going.

 Original Photo by Jukan Tateisi on Unsplash. Edited by Josué Cardona.
Redemption doesn't look easy, so we can use media examples to show that it's possible.
Source: Original Photo by Jukan Tateisi on Unsplash. Edited by Josué Cardona.

One of my go-to examples of a character struggling to redeem himself is the supervillain Max Damage in the comic book Incorruptible written by Mark Waid. When the world's greatest superhero turns evil, Max reluctantly decides that the world needs him as a hero. Throughout 30 issues, we see Max struggle between taking actions in the ways he did in his past versus how a hero would take action. It's a very relatable story because it takes the time to show those moments in which we question ourselves because we're doing something unfamiliar. The story shows those moments that allow us to learn from our mistakes and learn from others.

All of these stories have supporting characters that help the hero-in-redemption on their journey. That's where therapists, parents, and friends come it. We see again and again that these characters struggle on their path toward redemption, but they always have a support system in place that helps them move forward.

I like to use stories like these to help my clients and students see that redemption is possible and that it's easier with help.

What are some of your favorite redemption stories? How have you used them to connect with others?

Copyright © Geek Therapy • Josué Cardona

More from Josué Cardona M.S.
More from Psychology Today
More from Josué Cardona M.S.
More from Psychology Today