The Green Lantern Corps is an intergalactic police force that is powered by the collective Will of all sentient beings. Their greatest weakness is Fear. In fact, they often pride themselves in lacking fear. When the Black Lanterns attack Green Lantern Hal Jordan’s hometown of Coast City during the Blackest Night, Hal’s brother tells his son to remember what Uncle Hal always says, to which his son replies with a mixture of worry and determination in his eyes, “No fear.”
No fear. It sounds nice, doesn’t it? Not having to experience the butterflies, the dread, the uncertainty, the unknown. But is a lack of fear really a good thing? Though we might not enjoy fear, it provides us with useful information. There are things in this world that we ought to be afraid of. If our fear is properly attuned, we can trust our gut to warn us away from potentially hazardous situations. As a psychologist, I don’t want to rob anyone of any emotions, particularly when they are working properly.
However, sometimes fear can turn on us. Fight, flight, or freeze can activate in situations that do not call for it. This autonomic response can be helpful when a car swerves into your lane, but it is counterproductive when speaking in public, an activity many people rank higher than death on their list of fears. Moreover, anxiety can reach the point of being a disorder, impacting everyday functioning for people and causing them significant amounts of distress. At that point, fear has hijacked the story instead of serving its role as one aspect of the story. Telling people to simply stop being afraid when this happens is a joke.
The Green Lanterns can help us understand how to handle both everyday and extreme anxiety. They are not chosen for their lack of fear. Instead, when the rings choose new wielders, they say, “You have the ability to overcome great fear.” The Green Lanterns use their Will to face their fears and keep going. As a boy, Hal Jordan watched his father die in a plane crash and has pushed himself to confront terrifying situation after terrifying situation (romantic relationships are the one major thing he avoids). John Stewart was in the U. S. Marine Corps and knows the fear of the battlefield, as well as the fear of fighting for civil rights as a child in Detroit. Simon Baz was profiled and wrongfully harassed as a terrorist after 9/11 due to his ethnicity. Guy Gardner is an ex-police officer who knows the fear of walking the beat and disappointing his family’s proud police tradition. Jessica Cruz was unable to leave her home after her friends were murdered in front of her. Kyle Rayner was chosen specifically because he knew fear intimately. All of the Green Lanterns have experienced fear and faced it with varying outcomes. Avoiding fear leads to maintaining fear. It’s a vicious cycle that can only be broken by facing that which we dread and finding that we can survive it.
I find Will to be an odd choice of word for the power behind the Green Lanterns. I would use determination, bravery, or courage instead. Sometimes people think that courage is the absence of fear. However, if fear is not present, there is no need for courage. The Green Lanterns use their courage to handle the fears they experience. This is what we do as mental health professionals: we help our clients to develop the skills to show courage in the face of their fears, which includes calling attention to and reinforcing the courage they are already showing (I am constantly impressed by the strength my clients demonstrate). As with the Green Lanterns, our clients’ courage will falter at times (as will ours), and it might appear in fits and starts at first. With the proper tools and practice, though, fear can become more manageable.
Fear in the Green Lantern Corps also becomes more manageable due to the presence of their partners and the corps as a whole. Courage becomes more feasible with others surrounding and supporting you. We can be part of this team for our clients, and we would do well to connect our clients with as many natural supports as possible. Sometimes it helps to have someone to walk through the scary places with. Sometimes it helps to know that someone else is scared, too (I often find that children are surprised to learn that their parents get scared and that this can be a powerful revelation). Sometimes it helps to know that others have survived something similarly scary.
The more courage strategies and resources that our clients can draw from, the better able they will be to overcome their great fears. At that point, fear will no longer be in the driver’s seat, but will be one of many emotions that help guide us through life.
What are your thoughts? What positives have you found in fear? What negatives? Do others’ stories of overcoming fear help you or your clients? What strategies and resources have you found to be most helpful as you champion bravery in yourself and your clients? Please share your thoughts below or on our Facebook page!