In psychology, a syndrome is defined as a mental condition characterized by presenting a set of symptoms, these are experienced within a period of time characterized by their frequency. Until now, it has been possible to identify a wide list of types of complexes that have different causes or etiologies. They can be classified as diseases or psychological pathologies even when they have not been formally recognized.

There is a wide variety of complexes that have their own characteristics that describe particular behaviors . To name or recognize them, these same references are taken into account. For example, some complexes are assigned names alluding to important historical figures or even taken from mythology; only if they can fit your description. This is the case with the Achilles complex, also known as the “hero” complex.

What is the Achilles complex?

The Achilles complex is a type of psychological complex that is also considered one of the most common today. But it is also one of the most difficult to diagnose because it can easily be confused with an attitude of complete security typical of the superiority complex. It is usually associated with people who have high self-esteem, they consider themselves in a position of superiority compared to others.

People who suffer from this complex feel that they do not have any type of weakness, they believe they are capable of taking any type of action or decision that is frequently classified as impossible. This is a remarkable complex because it makes people believe they have greater strength and will, their personality is molded in such a way that they even feel like they are winners or “superheroes.” 

It is precisely also known by the nickname of the superhero complex. In appearance these people show excessive self-confidence, but in reality they try to hide their weaknesses and fears. It is difficult to get them to admit these characteristics of themselves to show themselves as “perfect” beings, they try to assume the role in charge of any situation

What is the origin of its name?

The origin of this name is associated with the Greek mythological character called Achilles. The story tells that he was the son of Peleus and the goddess Tethys, so being a demi-god there was the fear that he could be vulnerable. It is considered one of the most important warriors of the Iliad, the most recognized work of Homer.

He was characterized by his courage and speed, it was believed that his body was invulnerable and immortal due to the ritual performed by his mother at birth; submerging it in the river. However, by holding it by the heel, it would allow this part of the body to become its main vulnerability .

Achilles is described as a character with a heroic attitude which he tries to hide, sometimes he is impatient when he cannot be part of the action. But behind this mask hides a weakness that is ignored , he himself is not aware of it.

This story is associated with this type of complex precisely because of the characteristics displayed by its protagonist. That is, it describes people who are not aware of their own real weaknesses or capabilities . Consequently, they act in a way that they believe they are invincible or capable of taking whatever action they propose. However, until someone is able to discover the weak point is when they will realize it and begin to suffer the consequences by not being more cautious.

In fact there is a popular saying or expression which says “” our Achilles heel “. This is applied in reference to what represents the weak point of each person. Considering that we are all different, there is a wide variability of qualities or abilities that can be classified as negative. These same can be the cause of limitations or errors that people with Achilles complex are not prepared to face.

What are their characteristics?

Like other types of complexes, in this case it is observed that the person shows himself ignoring certain aspects which he even tries to overshadow. They are usually associated with men who present themselves as husbands, boyfriends, children, workers and members of congregations; possessing multiple virtues. They do not accept that they have some weaknesses or disabilities that they will not be able to cope with.

Some consider that it is comparable to the superiority complex, precisely because they are people who feel superior to others in terms of their abilities. They tend to be not very tolerant of the physical or mental limitations of others, they have difficulty showing empathy in the face of the fears and vulnerability of the people around them.

They really hide embarrassments, fears, insecurities, concerns, and flaws. In some cases they are aware of it, but in others they have not really realized it. By not objectively recognizing their real capabilities, they will always try to offer themselves to take actions and make decisions in which they should not intervene.

The main characteristics of this complex are described below:

  • They are people who appear to have great physical and mental strength. A great personality and security comparable to that of fictional superheroes.
  • They often describe themselves as successful and claim to be satisfied with their own life. Consequently, they will always try to magnify their triumphs even exaggerating them .
  • They will never accept and try to hide their weaknesses , it also takes into account those of human nature that they are not willing to admit.
  • They really hide their vulnerabilities for fear of being harmed, they don’t want other people to discover these features to use against them.
  • They always offer to take the leadership position in order to fulfill the role of “boss” or “savior.” That is, they will try to have the initiative in terms of actions and decisions that other people have not been able to carry out.

Practical examples 

Some practical examples that facilitate the identification of this complex in certain individuals are briefly described below . They are as follows:

  • They are people who always try to take the command or leadership position, especially in situations where it is not yet known with certainty which solution to apply or who formally occupies this role.
  • They never accept having made some kind of error , this is notably damaging in the workplace. They tend to be conflictive people in situations where it is necessary to face responsibility.
  • In the case of men, they show themselves as the perfect children, siblings, boyfriends, husbands, fathers and co-workers. They will try to conform to the ideal of “masculinity” from which they are guided to shape their personality and behavior.
  • In the case of women, they will also try to conform to the ideal of “femininity” from which they are guided. Therefore they want to be recognized as practically perfect daughters, sisters, girlfriends, wives, mothers, and human beings.

How is it identified? 

The way in which he identifies himself is by observing the behavior of these people. The first mention of this complex was made by the French-born writer Pierre Audiat. He described individuals who had the tendency to hide their weaknesses and powerlessness , instead preferring to show a personal image that on the surface could be classified as heroic, perfect and invulnerable.

Until now it has not been formally integrated into the group of psychological illnesses, however it is taken into account because a considerable percentage of individuals with these characteristics remains. They are people who really believe they are invincible and are not always aware of their defects, which makes them prone to act in an inappropriate or irresponsible way on certain occasions.

It is also important to mention that the intention of these people is usually positive, both on a personal level and also for the people who are trying to help. By intervening in situations where the support and involvement of experienced people is required, they will not always be able to show the results they had promised. Therefore, at a certain point they must realize and really accept what their real capabilities are .

What are your causes? 

There are no limits regarding the age and gender of the patients. There are also no elements that are decisive for the development of this mental condition. Some psychologists consider that one of its possible causes is found in the need for self-protection . That is, this “character” or “mask” is created as protection, its usefulness is to establish limits between themselves and the judgments of others that will affect them negatively.

It is also a complex that is developed by children whose parents are extremely perfectionists or strict with them. In this case, the need to adapt to these circumstances is observed, complying with these expectations of others so as not to be rejected. But they really do themselves harm, because they do not take into account their own needs and aspirations.

A similar case is suffered by individuals who belong to groups or societies where the role they occupy forces them to show this behavior . For this reason, its development is more common in individuals of the male gender, because it is generally considered that they are responsible for the home, the family and also for multiple high-ranking social positions.

How is it overcome and what are the most recommended treatments? 

The first step in overcoming this complex is to be aware and accept it. Patients with this condition tend to be more emotionally focused, which means that they are more vulnerable to developing this type of complex as a form of protection. It is important not to forget to recognize yourself, accepting both positive and negative aspects.

Taking into consideration that these are people who may have negative experiences, such as being forced to adopt certain responsibilities; it is important to learn to communicate needs and wants . The cause can also be found in feelings of guilt or being subject to third-party judgments that make them feel inferior.

It really is about people who feel insecure and uncomfortable, they want to avoid suffering rejection for not being able to meet expectations that may even be difficult to exceed. This can even affect your self-esteem, so you must be patient because not all complexes are overcome in the same way.

It is usual that professional help, therapists or psychologists with experience in this subject are required to guide the patient; so that he learns to enhance his virtues and accept his defects. Then a more realistic posture is maintained, which also promotes the development of a more positive attitude.

It is important to modify the pattern of thoughts with professional psychological help, usually using psychotherapy. This is the treatment that allows these changes to be achieved and provides the patient with all the necessary tools to help increase their self-esteem.

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Alexa Clark specializes in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. She has experience in listening and welcoming in Individual Therapy and Couples Therapy. It meets demands such as generalized anxiety, professional, love and family conflicts, stress, depression, sexual dysfunction, grief, and adolescents from 15 years of age. Over the years, She felt the need to conduct the psychotherapy sessions with subtlety since She understands that the psychologist acts as a facilitator of self-understanding and self-acceptance, valuing each person's respect, uniqueness, and acceptance.

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