Therapeutic Fandom of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Part I
In 1986, I encountered my first comic book of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (TMNT). The original series was written and illustrated by Kevin Eastman and told the story of Leonardo, Donatello, Michelangelo, Raphael, and Master Splinter. The Turtles were babies when Splinter (a rat) found them, rescued, and brought them home to live with him. The turtles were brothers and coated in radioactive ooze, which then contaminated Splinter, morphing them all into Humanoid species.
For all those who aren’t familiar with TMNT, the turtles are named after Renaissance artists, and just like the artists, they all have different strengths. Master Splinter is a lot like a father figure and their sensei. The family of five fight crime in New York City and live in the sewers under the streets. Not unlike other superheroes, the turtles are instructed to remain hidden.
From the beginning we, as a dissociative system, identified TMNT fandom as a creative outlet to balance our inner and outer worlds. The distinctness of the Turtles personalities also helped us identify strengths and weaknesses within our internal system and work as a team to overcome adversity.
Master Splinter is a humanoid rat who adopts the turtles, trains then in ninjitsu, and plays the role of a father/teacher. He is wise and encourages discipline, dedication, and meditation. Throughout all renditions, Splinter is a loving father who forgives his teenage sons/students endlessly and pushes them to live to their fullest potential.
Leonardo (Leo) is the leader of the turtles and wears a blue bandana. Splinter chose to give Leo the weapon of katanas. He is the most disciplined and the katanas demand discipline and level headedness. He is motivated by honor and spends his free time training.
Donatello (Donny) is super smart and wears a purple bandana. His weapon is the bo staff, which requires the most creativity to wield effectively. He’s often consumed with aiming for perfection which delays his productivity. Leo helps him manage time more efficiently.
Michelangelo (Mikey) shys away from confrontation and is always the life of the party. He often lightens stressful situations with a joke that gives the turtles a much-needed break from seriousness. He wears an orange bandana and due to his carefree nature, his weapons are dual nunchaku; the most challenging of the weapons to master. Mikey makes it look easy and effortless like his ability to interact with others.
Raphael (Raph) is the most aggressive turtle. He is motivated and fueled with anger. He wears the red bandana with the sai as his weapon. He is straight forward and seen as rude by many at first glance. However, his anger fuels him in moments of adversity. He relies on his brothers to help him connect with others; his trauma response is to keep everyone at a distance to protect himself.
Turtle Learnings for Dissociative Systems and Humanity
Align as a unit. System members don’t have to align in agreement; however, they do have to align in action. I’m remembering shortly after diagnosis in 2002 when our world felt like pure chaos our system came together as a team to establish more functionality. The “team” metaphor is one that still works for us.
Teamwork. Attempting to “do everything” yourself is just spinning wheels in the mud. If you are part of a system, it makes sense to connect with other headmates, combine strengths and balance weaknesses. Some have abilities that others don’t – for example, being able to communicate in situations that get emotional. Every part and aspect of self has a specific quality or talent that can be used for the greater good. “Teamwork makes the dream work.”
Be teachable. You weren’t born knowing all the things about all the things. Allow others with experience to help you carve your own path. Master Splinter allowed the brothers to make mistakes. So having a loving, supportive teacher type person in your world doesn’t mean having to be perfect. It just means having someone who supports you, guides you, and allows you to be you.
TMNT taught me that I must learn to function with each individual part of me. Just like the turtles, together we are stronger and can take on any challenge with which we are presented. Together we are a whole; even when we don’t agree or see eye to eye. Whether or not you are a system, we all have parts of ourselves that make up who we are. Learning to listen to, validate, and accept those parts makes the unique team of self. Turtle Power!