With San Diego Comic Con around the corner, this is the ideal time to explore the modern phenomenon known as the hero complex. The Hero Complex varies in definition and intent, but it is often viewed in reference to individuals seeking heroic deeds in ordinary life to reflect that by which they are inspired, whether it is a comic book hero, video game character, historical inspiration or someone they have met. While the definition changes, one thing is consistent … there is often an innate desire to seek out heroic deeds.
So what is The Hero Complex?
The mythology of the hero takes us back to an era where stories of heroic deeds were passed down from generation to generation; the story of David and the Goliath, the battles of the defiant Spartans, the stand of Boudicca or Cuchulainn. We would see a grandiose battle or heroic figure and have the desire to emulate them through storytelling. As time passes, we change in our perspective of the same circumstances. Oftentimes we identify our modern day heroes as those in the medical profession, philanthropists who help those in need, or soldiers “defending our freedom.” The modern definition and concept of the hero is often redefined, which can lead to misconstrued heroism. There are firefighters that battle great beasts (flames) and arsonists that seek to produce them. There are police officers that seek to maintain peace and justice through lawful means, and vigilantes that wish to put that justice into their own hands. There are charity workers that seek to help the needy and Robin Hoods that rob to aid.
Regardless of the perspective you take on the hero complex, the end-goal is the same. It’s a need to fill a void.
Nixon and Solowoniuk (2009) refer to May (1991) in describing that myths and heroes are an integral part to the fabric of society, introducing ideals, courage and wisdom. There is a hunger for heroes to serve as role models, to serve as the standards of action in our ethical code, and our decision making. We often look to individuals in positions of power to guide our moral compass, whether or not the trust is appropriately placed. In The Walking Dead, the group of survivors look to Rick Grimes to make tough decisions, lead the group, and take on the roll of the hero, who they continually count on for survival. Yet, while Rick provides the leadership a large number of fans follow Daryl Dixon, a man that lives by his own code of honor that follows the role of the hero, disregarding the opinions of those around him for what is right. Others look to popular cultural icons such as Oprah as a representation of how one can live their life with dignity and in the service of others. We all have our heroes, and we all seek them in different places and for different reasons.
The Hero Complex is about bridging the gap between reality and fantasy so that we can identify with our surroundings, our purpose in life and the paradox of morality. We reach this place from the assumption that we all seek to be a hero through action or in-action, and in doing so we live vicariously through superhero films (Iron Man, The Dark Knight trilogy), video games (Skyrim, The Last of Us) and television (The Walking Dead). We also live vicariously through the actions of others when we feel prideful that someone reaches out and lends a hand to someone in need, or when we honor those who commit themselves to a life of service and then become rewarded through the media such as CNN.
So what is stemming this need for fulfillment?
There is an abundant number of theories as to why we seek to fulfill this desire to be the hero, but I suspect that at a deep and philosophical level what we truly seek is purpose. When we lack purpose, we lose focus, and when we lose focus we become depressed. The challenge is to find your inner hero and sharing that heroic-self with the world. When we act in the service of others with decency and integrity, we allow our inner hero to be expressed, This challenge of purpose is often hindered in a modern society where we place these individuals who are heroic on a pedestal, yet have no fundamental structure upon which others can follow in their footsteps.
There is no road-map or guide to becoming a hero, there are simply those that live integrally in the role of the hero, and those that have yet to find their heroic path to purpose and fulfillment.
May, R. (1991). The cry for myth. New York: Norton
Nixon, G., & Solowoniuk, J. (2009). Introducing the Hero Complex and the Mythic Iconic Pathway of Problem Gambling. International Journal Of Mental Health & Addiction, 7(1), 108-123. doi:10.1007/s11469-008-9153-5