Wednesday, August 01, 2012

A Batman Coverup

A few weeks ago, when America's superhero, Batman, arrived on the scene in a Colorado movie house, the timing looked good. People dig themselves out of life's tough realities by getting engrossed in an action movie. For several cents, moviegoers could lose themselves to fantasy land and "get away from it all."

Then, tragedy strikes.  A bizarre massacre suspect, psychiatric patient, and doctoral student, James Holmes, sets off gas canisters and uses military-style semi-automatic rifle, a shotgun and pistol to open fire on unsuspecting fellow theatre-goers. More than ten people were killed during the attack, most of whom are below their 30s, including a 6-year-old girl.

Even if you are not a psychologist or psychiatrist, chances are you can see that what the suspect did was his way of "getting away from it all." His psychological escape hatch, his coverup. Surely it's not as harmless as our getting lost in fantasy in a Batman movie. But it does tell us how our brains and hearts can have damaging ways of dealing with hidden pain, frustration, or trauma.

Called psychological "defense mechanisms" (over 40 of them!), they automatically alter our vision, blind us, and cause us to deceive ourselves. They cause us to rationalize or look at ourselves with rose-colored glasses to extract ourselves from uncomfortable situations.  Why do we all have such a great problem with "defense mechanisms?" The answer can be found in an important statement made by Jeremiah about the human heart: "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?"

Indeed, understanding man's ability to deceive himself is the key to appropriate approach and treatment in psychotherapy and mental health.

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