Since their debut in 1963, the X-Men have sworn to protect a world that hates and fears them, but here at AiPT! we’ve got nothing but love for Marvel’s mighty mutants! To celebrate the long-awaited return of Uncanny X-Men, AiPT! brings you UNCANNY X-MONTH: 30 days of original X-Men content. Hope you survive the experience…AiPT! Science is going all-in for Uncanny X-Month, and following the most detailed look at X-Men biology anywhere, EVER, we’re on to three posts of psychology! First up is child therapist and co-host of the Popcorn Psychology podcast, Brittney Brownfield, on what’s going on with Rogue in 2000’s X-Men film.
What would it be like to lose the ability to touch others, and to be touched? To be isolated from others by your body, your shame, the voices in your head? The very first X-Men movie introduces these questions through Rogue, the girl with the killer skin.
We meet Rogue as a sweet, young girl with a nice family, planning the future in her bedroom with the boy she likes. In the time it takes to have her first kiss, she discovers she isn’t going to have the future she planned, that she will always be somewhat separate from those around her.
The ability to be touched, to be comforted, is fundamental to our growth as functioning human beings. Touch helps us develop empathy and our ability to connect with others. As unfortunately proven by infant mortality rates in Russian orphanages, touch can also be a vital component in staying alive.
With the onset of her mutation, Rogue not only loses this essential part of her humanity, but gains an identity as an “other” and, even worse, an “other” that hurts people simply by trying to connect with them. She’s also in a situation where she has no one to guide her and tell her that it’s not her fault, that she cannot help who she is. In a single moment, she loses everything that brings one comfort: family, security, identity, physical connection, and the conviction that she’s a good person.
It’s not clear in the movie why Rogue runs away to the Canadian wilderness. The assumption can be made that she was kicked out of her home once her mutation was exposed, or maybe her parents didn’t know how to nurture and support a child so different from themselves, who is capable of something so dangerous.
I’ve worked with many children who are struggling with parts of themselves that they can’t control, in the form of mental health symptoms. In some cases, these children are the first real-life exposure their family has ever had to mental illness. This can lead to isolation of the child from the rest of the family, even when the parents have the best of intentions.
How do we support someone we don’t understand? How do we comfort someone we can’t touch? How can we be vulnerable with a child we’re also scared of? The first step as a parent is looking inward, being honest with themselves about these fears, and confronting them through the help of a therapist or a support group. The next step is learning to adapt and push through those fears.
A good, practical example is the exchange on the train between Wolverine and Rogue. She’s clearly in pain, running away again, and needing comfort. He chooses to give her comfort by holding her, using her clothing as a safe barrier. In that moment, he’s showing her she isn’t alone, that she’s not a monster, not too scary to be loved, and that she’s just like the other children on the train being physically comforted by their parents.
But in that moment he’s also pushing through his own fears. This girl almost killed him less than a day before by being physically close to him, and now he’s choosing to put himself in a similar position. He’s choosing to not hold her past behaviors against her, to support her unconditionally, and to recognize she’s also a victim of her uncontrollable mutation.
This unconditional positive regard has a significant impact on Rogue’s ability to believe that she’s a good person who can have hope for a better future.