Purpose of Evaluation
Wonder Woman initially sought evaluation and treatment due to feelings of anxiety, depression, and difficulties maintaining a satisfying romantic relationship. In my initial evaluation, I found Ms. Woman remarkably free of psychopathology, without a trace of any diagnosable mental illness. However, this does not mean that her symptoms are not real. Indeed, I found that Ms. Woman’s difficulties could only be understood utilizing a control-mastery and feminist approach to psychotherapy.
Psychological Diagnosis and Justification
While more classical forms of psychotherapy locate the source of mental illness within the individual, a control-mastery and feminist approach to psychotherapy takes the individual within his or her particular social context and seeks to understand how this individual’s current symptoms and difficulties make sense, given the social environment. One’s historical, familial experiences and the psychological impact of oppression encountered in a patriarchal and racist society are taken into consideration.
Utilizing this control-mastery and feminist approach, I sought to understand Ms. Woman’s stated difficulties. Regarding her anxiety and depression, I found her symptoms to be a direct result of Ms. Woman’s extreme feelings of “omnipotent responsibility.” Omnipotent responsibility is the powerful and often unconscious belief that one is responsible for the feelings and well-being of others (Weiss, 2001). This belief system is characteristic of caretakers and, in fact, drives their caretaking behaviors.
Omnipotent responsibility is based on experience and ability, and the adult who develops an omnipotent sense of responsibility often learned this behavior very early in life. Emotionally gifted children who grow up in unstable or neglectful homes usually end up taking care not only of their siblings but also their parents.
They intuitively realize, and rightly so, that if they don’t take care of brother and sister, and even “mommy” and “daddy,” no one will, and the family may collapse. The stakes are high for the emotionally gifted child, and this creates an intense learning environment with long-term consequences. The problem is that this belief system, while formerly adaptive within the child’s family environment, becomes concretized in the adult character structure and generalized to all relationships leading the individual to take care of everyone. Caretaking on this level is unsustainable and unrealistic, leading to eventual exhaustion, burnout, resentment, and depression.
In speaking with Ms. Woman, I found her omnipotent responsibility to be the most extreme case I have ever encountered in that she firmly believes she is responsible for the lives and well-being of literally every single person on earth. For example, I asked Ms. Woman what she was anxious about and she replied,
“Everything. The escalating tension between the U.S. and North Korea, the earthquake in Iraq, human trafficking, ISIS, Global Warming. I feel that if I don’t intervene, hundreds, thousands, even millions of people will die.”
A more conventional approach to therapy would seek to help Ms. Woman realize that her thinking is magical and that she is not responsible for everyone. This sort of therapy would focus on getting her to realize she does not possess superhuman abilities that allow her to intervene and stave off catastrophic consequences. However, in Wonder Woman’s case, it is true that she has the power to save thousands of people at any given time, and she knows it. Every time she sits down to a bubble bath with some candles while a world disaster strikes, she feels guilty if she does not intervene because she could have saved all those people. Every time she tries to have a romantic dinner with her latest love interest, she will likely have to zip off to save someone. She knows if she does not intervene, she will have to deal with the overwhelming guilt of having focused on herself when she could have helped others.
“That running off to save the world thing has cost me more than one relationship,” Ms. Woman lamented.
Indeed, relationships have been complicated for Ms. Woman who has unfortunately found most men to be annoyed and intimidated by her power. This has left her feeling that she has to hide or downplay who she is to protect a boyfriend’s ego in the service of maintaining a relationship. It has made standard office jobs difficult because she is so much more capable than many of her fragile male colleagues and “superiors.” Ms. Woman explained that after dating ordinary men for a while, she tried dating Superheroes, but that didn’t seem to go any better. Ms. Woman recalled a time when she was casually dating Superman during a period when Batman happened to be getting a lot of press.
“He just got so competitive and jealous,” Ms. Woman said of her time dating Superman. “He’d say things like ‘I bet you’re into that Batman guy.’ and I’d be like, ‘don’t even know Batman!’ It was weird. He got obsessed with Batman’s insignia being bigger than his. Did you know that originally the ‘S’ on Superman’s suit was just a little ‘S’ that his mother sewed onto the tag in the back? It’s true. Then Batman came on the scene with a big Bat symbol on his chest. Superman decided to sew an ‘S’ right on the front right breast of his suit, but even then it was small, more the size of a Nike Swoosh. Then Batman starts shooting his insignia into the sky with that big lamp. Next thing you know, Superman’s ‘S’ is this huge symbol that takes up his whole chest and part of his stomach. It’s ridiculous. We know you’re Superman dude.”
Ms. Woman said she had also had a one-year friendship with Supergirl, but she eventually broke it off because “she was all about her Instagram.” I asked if she still had contact with Superwoman, but Ms. Woman said she did not.
In the end, I explained to Ms. Woman that there was nothing psychologically wrong with her and that the problem lay in a world that was not always accepting of her and her abilities. I recommended weekly psychotherapy sessions for Ms. Woman utilizing an approach wherein the goal of therapy is to recognize and embrace her power and the responsibility this brings, while also realizing that is ok to take time for herself. I explained that she must learn to accept and cope with the anxiety that comes from not stepping in to help and that if she did not take time for herself, she would likely become so depleted that she would not be good to anyone.