A Therapist Explains What Marvel's Incredible Hulk Can Teach Us About Anger Management
The Marvel Cinematic Universe is full of larger-than-life heroes, aliens, gods and monsters. But according to licensed therapist Jonathan Decker, there are also lessons to be drawn about real-life mental health. In a recent video on the Cinema Therapy channel, which he hosts with filmmaker Alan Seawright, Decker makes a case for Incredible Hulk as an example of various aspects of anger management.
"This is Marvel's warning against uncontrolled anger, but also a fairly solid psychological blueprint for how to manage yours," says Decker. He goes on to explain that the entire modus operandi of the character of Bruce Banner/Hulk, namely transforming when angry and wreaking havoc only to awake with vague recollections of his actions, runs in parallel to how people with anger issues exist in real life.
"I know people like this, they get so mad that they black out," he says. "Not literally, but they see red and don't remember everything they said or did... Sometimes it's physical violence, other times it's really mean, nasty words." In clinical terms, these outbursts are sometimes diagnosed as a symptom of something called intermittent explosive disorder.
In the 2008 movie The Incredible Hulk, Banner is first shown to be attempting to control his rage with a varying range of meditation and breathing practices, which are also used in real life, says Decker: "Slow, deep breathing to slow down your heart rate and to work through your emotions, that is 100 percent true."
Decker also points to how Hulk's anger is used frequently in the Avengers movies: as a tool which can actually be useful if pointed in the right direction. In real life, this might mean channeling that energy into a context like a boxing workout, where everybody involved is on equal footing and aggression can be physically vented. Other options could be as simple as a run or a training session. "My best workouts are when I'm pissed off, and I hit the weights for an hour, and then I come home and I'm so happy," says Decker.
However, it isn't enough to simply blow up time after time and not do any work to manage your anger. Again, Bruce Banner is a model of somebody who's trying, Decker says, as in Avengers: Age of Ultron he and Natasha have a ritual they share which helps him to de-Hulk after a battle. "What this looks like in real life is, hey, if I'm ever being a dick, we need a word," he says. "If I'm getting angry and you say 'Hulk', that's my indicator that I'm not behaving well."
Finally, when we reach the more "integrated" Hulk of Avengers: Endgame, Decker states that this once again mirrors what a real-life anger management journey might look like if somebody is willing to do the work and find healthy ways to channel their anger in their everyday lives.
"To be in a healthy place with your anger, you have to own that it is your anger," he says. "That no matter what anyone else says or does, you are responsible for you."