5 things that could have helped the Joker
Updated: Mar 24
Last weekend, I finally went to watch Joker. I was not very interested as my days of liking Batman were long past, but some friends recommended it as a surprising and very good movie, so I changed my mind. The Joker is a survivor of severe childhood trauma who is trying to function in a society that doesn’t accommodate people with difficulties. The whole movie is portrayed from the Jokers’ eyes, who experiences life as dark, raw and ruthless.
The Joker was physically abused and neglected by his mother, but he has no explicit memory of this fact. However, he has implicit memories of this event, as his life is passive, submissive and miserable. This is a parallel of how he must have felt as a child when his mother tied him up to a radiator and hit him in the head. The Joker was victimised from an early age and he is victimised in his present life. His nervous system used to “play dead” as he could not fight or flight, and that is what he does in his current life. He says at one point in the movie “I wasn’t sure that I existed.” This is a very good way to describe how survivors of severe childhood trauma and numb nervous systems might feel.
The Joker looks after his elderly mother. He goes to his mental health appointments with his case worker and takes his medication. He is the target of children’s anger. His workmate laughs at him. His boss doesn’t respect him. He is passive, depressed. His only escape is his imaginary world in which he sees himself as becoming a great comedian. After a series of unfortunate events, things will turn for him. He gets triggered by social pressures, and uses a weapon as a way to assert himself. He intuitively knows that he needs empowerment and he can only think of one way of getting it: murder.
These Things Could Have Prevented The Joker’s Barbarity
The Joker needs to understand that a lot of his sadness belongs to his past childhood experiences. Joker is living a “long, slow feelings flashback” with no memory of the events. He only remembers his past as feelings: sadness, hopelessness, loneliness. Those feelings appear as he gets triggered by daily reminders of his victimisation. If he is able to be more mindful of his feelings as a legacy from an unknown past, as his way of surviving a difficult trauma, there is a possibility for him to view his life on a different light.
The Joker will not be able to change his reality by himself. He needs someone who will be able to listen to him, who would understand his difficulties and is skilled in trauma treatment. Someone like a therapist for survivors of childhood trauma. However, he has no money. No question to go to a private therapist. The only way that the Joker can find support is if his social environment changes. Gotham needs a counselling & psychotherapy service, funded by the government, which would offer long-term therapy for adults who suffered childhood trauma. Or a workplace in which people like the Joker get a fair salary to help them pay for their therapy. The current minimum wage in Gotham doesn’t seem to do it.
Even with a skilled therapist, it will be very hard for the Joker to get over his past unless he is able to create a network of support around him: family, friends, smiley acquaintances, friendly society. Gotham needs to invest in campaigns that reduce stigma related to mental health to help people be more understanding with the Joker and offer, if not help, at least a friendly smile.
The Joker needs to understand that his symptoms were courageous attempts to survive that have long past its expiring date. His trauma is over, but his brain doesn’t know it. The Joker needs to feel empowered to believe that he can rewire his brain with more positive neuropathways (neuroplasticity). His perception of life can change to a more positive one.
Psychoeducation and Self-regulation
The Joker needs to learn how the brain works and understand how most of his feelings are triggered by a horrendous past. He might not need to remember it as a story. His body and present feelings are telling him how it felt in the past. He needs to learn about his nervous system and how to self-regulate. Mindfulness will be a wonderful tool for the Joker, as it will allow him to calm down his nervous system and self-regulate at will.
If all of these things were in place, many murders could have been prevented. We all wish to live in a society in which people feel positive and smile at each other. For some of you, this is very difficult because you are constantly triggered by difficult feelings and overwhelming sensations and emotions from your past. Like the Joker, you need a society that welcomes difference, invests in mental health, encourages fair wages, and educates people about their nervous system and their brains. I believe a society like this can be possible. How about you?