We know Batman has a deep and abiding fear of bats, but what does his phobia really mean, what is going on behind his fear and what can he do about it?
HuffPostUK hears from clinical psychologist Nick Grey, who explains the basis for such a phobia, and how Batman, and others, may relieve their fears...
It appears Batman is not alone in his phobia
About 10% of people will have a specific phobia at some time in their life.
There are a number of factors which influence the development of phobias. One is past traumatic experiences such as being bitten by a dog. Another is the fact that there seems to be some element of biological (evolutionary) preparedness to be more prone to develop phobias to some animals and situations than others. For objects or animals that are actually potentially dangerous you can become phobic by observing others around you showing fear related to them.
For example you can develop a phobia of dogs if a parent is always showing fear in a dog’s presence, whereas it would be harder to develop a phobia of, say, flowers even if a parent showed fear when flowers are around. You can see how in evolutionary terms this ‘preparedness’ to develop a phobia to certain things may be advantageous.
People can develop phobias to all sorts of animals – dogs, snakes, spiders, cockroaches etc.
Some people who describe having a phobia of something may in fact have unidentified Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). People with PTSD also very strongly avoid particular situations, objects, people and places – anything that may remind them of their initial traumatic experience. To have PTSD the person must have experienced or witnessed an event that they perceived as life-threatening to themselves or others.
The root of Batman's fear lies in his childhood trauma
I think that Bruce Wayne doesn’t only have a ‘phobia of bats’, but rather he has PTSD. In the film Batman Begins we see him fall down a well as a child. As the bats fly up above him this is clearly a terrifying experience for him. Later he attends the opera with his parents. As he is watching, there are stage performers dressed in black shimmying up and down ropes descending from the ceiling.
The vivid memory of being in the well comes into Bruce’s mind and he feels very upset. His father picks up on this and they all leave the theatre. This helps Bruce calm down. Unfortunately in the alleyway the family are then confronted by a man with a gun and in the altercation that follows both his parents are shot and killed. Bruce perceives that he caused the death of his parents by being afraid in the theatre – which was a flashback of his experience of falling into the well. In addition his father’s last words to the young Bruce are “Don’t be afraid”.
This is a strong and powerful message to receive, and something he tries to adhere to. Of course, in order to overcome phobias and PTSD it is necessary to recognise that feeling afraid is a normal part of being human, it’s not dangerous, and that we don’t have to avoid or suppress such feelings – something that Bruce continues to do.
The worst thing that people can do if they want to overcome their fear is to continue to avoid the things they are afraid of. Some of the key steps in overcoming fear are:
Recognising what it is you are actually afraid of. What is the very worst thing you think could happen? And what would be the worst thing about that for you personally?
Try to evaluate how realistic it is that such a thing could happen, and how bad it would be if it really did. Are you over-estimating how likely it would be? Are you basing your judgement on your feelings more than anything else? Are you over=estimating how bad it would be if this did happen? Are you under-estimating your ability to cope?
What first steps could you take to overcome your fear? How could you approach what you are afraid of? Who could help you with this?
Ultimately the only way to overcome your fears is to face them and see that your worst fears are not as bad as you think. While anxiety is horrible, it’s not dangerous.
For more information on Nick Grey please visit www.kcl.ac.uk/cadat and www.national.slam.nhs.uk/cadat
The Dark Knight Rises is in cinemas now.
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