Batman and Boundary Setting

A hospital sign indicating where the emergency department is locatedI don’t know whether it was nature, nurture, or maybe a bit of both that made me a “people pleaser.”

All I know is that deep down, I often felt a sense of responsibility towards other people’s happiness. It’s not a bad thing in itself to be sympathetic and empathetic towards others, but what an exhausting pursuit!

It was only later in life that I realized that the only way to mitigate my disappointment when I wasn’t able to please everyone (since as the adage says, “you can’t please all of the people all of the time”) was to develop better boundaries. When I did, not only was I better able to focus my attention where it mattered most, but it helped me to maintain a sense of harmony within myself.

But when I look back at my formative years, what pop culture role models did I have to understand the mechanics of boundary setting? When I think back to some of the TV shows I watched while growing up, boundary setting was certainly not a recurring theme.

In “Bewitched”, Samantha’s relatives were always popping in, with seemingly no prior invitation or notification.

In “The Brady Bunch”, how did six kids manage to share one bathroom without launching World War 3?

And in the 1960’s version of “Batman”, when did Bruce Wayne ever take time for himself?

I think we can all agree that on the surface, Bruce had a very strong sense of right from wrong, and legal versus illegal. But when it came to home life and work life balance, was he a good role model?

In every episode, Commissioner Gordon could pretty much summon him with the red phone at any time, day or night. The commissioner called him every time he had an issue that his own ENTIRE police force couldn’t handle, which seemed to be every week. Bruce even got Alfred the Butler jumping on the red phone, to ensure a quick response.

And if Bruce just happened to be away from Wayne Manor, doing something on his own time, Commissioner Gordon could even use the “Bat Signal” to project an image of a bat into the sky. When Bruce would see this, he would stop whatever he was doing and come running.

When it came to crime fighting, he could be battling arch villains at any time of day or night. I don’t know how much work he had to do at the Wayne Foundation, or whether he had that responsibility delegated to trusted executives. Either way, it didn’t seem to matter how long he was in battle, his crime fighting seemed to occupy boundless amounts of time and energy.

I think it is understandable that to avenge his parents’ death, Bruce made this his mission to be available to Commissioner Gordon, day or night, to help fight crime. This was a noble cause, and by all appearances, this was his choice and his motivation.

Even if this was his mission, his passion and his calling, taking time for himself to recharge should have still been part of the overall picture. As TV viewers, we didn’t get to see that. We only saw Bruce Wayne and Batman at the beck and call of a city in turmoil.

We can all agree that this was a work of fiction, not a documentary, and for the sake of storyline expediency, we didn’t get to see Batman or Bruce, in the days between battles with the Joker, Catwoman, the Penguin and the Riddler.

But if the viewer was only shown those crime fighting days and nothing in between, what kind of example does it set for an impressionable young mind?

I would have loved if Alfred the Butler told the commissioner at least a couple of times over the span of the series, “I’m sorry, your police force will have to take care of this one. Batman is at his much needed spa retreat.”

I found out the hard way that without parameters and boundaries, it is so easy to get overwhelmed in trying to please everyone. I found myself getting frustrated with myself when I couldn’t meet everyone’s expectations. Along the way, I lost my own sense of well-being. Anxiety followed.

With a little prompting from a psychotherapist, I started talking it out and realizing that the reason people kept asking is because I never drew a line, I kept saying yes.

Perhaps pride and ego got in the way, as I kept telling myself that at that point in my career, I should be able to self-manage and self-prioritize my workload.

The reality is that if requesters always think that there is no problem and that they are first in line, they will continue to expect that treatment, like Commissioner Gordon.

Saying no is difficult. But so is trying to accomplish the impossible.

However, more often than not, I didn’t have to say no. It was just a case of saying, “I’d love to, it’s just that I have a number of things on my plate” and to work with my supervisor in prioritizing my deliverables, especially when everything seemed like an emergency.

Talking it out, before getting overwhelmed, is so important.

In retrospect, the reality was that I was not a superhero and could not possibly make everyone happy on their urgent timelines, no matter how I tried.

Had Batman demonstrated better boundaries, maybe this life lesson would have helped me to manage the more overwhelming moments of life and better maintained my peace of mind.

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Filed under Health and Wellness, mental health

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