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Heroes have a very large pool of potential foes, and a fair number of them aren't even made of matter. Some are even a part of the hero, or somehow feeding off his fear, hatred or insecurity. So how exactly is a hero supposed to fight something he can't punch without empowering, or escape an enemy that lives inside him?
By saying, "I'm not afraid of you," or a variation.
The thing is, these villains are literally fueled by the hero, so to fight them requires either denying them the emotional energy they eat or dispelling them with a forceful affirmation. Yes, you read that right. This enemy can be talked to death. It's much more awesome than it sounds, really!
There are a few variations on this trope, depending on the nature of the villain:
- The Split Personality can be fought one of two ways. One can outright destroy it in a Battle in the Center of the Mind by recognizing it as a "foreign" presence, or deny that it's a separate part of the hero and assimilate it.
- The ghost in a Haunted House may be rendered powerless once the visitors agree it has no power over them. All their illusions and Cold Flames can no longer harm the heroes.
- The Heartless may just vanish entirely if the heroes stop feeding it with their hate, fear, or anger. This is especially the case when they face the Anthropomorphic Personification of the heroes' hate, fear, or anger.
- People trapped in a nightmare Lotus Eater Machine or Psychological Torment Zone can be freed by facing whatever personal trauma has them locked in the dream.
- A case of Gods Need Prayer Badly, where God is just a figment of their imagination, or made real by belief, and is holding back the hero from what he needs to do with silly (or oppressive) rules.
The imaginary villain may require a series of demotivators, like "The Reason You Suck" Speech or even just a Shut UP, Hannibal. Of course, the villain might end up coming back if the heroes think about him or lose faith in themselves.
Not Afraid of You Anymore is similar, but deals with an external threat or another person.
- This proved the ultimate undoing of the fear-feeding monkey/demon in Saga of the Swamp Thing, when one of the disturbed children it'd been leeching off finally got pissed enough to turn on the creature.
- Tyler Durden from Fight Club, sort of. In the movie version, the hero wills the gun into his own hand away from Tyler.
- How about Stephen King's IT? In the first half of the story, the Monster Clown disappears when the children prove they aren't afraid of him.
- The Trope Namer is James of James and the Giant Peach, where he faces down the rhinoceros that's been haunting him (It Makes Sense in Context).
- Played straight in the original Nightmare On Elm Street: "I take back all the power I gave you, Freddy!" Of course, since Freddy can resurrect just by someone who thinks about him, it was followed by a dozen sequels.
Debbie: "I don't believe in you!"
Freddy: "I believe in you." (breaks her arms)
- Likewise, the third film also suggests it's Freddy's belief that trumps this trope:
Freddy: "Sorry, kid. I don't believe in fairy tales. (kills D&D geek)
- Sarah's 'You Have No Power Over Me' revelation regarding Jareth in Labyrinth.
- Invoked word-for-word in Drop Dead Fred.
- In The Skeleton Key, the protagonist shouts "I don't believe!" while a hoodoo spell is being performed on her since she was earlier told that the spells would have no power unless she believed. It turns out that she really did believe since the antagonists had spent the whole movie ensuring she did so the spell would work.
- In the '80s horror-comedy House, once the protagonist recognizes and stands up to the Big Bad ghost, he becomes immune to the ghost's power and simply lifts his young son out of its grip. The trope title is invoked verbatim, with a capper of: "I beat you! And this stupid house!"
- This is screamed by a character going through drug withdrawal in Cornered, when he's surrounded by imaginary cockroaches.
- Kevin does this to the creepy basement furnace in Home Alone.
- Harry Potter: "Riddikulus!"
- By way of explanation, there is a monster called a boggart, which takes the form of your worst fear. If you use the 'riddikulus' spell, and imagine a way to make the thing funny (e.g. a spider on rollerblades) then it'll be weakened, as it's hurt by laughter.
- It's an ally rather than an enemy, but Dave discovers that the man who had been interviewing him is dead and his appearance just a result of Dave taking the sauce in John Dies at the End. However since the reason the damn things are there in the first place isn't logical (they are a product of the mind) they promptly disappear, because willing them out of existence isn't logical, either.
- Don't forget The Lord of the Rings, which has Smeagol tell Gollum to "Leave now, and never come back!"
- In Wheel of Time, this is the only way of fighting nightmares in Tel'Aran'Rhoid.
- Companions on the Road by Tanith Lee: Three mercenaries involved in sacking a castle are pursued by the vengeful spirits of people killed there. The ghosts invade their sleep and kill them in nightmares; but when the last remaining member of the group realizes that he pities the ghosts more than he fears them, they vanish.
- Done awesomely in the Discworld book Carpe Jugulum. "I know who you are. The Count just let you out to torment me, but I've always known. I know who you are now, Esmerelda Weatherwax. You don't scare me no more."
- In A Wizard of Earthsea, Sparrowhawk is liberated from the threat of the shadow creature by discovering its True Name. It's Ged (his own true name).
- In The Graveyard Book, the heroes briefly meet a tattooed ghost called "the Indigo Man." They realize he's just an illusion, and he disappears.
- Played with in RL Stine's Night Games Spencer turned out to be a dead person who needed to hate the protagonists in order to exist. The heroes talked him to death by hugging him and telling how much they loved him. This caused him not to be able to hate them, which destroyed him.
- An example in Angel involves a couple of ghosts. Cordelia is renting an apartment that is haunted, and the ghost of the resident mother is about to get her to commit suicide when she insults Cordelia. This triggers her self confidence, and she virtually exorcises the mother ghost by claiming the apartment as hers.
"I'm not a bitch. I'm the bitch."
- The episode "No Reason" from House would fit, though House eventually has to break out of his mind at the end.
- Star Trek: The Original Series had the episode "The Spectre of the Gun", the Five-Man Band of Kirk, Spock, Bones, Scotty and Chekov are transported to a world based on Tombstone, Arizona. All attempts to stop the fight at the OK Corral don't work, until Spock realizes that the guns aren't real. They are real only because the men expect them to be real and, because they know this, the bullets go right through them.
- Star Trek: Voyager played with this one a little. The aliens of the episode were being terrorized by a manifestation of fear from their Lotus Eater Machine that could actually read their mind, and actually kill them. Janeway ends up being the one to defeat it, since the aliens have been too traumatized to do it themselves.
- The Smallville episode "Slumber" had the dreams of Clark Kent and a girl named Sara Conroy interconnecting. In Sara's nightmares, she is terrorized by a monster. Clark tries to fight the monster, but it seems unstoppable. Clark figures it out and encourages Sara not to be afraid of the monster anymore. Once she does, it gets weakened and Clark destroys the monster with his heat vision.
- Silent Hill 2 treats Pyramid Head as manifestations of James' guilt over killing his wife, and since he has repressed the memory and not dealt with it, Pyramid Head is unbeatable throughout most of the game. By the penultimate boss battle, James had unblocked the memory, and was willing to face the consequences of that action, so for the first time the Pyramid Head has a health bar and can be killed.
- Mind you, even then the two Pyramid Heads you fight only kill themselves at the end of the fight.
- Often said by Bioshock 2 Multiplayer character Naledi Atkins upon seeing a Big Daddy.
- In Mass Effect 2, the Turian Councilor throws a mocking "Ah, yes, Reapers" (even throwing in finger quotes) at you when you try to convince the Council to help Shepard. Prevailing theory in the fandom suggests that, in Mass Effect 3, the Councilor will attempt this at the Reapers, with predictable results. Either that, or they'll get the chance to throw it back in his face.
- In Persona 4, every Persona-user (save the protagonist) must defeat their "shadow" in order to awaken their powers-- by accepting that their shadow is a part of them. Noteworthy in that the shadows actually are the Persona-users' repressed desires and emotions, which is why denying them makes them even more powerful.
- Monica's inner demons get this treatment in Wapsi Square.
- Of the Devil himself, just before crushing him with a JCB.
- The Real Ghostbusters gets into this with the Boogieman. When a pair of children hire the boys to deal with this frightening apparition, the lads initially fail, but they remind the kids that if they're not afraid, then the Boogieman -- who feeds off fear -- can't actually hurt them. The kids later come to their rescue, putting that advice to good use by laughing at the Boogieman, and providing enough of a distraction for the boys to pull off that week's phlebotinum overload.
- Although, the phrase, "if you're not afraid, it can't hurt you" seems to be a team catchphrase, as it turns up again in later episodes, notably in The Halloween Door.
- Subverted in Futurama, when Bender asserts that the attacking Bad Santa can't hurt them if ignored, only to be promptly harmed.
- Samurai Jack: Jack is in the woods, angry at everything that has happened lately. Aku uses this anger to create a duplicate of himself that he cannot conquer until he calms down, at which point Mad Jack ceases to exist.
- In the animated version of the Teen Titans, there is an episode where Beast Boy brings home a horror movie and, later that night, shadow monsters attack and the Titans start disappearing one by one. Raven repeatedly insists that she isn't afraid. Finally, she's the last Titan left, and the shadow monsters are dragging her to their leader ... "I'm not afraid. I'm not afraid. I'm ... I'm afraid. But that doesn't mean I can't fight back." It turns out the other Titans are fine, and the shadow monsters were created by her own suppressed fear reacting with her magic. Acknowledging her fear made them go away.
- Anastasia, from Fox's Anastasia, uses this line verbatim near the end of the movie, when Rasputin is attempting to drown her in the river. His response?
Rasputin: I can fix that!
- He doesn't.
- This isn't exactly verbal, but Pinkie Pie's "Giggle At the Ghostly" from the second episode of My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic qualifies. The creepy trees are made creepy only by magic from Nightmare Moon, and when the ponies laugh at the scary faces rather than scream, they lose their purpose and vanish.