Wolverine has always been one of the most fearsome and complex X-Men, especially since he doesn’t remember anything from his past. This leaves lots of openings in his history and personality to be filled. A new theory from a psychological expert suggests that not having those memories is what allowed Wolverine to become such a heroic figure.
A new article from Robin S. Rosenberg in Psychology Today suggests that Wolverine’s personality is derived from how he sees himself — meaning that joining a superhero team was the motivator he needed to actually become a superhero.
A great deal of Wolverine’s personality can be traced to his desire to learn more about his past. Stricken with amnesia from his time as a test subject of Weapon X, this lack of knowledge over who he really is ended up becoming an important part of the man that Logan became.
Thanks to his autobiographical amnesia, Logan learns more about himself much like the audience does — through his natural actions, impulses, and responses. This could be seen as a symptom of the Self-Perception Theory. In essence, the theory posits the idea that Wolverine became the way he is not just because of Weapon X’s brainwashing, but his own form of self-brainwashing.
The theory suggests that by observing your own chosen behavior, you’re able to infer your own psychological traits. Rosenberg illustrates the idea behind the concept by supposing someone was naturally drawn to bars. Even if they didn’t know exactly why that was, they could infer it’s because there are aspects of bars that have appealed to their personality — whether that means the atmosphere, the people, or the alcohol.
This can impact how someone acts and how they see themselves, which could explain why Wolverine acts the way he does. Even if he doesn’t have his memories, he can look at himself and see a tough, aggressive brawler with a temper. So, this perception almost becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy: Wolverine acts like the kind of person a tough, aggressive brawler with a temper would be.
Another aspect of the Self-Perception Theory is that by looking at the actions of those close to you, you can infer certain elements and traits about yourself. If a friend you admire and identify with is a good person, then you’re likely to apply those ideas to yourself and your own goals.
This Self-Perception Theory might explain why joining the X-Men had such a deep and impactful effect on Logan. While he initially bristled against many members of the team, he slowly started to identify with his allies like Storm, Nightcrawler and Colossus. As he saw them prove themselves to be heroic and brave, Logan became more overtly committed to the team and their well-intentioned goals as well.
Without any personal history to go back on and define his personality to himself, Logan has been forced to look elsewhere — such as the company he keeps — and come to conclusions about himself. It could explain the underlining reason why Wolverine wouldn’t have wanted to stay with the shady and bureaucratic Department H. It was a setting that promoted Wolverine being a casually brutal and disconnected fighter. It could also be why the character became increasingly heroic the longer he stayed with the X-Men.
Seeing his teammates as teachers and mentors might have also been a major reason why Logan began to embrace that version of himself, leading him to become a genuine guardian and teacher to a number of young X-Men like Shadowcat, Jubilee, Quentin Quire and more. Seeing the X-Men be good gave Wolverine something to strive for; if analyzed through the Self-Perception Theory, it could be argued that he earned that heroic change just in the act of trying to emulate his allies.
If the X-Men are capable of heroic deeds and Wolverine is an X-Man, then surely he is also capable of being a hero. It’s an interesting theory and one that gives Wolverine’s development into a good guy a surprisingly deep-seated but hopeful idealogy.
Psychology might explain why Wolverine is the way he is and how it might be tied to his self-perception, as well as why he joined the X-Men.