(62) OMG, It’s the Incredible Hulk: Relating to the Veteran with PTSD

Molly, the service dog

Golly, Miss Molly

A blog about a service dog and her veteran with PTSD

(Supporting the veteran and the family caregiver)


An Alien Invasion

Blocking the sun, alien worms crash through skyscrapers. Menacing robots crush cars, tanks, and people. Captain America, The Black Widow, Ironman, and Hawk strategize during the heat of battle.

“We need Banner. Where’s Dr. Banner?” Ironman engages his jets, rushing to ground zero.

Dr. Banner rides up on a motor scooter. He drops the bike and faces the enemy.

Captain America shouts orders to his fellow superheroes. “Dr. Banner, now might be a good time to get angry.”

“That’s my secret, Captain. I’m always angry.” Banner no more, the Incredible Hulk appears and bashes the alien worm face on, sending it into oblivion.

I am not much for television but my husband loves to watch any movie with superheroes, military conflict, or zombies. I popped into his den while he watched the Avengers. Dr. Banner’s debut surfaced just as I handed William his dinner. Watching the mild-mannered Dr. Banner turn into a remarkably buff but ill-mannered action hero, I said to my husband, “He reminds me of you.”

Clearly, Dr. Banner suffers from PTSD. Anger lies beneath the surface and erupts when provoked. It does not take much to trigger a Hulk episode. Under stress, the 5’9 ½”, 128-pound Banner turns into a 1,000 pound, 7’ savage Hulk. His physical strength and Hulk-size grows with the intensity of his anger.

Real Life PTSD

In our early years of marriage before treatment for his PTSD, I felt threatened when my husband became angry—not because he ever tried to hurt me but because he is 6’ 4” and outweighs me by 100 pounds; PTSD scared me. I never knew when his anger would erupt. When it did, my mild-mannered sweetheart became a Hulk. His stance, voice, tone, and actions sent me running for cover.

Still struggling with anger that rests uncomfortably beneath the surface, his Hulk-size no longer scares me, as I know that his Dr. Banner consciousness remains in control despite how it may seem to others.

A Spouse’s Fear of PTSD

Female spouses of younger veterans with PTSD, share with me their fear of what a PTSD episode may bring. Those with children in the home share their concerns for their children’s safety. When compounded with a traumatic brain injury (TBI) or a debilitating physical injury, the frequency and intensity of episodes may transform the veteran into a supersized Hulk in the eyes of the spouse and children.

While I am not a Marvel comic fan, I recall that Dr. Banner does not remember his Hulk episodes. My veteran also suffers a memory lapse after a PTSD episode. He believes it amounted to nothing or does not recall what happened during his attack. Consequently, I feel he dismisses my fears as exaggerated or that he is so out of control that he does not even know how frightening he is. For the young wife, this memory lapse or denial makes the episode more frightening and the veteran more unpredictable.

I am dangerously close to practicing psychology without a license so I best stop here. The point is that what may seem a normal or natural reaction to the veteran is perceived as frightening to the spouse—especially a female spouse. Perhaps by understanding this dual perception, couples may try to work through the problems they face when the veteran suffers from war-related disabilities, including PTSD.

Always my Hero

My last thought about the Incredible Hulk is that he is a hero—much like our own veterans. He defeats the enemy and never harms an innocent in his rage. May it be so with your veteran.

Post your Comments: 

What is the most endearing quality of your veteran or spouse? Please comment below.  

About the blogger 

Dr. Penelope “Penny” Culbreth-Graft is a retired city manager and graduate professor. She lives with her disabled Vietnam Veteran husband, William, and his service dog, Molly, on Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado. She writes, paints, cares for her husband, and spends time with her grandchildren.

One thought on “(62) OMG, It’s the Incredible Hulk: Relating to the Veteran with PTSD

  1. krista

    Wow, just today I had an epiphany that the Hulk has PTSD. I am not much of a superhero buff or movie-goer but you know the hulk is iconic! I looked up: Hulk + PTSD and found your great piece. Thanks for the writing. Big appreciation for this! I am a daughter of a Marine who served in Viet Nam. I LOVE veteran humor bc it reminds me of my Father <3. Also I work with combat veterans now with an amazing program to ease PTSD and help with moral injury. Please check it out and let me know what you think.
    http://www.warriorconnection.org

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