Therapeutic Fandom of TMNT, pt II: Raphael, Anger, Self-Worth
From the beginning, Raphael (Raph) has been the oldest, largest, and strongest of the turtles. He has always had the red bandana (the first rendition all the turtles were in red). He has always wielded the dual Sais and has possessed the quickest of tempers. He is quick-witted and sometimes just rude. And like a few other superheroes, the angrier he is, the fiercer he is fighting. (Reference to the Hulk)
Raph also struggles with self-worth, and his value. Periodically, through the television and movie adaptations, he is often seen brooding, stewing, and raging around being the oldest, largest turtle and not being the leader. Leo leads and the reason isn’t his skills (we will talk about that in a later blog). Often Raph questions Leo’s choices and gets really upset with his caution in fight situations. Raph feels he is “less than” in comparison to Leo. There is a moment in the movie adaptation (1990) and in an animated movie (2012) where Raph says to Splinter (Father/Sensei) “This is why I’m not your favorite son,” in reference to not being the leader and not being the expert of his anger just yet. Splinter’s response in this scene was, “Raphael, you always bear the world's problems on your shoulders. It is an admirable quality when you are a protector of others. But you must realize that while at times you might not be my favorite student, it does not mean that you are my least favorite son. You are strong, passionate, and loyal to your fault. These are the merits of a great leader as well, but only when tempered with compassion and humility." What a “great dad” statement!
Raph really internalizes, especially in the first incarnation of the comics, his inferiority to Leo and simultaneously his protector role of Mickey (Michelangelo) the youngest of the brothers. He protects Mikey like a big brother – “I can mess with him, but no one else can.” The younger brother irritates the older brother. Sounds classic! And Raph still demands respect of his younger brother and is loyal to the relationship.
Raph was never our system’s favorite turtle; however, we have discovered that we have so much in common with him. We find ourselves feeling anger and then isolating, attempting to heal it alone. Raph does this in most instances; he turns his anger inward. His brothers rely on each other to process their emotions. They rely on the comradery to allow, accept, and honor emotion. Raph stews alone. We have often done this and felt the aloneness that only intensified the experience. In the first movie (1990) Splinter says to Raph, “Anger clouds the mind, turned inward it is an unconquerable enemy. You are unique among your brothers, for you choose to face this enemy alone.” While rewatching this movie for the millionth time, it occurred that this is and has been our relationship with alcohol. We choose to face it alone and in silence. I think this is a beautiful comparison; addiction is to isolation as adaptiveness is to community. We’ve never spoken so openly about our struggles with alcohol but, maybe it’s time we did.
Like Raph, we experience anger as an enemy within and turned inward. While anger is a natural, useful, and helpful emotion, it can also be self-destructive if not channeled appropriately. In our journey to understand and heal trauma, we’ve discovered that an anger trigger, can lead to alcohol misuse. And we aren’t alone in that. For us, anger turned inward looks like isolation, self-loathing, refusal to use our healthy coping skills and alcohol use. It is often triggered by injustice, where we feel helpless (this has resulted in a quest to find action steps) or sadness around feeling “lack of”, which typically leads to feelings of worthlessness. The healing has been a lifetime in the making, it seems, and continues. Constantly keeping our thoughts and feelings in check is sometimes exhausting, but always rewarding. And each time we pick up a guitar, rather than a brew, leads to yet another pivotal moment in healing.
We see Raph go through many changes throughout the series, from being angry that Leo left NY to go train, to being angry that he came back… because he was hurt that he left. In the TMNT (2007) animated movie, we see that Raph has the fighting skills to be leader, however, he does it alone, as a vigilante, fighting the crime of NY City in a disguise and not as the team he is part of. There’s a hidden shame in this. Splinter has instructed the brothers to not fight until Leo returns. He’s disobeying his father/teacher and his brothers. And he turns away (initially) from his brother who is the leader of the turtles. There is a moment in the 2007 movie where Leo is chasing a masked Raph, who is out fighting crime in disguise. Leo doesn’t know this is his brother, however Raph can see exactly who is challenging him through his mask. They fight each other and Raph’s strength breaks Leo’s katanas when Leo sees him unmasked, Raph runs in disbelief that he “beat” his brother and shame that he almost killed him.
There is shame in carrying a secret, especially a traumatic secret; one that wasn’t/isn’t supposed to happen. For trauma survivors, like this system, there are many childhood instances in which Splinter was our model father. The understanding and compassion he shows to Raph, even when Raph is disobeying him, is a characteristic we try to have for ourselves.
Raph struggles with his anger but, it comes from a deep belief that he is not good enough, he isn’t worthy, and that he is less than among his brothers and also in his father and teachers eyes. We all (as trauma survivors) carry this feeling – even though it’s not true!
Things you should know:
Comparing yourself to others only sets you up for disappointment. There are no two humans alike and systems are as varied as finger prints: unique to each body.
Self-Care, regardless of size of task (can be brushing your teeth or completing a triathlon), helps reinforce the message of worthiness and assists in the rewiring of the neural pathways.
Notice the thoughts that are demeaning and actively choose to say the opposite to yourself. This helps you form more truthful images of who you are, not what your trauma says about you.
Accept who are you, especially if you are system. And there’s no time frame on this. Acceptance allows you to connect with all parts of yourself and become a team. Acceptance allows the whole of you to utilize skills, approaches, and perspectives to tap into that superpower that is you.
Using your coping skills is more than just a CBT worksheet. Sometimes it means taking your feels to your guitar, or your art pad, or your word processor. It often means thinking outside of the ridged enclosures of psychotherapy. (This is for you too, therapists).
We are all worthy, by our birth right. And big emotions come up for all of us due to trauma. Trauma speaks non-truths to us. We must recognize it, work to heal from it, and create a new narrative to believe.