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every villain has an origin story

Updated: Aug 16, 2022

(even if you are your own worst enemy).

When we google Villain Origin Story, we find:

a backstory, or established background narrative, that informs the identity and motivations of heroes and villains… the superhero’s origin story begins with a tragic accident that left him scarred, but also resulted in his supernatural powers.

True crime, trending movies, our parents – we are fascinated in finding the reason why people do what they do.

For some of us, the why holds a heavier weight of significance than for others. Why did they treat me that way?...What happened to them?...Who hurt them?

There’s a book my therapist recommended to me called Nasty people. It mentions the cycle of invalidation and where it starts. There are these sketched illustrations of people with a domineering stance over others that are cowering: meet the invalidator and the invalidated. It shows this cycle repeating in a line of people that continue to pass along choice phrases that chip away at a person until they are practicing the same behavior because they are trying to maintain a sense of control.

Let me explain.

Let’s say your mom was a major cleaner growing up. You craved her approval and did a pretty good job. For a kid. But on those days when the kitchen wasn’t cleaned just right, or the living room wasn’t picked up from the night before, she wasn’t happy. And you felt it. The whole house did. She would walk into the house, see the mess and the feelings would set in. On her end, she felt unappreciated, overwhelmed and disappointed that you didn’t follow through. But on your end, all you saw was the way she would handle it: yelling. LOTS of yelling. The fear sets in, and soon you learn that an unclean house = unhappy mom and a terrified child.

So as you grow up, you learn that you can’t feel safe, or okay unless the kitchen is clean or the living room is tidy to that same standard.

You get home from work from a long day, and you notice the dishes are still in the sink from the night before. You feel a deep sense of dread, and it can’t stay with you, so you choose to pass it on to the nearest family member. You feel those same feelings that your mom did when you were growing up, and the way you choose to handle that is the only way you were taught: bring someone else down with you so they feel the same way that you feel, and you feel in control.

We can learn from this: your habits of invalidation “are learned, not inherent. There’s a reason you have become an invalidator.”

Those learned systems of surviving growing up don’t have to continue on. They don’t serve you anymore, and you don’t have to pass it on.

We are more than how we are treated.

Here’s how we stop it.

We acknowledge the past, and do the work to heal from it.

We recognize the signs of invalidation from others and gather tools to guard our hearts.

We choose a new narrative, and start a new cycle of healing.

We can’t rewrite the past, but we can choose how we’re going to treat people.

Our similarities to the comic book villain may or may not be extensive. It may or may not in most cases, result in supernatural powers. But there is a chance that the invalidators of our past can stay there, and if we so choose: we use it, and move towards a character development that is just as valuable as the villain – even if it’s us.

Book reference:

Carter, Jay. “Nasty People” Publisher: McGraw Hill, May 26 2003.

Alta Terra Counseling

Alta Terra Counseling is a practice in Boone, North Carolina specializing in Marriage and Family Therapy Practice that is committed to helping both Families, Couples and Individual clients with a compassionate presence to achieve their personal goals. Explore our website for information about our practice as well as endorsements from colleagues regarding our clinical approach.

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