The Myth of Invincibility

An Air Force Senior Airman stands for a sunrise portrait with an F-16 aircraft assigned to the Thunderbirds. Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Matt Hecht

People forget that I’m a human being, just because I play a sport that everybody loves. We’re human. We’re not invincible. We share the same feelings and emotions that people on the outside feel. I don’t think people really understand that – Terrell Owens

There is no such thing as an impenetrable tower or an invincible army. Time and toil will wear all things down. That’s why the military is a young person’s game; as we get older, we understand the lie of invincibility. Our heart tells us, our knees tell us, and sometimes our mind tells us.

In the military, we are told from the beginning that winning is everything. Invincibility is the goal, and the goal is achievable. Be strong. Show no weakness. The recruiting posters don’t lie; everyone is a steely-eyed killer defending truth, justice, and the American way. The Department of Defense recently promoted an article about the toughest man alive…a retired Navy Chief Petty Officer who completed SEAL training, Ranger school, and Air Force Tactical Air Controller training. He’s an ultra-marathoner, and once held the Guinness World Record for the most pull-ups in 24 hours. Feel inadequate yet?

The problem with believing in the myth of invincibility comes when we start to realize that we’re not invincible ourselves, but think others are. That we think that because someone else has more than us, then they somehow have it all together, they have all the answers, they’re the winners and I’m the losers. We fall into the trap of the comparison game. We start to let our belief in legends get in our way.

We Hold Others Responsible for Not Meeting Our Unrealistic Expectations of Them

There is nothing that makes us angrier than realizing that out that our perceptions of someone do not meet their reality. General David Petreaus has an extra-marital affair. Pete Rose bet on baseball while a manager of the Cincinnati Reds. Tainted heroes, fallen from grace, simply because they did not meet our unrealistic expectations of them. Did they ask us to, though? Sometimes, maybe. Sometimes we present one thing to the world while knowing, inside, that we’re something completely different. Often, though, we blame others for falling short of our expectations of them. “I’m disappointed in you” reveals more about our own beliefs about the person than their actions.

We Hold Ourselves Responsible for Not Meeting Our Unrealistic Expectations of Others

The other side of this particular coin is when we compare ourselves to others, and find ourselves lacking in some way. Keeping up with the Joneses, when we have no clue what’s happening behind closed doors. We blame ourselves for not living up to some fantastical ideal, some unachievable invincibility that was built in our mind. When we go on Facebook and Instagram and see that everyone is meeting with the coolest people, at the best places, eating the most delicious and beautiful food. Life online is contrived; we show each other our highlight reels while living our backstage lives.

Even what you’re reading now isn’t reality. If you and I were talking about this in person, these words wouldn’t be the ones I use; having a conversation is very different from writing. It takes me an hour to put my thoughts into words in a coherent way, but I had four conversations yesterday about this very subject; comparing ourselves to the invincible myth of others. What that does to our thoughts, our moods. It can make us angry when others don’t act the way we think they should, or depressed when we don’t act the way we think others think we should.

Rejecting the Myth of Invincibility Reveals Humanity

The vast majority of our the people we put on a pedestal didn’t ask to be put there. They wouldn’t want to be there if we told them. They would explain all of the reasons why they shouldn’t be on that pedestal; just another regular guy or gal. And it’s not selling ourselves short…it’s revealing the accuracy of the situation. Superman bleeds, Batman loses his grip every once in a while, and the Lone Ranger couldn’t get things done by himself. We are humans, and we do human things; like breathe, and stumble, and screw up, and feel bad about it.

If you feel yourself drawn into a negative opinion of yourself when you look at the lives of others, remember that we’re all just trying to figure out this thing called life. We may put on a good show for others, but it’s a game of escalating illusion; instead, revealing our flaws and acknowledging where we’re not one hundred percent all the time is what makes us real.

I work with our local Veteran Court, and it has been selected as one of four courts in the nation to mentor other courts. Other groups from around the country come to our court to see how we do things. Our leader commits to showing everything we do…the good and the bad. He consistently reminds us to be completely transparent, “warts and all.” If we’re perpetuating the myth of infallibility, invincibility, then we’re lying to ourselves and doing no good to others. Instead of delivering the beautiful lie, we should deliver the ugly truth, and let things be the way they are.

We could always do with more reality in the world.

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The Head Space and Timing Blog is supported by the Colorado Veterans Health and Wellness Agency, a 501(c)3 Nonprofit in Colorado Springs, Colorado. The goal of the CVHWA is to provide military culturally competent mental health counseling to veterans and their spouses, regardless of characterization of discharge, time of service, or era of service. Our vision is to assist veterans to identify and remove barriers to their mental, physical, emotional, and behavioral wellness. For questions or inquiries, contact us!

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Duane France
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Duane K. L. France is a combat veteran of both Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as a mental health counselor practicing in the state of Colorado. Do you want to join the conversation regarding veteran mental health? Share, like, and comment. Read Duane's previous posts and follow him on Twitter and LinkedIn. Keep the conversation about #veteranmentalhealth going.