Overcome fear like a hero
By Dr Erlend Slettevold, Clinical Psychologist
In every hero’s journey there is a great challenge the hero has to overcome before they can return home. The challenge is often portrayed as something or someone that needs to be defeated, such as a dragon or a tyrannical king. At the start of their journey, the hero is typically unable to overcome such a challenge right away, which is why a journey through a series of smaller obstacles needs to be completed in preparation for it. These smaller obstacles are of gradually increasing difficulty and the hero has to overcome fear and anxiety while taking them on, leading them to gradually become braver while overcoming each one. By the time the hero has reached the dragon they are stronger and braver than before and ready to face the final challenge that needs to be overcome.
Overcoming fear can be like going on a hero’s journey of your own. You can think of the thing that you are afraid of, but you still want to overcome, as the dragon. Then you can think of other fear provoking scenarios as the obstacles the hero has to overcome during their journey. If you able to stay present with an obstacle that makes you feel anxious until the anxiety has disappeared, and then do this a few times, your fear of it will fade a little each time. Eventually you will feel ready to take on a new obstacle that is a little more difficult. For example, if you are afraid of cats, you may need to start with looking at a picture of a cat, stay with the anxiety it provokes until it fades, and repeat until you feel ready for something more challenging, such as looking at a cat from a distance. You can set up your own hero’s journey by completing three simple steps.
1. Write down the fear you want to overcome and several scenarios that would trigger this fear. For example, “I want to overcome my fear of cats so I can pet my neighbour’s cat. Scenarios where I would feel anxious about cats are: seeing a cat at a distance, seeing a picture of a cat, seeing a drawing of a cat, touching a cat, and standing close to a cat.”
2. Now arrange these in order with the fear you want to overcome as the final step. Following the cat example: (1) seeing a drawing of a cat, (2) seeing a picture of a cat, (3) seeing a cat at a distance, (4) standing close to a cat, (5) touching a cat, (6) petting my neighbour’s cat.
3. Start overcoming each of the obstacles in order. When starting one, you will notice that you feel increasingly anxious up to a certain point. Then your anxiety will start levelling out and eventually fade away. This can take anything from a few minutes to several hours. What is important is that you stay with it until it has faded away completely. Once you no longer fear one obstacle, you have overcome it and can move on to the next one, and then the next, and then the next, until you have completed your journey and overcome your fear; slain the dragon, so to speak.
Good luck on your hero’s journey!
If you want to know more about how to overcome fear and anxiety, check out Mark Papworth’s ‘How to Beat Fears and Phobias One Step at a Time: Using evidence-based low-intensity CBT’ or check out some YouTube videos about Graded Exposure.