Parker, Peter

Introduction

Born in Queens to Richard and Mary Parker, Peter has very few memories of his parents. They traveled the world working for the U.S. government, leaving Peter with his Aunt May and Uncle Ben Parker. He may have been six years old when Mary and Richard died in a plane crash in Algeria. Childless themselves, May and Ben took it on the responsibility to raise Peter as their own, despite their initial resentment to be put in that situation. They soon began to dote on their new member of the household.

Peter grew up to be a very bright young man and despite being shy, did have some friends in grade school: Sally Averil, Seymour O'Reilly, Jason Ionello and Tiny McKeever. They began to drift apart in junior high school as their interests changed and the group no longer associated with the bookish Peter in high school. Eugene "Flash"Thompson, the football hero, made the split from Peter permanent as he took over the group. Worse, he hated the nerdy Parker with a passion and enjoyed bullying him. Flash was only the latest bully for Peter, besides Carl King (who bullied Peter in kindergarten and made him eat dog feces) and Arnie Gunderson (who stole his lunch money in the fourth grade).

Then there came the famous demonstration on radiation, where he was bitten by the radioactive spider. It granted him his strength, agility, spider sense, speed and wall crawling abilities. He wanted to make money in wrestling and started to get cocky with his new found fame as the masked Spider-Man. His arrogance got the better of him and he allowed a thief to escape one night at the arena despite an officer's pleas for help. That same thief later killed his Uncle Ben and Peter learned that with great power, must come great responsibility.

Guilt drove Peter to change Spider-Man from a wrestling celebrity to a vigilante and guilt continues to plague him. Uncle Ben and Gwen's deaths weigh heavily on him, but there were many other deaths that he has faced as Spider-Man. Bennett Brant, George Stacy, Ned Leeds, Ben Reilly, Billy Connors and many others. Peter has been subjected to all kinds of physical and psychological trauma on a near constant basis since he started crime fighting years ago. Spider strength has saved him countless times but mental strength has even more so.

Strength Through Suffering

There is a paradox in psychology: trauma can cause mental illness and can also prevent it. There is truth to Friedrich Nietzsche's claim that "What doesn't kill us makes us stronger" but not for all people. Some people may get healthier after having a trauma because of that trauma, instead of despite it. Those that have experienced post traumatic stress in their pasts are less likely to experience it again after a new trauma. This is called the "steeling" effect.

After the 9-11-01 terrorist attacks, a study was done on bipolar patients in New York City to test the rates of those suffering from PTSD. Naturally, the rates rose after the attacks, but not for everyone. The patients that had suffered post traumatic stress before the terrorist attacks didn't suffer from new PTSD after the attacks. The previous trauma had steeled them from the new trauma of 9-11.

In another example of the paradox, social support helps a person get through PTSD but people that had little emotional support as children tend to cope with PTSD better than those that did.

The Right Balance

Social support makes a person strong, but so does some trauma. Peter certainly has experienced a good deal of both. The deaths of his parents as a child, the torment he suffered at the hands of bullies and the murder of his uncle in high school must have been steeling experiences. Still, he had the doting love of his Aunt May (and later the help of Harry Osborn, Gwen Stacy and Mary Jane Watson) to help ease the stress.

Aunt May in particular sacrificed to help Peter after Ben was murdered. Soon after, she pawned her jewelry to help pay for living expenses. This was particularly kind of her, after she refused to allow Peter to drop out of school and get a job. (Amazing Spider-Man #1) Never a wealthy person, Peter was still agonizing over money in college and Gwen tried to find out what was wrong. After he tells her, she replies "I don't care how much money you have. You're the best thing that ever happened to me." (Amazing Spider-Man #82) Finally, Mary Jane and Anna Watson stopped by the hospital that Aunt May was staying in to let Peter go get some rest. (Amazing Spider-Man #177)

The only time that Peter clearly showed signs of post traumatic stress was shortly after the death of Sergei Kravinoff, Kraven the Hunter. Kraven had drugged Peter, buried him alive for two weeks and then forced the shocked hero to fight the vicious man-rat known as Vermin. Spider-Man wanted revenge on Kraven but the Hunter committed suicide before it could be had.

In the weeks after Kraven's Last Hunt, Peter suffered from flashbacks, profuse sweating and nightmares. He even briefly believed that he had been reburied by Kraven when he rescued a kid that had fallen into a pit at a construction site. He seemed to recover from his trauma with some supernatural help and forgiving Kraven for what he did. (The Amazing Spider-Man: Soul of the Hunter)

The sweating, flashbacks and nightmares are all symptoms of PTSD. Even without the supernatural help, Peter would have likely moved on from the trauma in time. After the 9-11 attacks, 7.5% of New Yorkers suffered from PTSD. After six months, only 0.6% showed symptoms. A similar situation existed with Gulf War veterans. After one year, 62.5% of veterans no longer seemed effected.

Personality Profile: I.S.T.J.

The Myers-Briggs Personality Test uses the theories of Carl Jung to determine where a person ranks on a continuum of character traits. Everyone has preferences as to how to act in a situation, and the test helps determine where an individual falls in the four preferences.

  • Favorite "world": Do you prefer the outer world (meeting people and going to parties) or the inner world (being alone with your thoughts)? This is called Extroversion (E) or Introversion (I).
  • Information: Do you prefer to focus on the basic information you take in or do you prefer to interpret and add meaning? This is called Sensing (S) or Intuition (N).
  • Decisions: When making decisions, do you prefer to first look at logic and consistency or first look at the people and special circumstances? This is called Thinking (T) or Feeling (F).
  • Structure: In dealing with the outside world, do you prefer to get things decided or do you prefer to stay open to new information and options? This is called Judging (J) or Perceiving (P).

Peter is a somewhat difficult person to get a reading on, as he has the Spider-Man persona and the Peter Parker persona. Spider-Man is outgoing and funny, Peter tends to be more serious. Also, Peter has become more extroverted over time than when he was a teenager. Should a researcher study the teenage Peter or the adult? Sometimes, we have to settle for a little of both.

Peter himself can be conflicted as to who he is. Its been years since he graduated high school, but the introverted nerd is still a part of his identity. For example, Peter reluctantly agreed to join Mary Jane at an Empire State University toga party. "S'funny, I really would've preferred to skip this dance--but I'm actually starting to enjoy myself! Though its been years since a certain radioactive spider changed my life--I still think of myself as that shy and awkward bookworm who was the joke of every social occasion. But I've changed. Hopefully for the better." (Amazing Spider-Man #428)

As a scientist, Peter has a very sensing personality, one that looks at cold hard facts. He cant afford to look at an experiment and add meaning.

He also tends to be a thinking person, looking at consistency and patterns. When Doctor Octopus stole a sample of blood that was infected with the AIDS virus, Spider-Man assumed he was going to weaponize the disease. Little did he know, but Octavius was hoping to create a cure for the illness, as his former girlfriend was dying of the infection. After Ock surrendered (the cure failed), Peter could only assume that Octavius had been planning something sinister. (Spider-Man Unlimited #3)

Finally, Peter is a judging person. While he is open to new scientific ideas, he does not easily accept the idea that his powers have their origins in magic. After he defeats the mystical being known as Shathra in Ghana, he cant accept what his mentor tries to tell him about himself. "Look, Ezekiel, I'm not denying that there's been a lot of weirdness in my life lately. But I'm just not there yet, I don't believe yet. I'm hardwired a certain way, I cant change that just because you say I should." (Amazing Spider-Man vol. 2 #49)

According to the Myers & Briggs website, an I.S.T.J. is:

Quiet, serious, earn success by thoroughness and dependability. Practical, matter-of-fact, realistic, and responsible. Decide logically what should be done and work toward it steadily, regardless of distractions. Take pleasure in making everything orderly and organized – their work, their home, their life. Value traditions and loyalty.

Conclusion

Peter Parker, the Amazing Spider-Man. The one person that connects all of these other profiles together. His psychology is a reaction to many of these other characters and their psychologies are reactions to his. Some are supportive to his mental health and others try to tear it down. The fights that he endure are as much about ideas as they are about webs, pumpkin bombs, tentacles or teeth. Against such debased enemies, Peter needs all of the psychological support he can get. He does have issues of his own after all.

Introverts are at more risk to suffer from post traumatic stress than extroverts. An introverted individual, Peter needs his extroverted friends as emotional support against the extreme violence he witnesses as Spider-Man. While his experience during Kraven's Last Hunt likely shields him somewhat from future psychological trauma, he stills needs help with current stresses.

Diagnosis

  • Axis I: Past experience with PTSD.
  • Axis II: No diagnosis.
  • Axis III: Stomach ulcers.
  • Axis: IV: Often in dangerous places (jungles, sewers, outer space, etc)
  • Axis V: 90--Very high functioning. Often anxious about life events.