What’s the deal with Batman, anyway?


(Bruce Wayne and his alter ego in The Dark Knight, photo from Empire magazine via toplessrobot.com)

I was recently asked what personality traits characterize Batman, in
particular, does he have a personality disorder. First, we’ll deal with
the normal aspects of Batman’s personality. If Batman has a cardinal
trait, it seems to me likely to be conscientiousness: what does
Batman do? He plans…and he carries out those plans, to the degree that
he can fight alongside and against characters classed as
“gods”. Batman’s determination and persistence, which themselves border
on the superhuman, also go hand-in-hand with this characteristic.

Okay, now to the interesting stuff. What are Batman’s mental
problems? First, we should point out, that in spite of everything,
Batman appears remarkably psychologically healthy–that is, in a world
where it isn’t particularly unusual to put on extravagant underpants and
fight crime. In the real world, that alone would be a sign that
something unusual is going on upstairs. But, despite some strong
tendencies to the contrary, Batman tends to maintain close relationships with
those few others who are important to him: Alfred, the Robins, Commissioner
Gordon and Barbara Gordon, Superman and the rest of the Justice League.

Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, what can we say? First,
before dealing with his personality, it seems likely that Batman suffers
from some form of post-traumatic stress, stemming from witnessing his
parents’ murders as a child. IF there’s one thing that Bruce Wayne
should definitely seek the assistance of a professional counsellor for, it’s
this. Of course, that would chip away at Batman’s raison d’etre, so,
perhaps it’s best, narratively, to avoid this. It would also expose a
great deal of Bruce’s inner workings to another person, and,
importantly, Batman is too paranoid to willingly allow this–

Which leads us to the first major personality “problem” I believe
that the Batman suffers from: some level of Paranoid personality
disorder, which is classed as “Skeptical” in the (subclinical) Hogan
Development Survey, and which my co-authors and I associate with the Dark
Triad characteristic of “Machiavellianism” (manipulativeness) in our review, “the Dark Side of Personality at Work”(http://bit.ly/1ngctvy).
Batman certainly can be said to have a “chip on
his shoulder”–against CRIME!–and trusts relatively few people, and is
generally quite slow to give that trust. He has contingency plans for
the events that any of his friends should become untrustworthy or
dangerous. In addition, in keeping with our classification of
Machiavellianism with this characteristic, Batman seeks to manipulate
people and events to his favor: http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/ManipulativeBastard.

On the other poles of the Dark Triad, while it is hard to see Batman as
particularly narcissistic, though the “trophies” in the Batcave–and,
indeed, the tendency to name everything Bat-whatever after himself–may belie
that claim somewhat, he does have some characteristics of
psychopathy (antisocial personality): Batman does not play by society’s rules, and his particular
pursuit of justice often puts himself and others into danger. His
lifestyle is violent, and he shows relatively little self-conscious
emotion: very little in the way of shame or pride, but he seems to have
some degree of guilt, usually over how he could have done better as a
crimefighter. However, since this may play into his self-image and
narrative of his identity, perhaps it is best to mostly ignore that.

Beyond this, Batman isn’t known for displaying much in the way of
emotions: e.g., (http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/ThecomicallySerious).
This, combined with his previously mentioned few significant
relationships in his life may point to Schizoid personality
(http://mayocl.in/1rGfeHD). Or they may indicate relatively poor
attachment, probably an avoidant attachment style
(http://abt.cm/1rGfqXe), which may also help us to understand Batman’s
apparent difficulties in maintaining relationships with a significant
other. This is also, possibly, related to the traumatic loss of his parents as a child

Let’s come back to where we started, Batman’s level of
conscientiousness. It’s possible he’s “too high” on this characteristic,
which helps put his obsessiveness and dedication into perspective. Think
of the time he ran himself ragged, leaving him vulnerable to Bane,
chasing down the escaped Arkham inmates in “Knightfall”.

So, there you have it. My armchair analysis of  the dark reaches of a comic book character’s psyche. Next time…well, maybe not next time, but in the next installment of “the Personalities of Fictional Characters”, we’ll discuss Walter White, from Breaking Bad. We may even take a short detour into Literary Criticism, to the degree to which I am able to practice that Art, and meditate on his place and role within his fictional world and his narrative arc.


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