Are You Trying to Be Superman or Superwoman?
The origin, drawbacks, and remedies for persisting in a bulletproof role.
Posted August 13, 2021 | Reviewed by Ekua Hagan
- Parents emotionally condition children by age 3 to assume an invincible, omnipotent role in life.
- Emotional problems that result from believing one is bulletproof include guilt, depression, anxiety, resentment, and suicidal feelings.
- Dialing down a superhuman role involves adding weakness, susceptibility, and sensitivity to one's personality.
Emotionally super strong people are everywhere. They are the ones who don’t complain, who always pitch in, even when over their heads, and who caretake others, even when others are disagreeable, unthankful, and abusive.
The invincible behave as if they are invulnerable. They believe it, too. They hold their emotions in check and defer to others’ wants and needs. They act as if they never need rest or emotional nurturance. They rarely ask for help or say “no” to others who demand their time and energy. To others, they appear unassailable and resilient.
How Do the Super Invulnerable Get That Way?
Homer B. Martin, MD, and I are psychiatrists. We studied personality development over a combined 80 years. We learned that indomitable people are raised differently than more feeble, overly sensitive people. By age 3, their parents’ way of emotionally conditioning and responding to them creates a very pronounced ability to assume an invincible role in life. We say such people have omnipotent personalities. We describe these findings in our book, Living on Automatic: How Emotional Conditioning Shapes Our Lives and Relationships.
Here are some highlights of the pattern and results of invincible emotional conditioning by parents:
- Parents impose extraordinarily high standards for behavior
- Strive for perfection in school, sports, and social activities
- Focus on ability to perform for others
- Expresses few needs and is punished or admonished when he/she does
- Expresses few emotions.
- Functions without complaint and does not let illness or disability prevent him/her from caring for others’ needs
- Overly serious
- Can be a workaholic with few leisure interests
- Others have increasing expectations of them
Drawbacks of Thinking You Are Bulletproof
When you are emotionally conditioned to believe you are omnipotent and not helpless sometimes or in occasional jeopardy, you are prone to the following emotional problems arising from assuming this overly strong role:
- Not resting or enjoying leisure time
- Daily exhaustion
- Overwhelmed with doing too much and trying to please too many people
- Hard time saying no to others
- Rarely speaking up for yourself
- Rarely asking others for help
- Guilt and depression when you cannot please others totally
- Anxiety at anticipating “doing it perfectly” for someone else
- Resentful others ask so much of you
- Suicidal feelings and attempts with not pleasing others
Remedies for Omnipotent Role
Being more vulnerable and susceptible means dialing yourself down to being in a “weaker” role. This will lead you toward emotional health.
Say “no” when others ask too much of you. Ask others to meet your needs for nurturance, downtime, and assistance with chores, work, and activities.
Laugh. Be silly and frivolous. Change your mind from time to time. Don’t be so predictable for others’ benefit.
Instead of striving for perfection, aim for a good-enough, reasonable effort.
To improve emotional health, alter your emotionally-conditioned role from an indomitable, bulletproof one to a slightly weaker one. Patients tell me they fear becoming “weak” when contemplating this. I assure them this does not happen when making personality adjustments. No one ever totally changes his or her “stripes.”
Your goal is to diminish your invincible way of regarding yourself. By adding some weakness and sensitivity to your role, you will get a lot more out of your life and relationships.
You cannot help how you were emotionally conditioned by your parents to assume an indomitable role, but you can make changes and become more open and susceptible. You can become the emotionally healthy person you want to be.
Brene Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You're Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are, Hazelden Publishing, 2010.