[the Prince returns to normal]
Dark Prince: What is this? You have no water! How did you-
Prince: You hold no power over me now. Begone! Retreat to whatever dark hole spawned you and do not trouble me again.
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 Faux 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.
As this trope is often about learning a villain's specific Kryptonite Factor, expect unmarked spoilers below.
- Bleach: Ichigo is left shaken after his fight with Ulquiorra as a result of how powerful his Inner Hollow has become and what it forced him to do to both Ulquiorra and Uryuu while he was being controlled by it. When he learns Final Getsuga Tenshou, Old Man Zangetsu merges with the Inner Hollow and tells Ichigo they are one being, and the Inner Hollow is the face of the despair he has been carrying since the fight with Ulquiorra. When Ichigo realises the true motivation of his inner spirits is to protect him, he gives up fighting and allows them to stab him. Surprised to experience no pain, Ichigo learns that his inner spirits cannot harm him because he's accepted them as a part of him, and thus obtains Final Getsuga Tenshou.
- In Naruto the titular character must defeat a manifestation of all of the dark emotions and hatred of the villagers he had repressed over years of isolation. Naruto eventually realizes the trick is not to beat his doppleganger in a battle but to accept all of the baggage he had tried to ignore. Only by taking it back could he deny it as an avenue of attack for the Kyuubi.
- One of the monsters in Hell Teacher Nube is powered by fear, and grows larger/stronger the more people fears it. It is only defeated after the victims overcome their fear.
- The whole point behind the song "I'm Not Gonna Panic," used in the dub of Yu-Gi-Oh!.
- In One Piece, Big Mom's Your Soul is Mine! ability works by affecting the intended victim's fear of death and the soul attachment to life. When Jimbei announces his intent to rebel against her and join the Straw Hat Pirates, she finds she can't take his soul as Jimbei sees no reason to fear a mere Emperor when his new captain will be the Pirate King.
- 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.
- Used in epic form by in the prologue for "The Life Eaters". An American captain, captured by Aesir-backed Nazis who are on course to Take Over the World, realises that while gods draw strength from followers and sacrifice, gods also draw strength fom their reputation. So he disrupts the ceremony sacrificing his team, breaking Odin's spear over his knee (destroying his leg in the process) and laughs at them when they try to resume the ceremony. He dies knowing he beat Odin. And Odin knows he died knowing it, and that the story will get out.
- A large part of the mane 5 dealing with their fears is loudly proclaiming some variant of this to the Nightmare creatures in the second story-arc of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic (IDW).
- This was the key to defeating Screamqueen, a villain who made fears real, in the Justice League Adventures comic (based on the animated series).
- Infinity Train: Seeker of Crocus: Chloe Cerise has to stare down an entire army of Mirage Pokémon that are going to kill her just because she mouthed off at Dr. Yung. When she finds herself unable to run away any longer, she has a Last Stand and states that she's no longer afraid. Did we meniton that she's about to be blown into smithereens by Mirage Mewtow when she says this?
- The My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic Abridged Series Scootertrix the Abridged has normally Lovable Coward Fluttershy,note face down a cockatrice, a creature that feeds on fear. Interestingly, this is at first played for laughs, with Fluttershy finding the cockatrice's bizarre appearance, more weird than scary. Then, played for drama, after it actually tries to attack her and the CMC, at which point Fluttershy stares it down yelling "I'm. Not. Scared." This causes the cockatrice to explode.
- In Shadows of Amn: Clight, Clight goes through a period when the essence of Bhaal within him keeps taunting him that he should turn into the Slayer, and he's afraid he's going to lose control and turn involuntarily. He finally makes it shut up by daring it to transform him against his will right there and then and demonstrating that it can't, because it's too much a part of him to go against his will.
- 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.
- In Rise of the Guardians, Jamie says this to Pitch Black. Cue him and the other kids turning his nightmares into golden sand.
- In Monsters, Inc., the reason any monster loses a workable door is once a child isn't afraid of them, the monster can't collect screams to power the city.
- Bromly of The Swan Princess delivers this exact line when he (erroneously) feels he has discovered the shapeshifting "Great Animal" that he'd been discussing with Derek. The creature in question was a small mouse. Bromly notched an arrow and cornered it against a tree before demanding that it change into its true form. The mouse squeaks loudly and Bromly runs away in terror....
- Firing Range is about a tank that can read minds, attacking when it senses fear or hostility, using the weak points that the enemy is worried about. However it is harmless to anyone who doesn't fear it.
- Tyler Durden from Fight Club, sort of. In the movie version, the hero realizes he was holding a gun and Tyler is him, and thus being able to control Tyler.
- How about Stephen King's It (1990)? In the first half of the story, the Monster Clown disappears when the children prove they aren't afraid of him.
- In the remake It (2017), Pennywise still needs his victims to fear him, and is far more vulnerable when they don't. He actually gets annoyed with Beverly because of this.
Beverly: I'm not afraid of you.
Pennywise: [sniffs for a moment before nodding disapprovingly] You will be.
[Pennywise's head splits open and reveals his deadlights]
- 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).
- A Nightmare on Elm Street:
Freddy: "Sorry, kid. I don't believe in fairy tales.'' (kills D&D geek)
- Subverted in the original A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984). At the end Nancy says to Freddy "I take back all the power I gave you, Freddy!" and that he's not even real, so she shouldn't be afraid of him. It seems like she defeated him, but he reappears not much later. Of course, since Freddy can resurrect just by someone who thinks about him, it was followed by a dozen sequels. However, in Dream Warriors, he does show that he hates her on a personal level, implying the trope had some effect on him.
- In the second movie, Lisa invokes the trope by name, though this alone doesn't do it. Ultimately, it's The Power of Love that expels Freddy from Jesse's body.
- The third film suggests it's actually Freddy's belief that trumps this trope:
Debbie: "I don't believe in you!"Freddy: "I believe in you." (breaks her arms)
- The Dream Master had this bit:
- The original scene was going to be parodied in an early version of Freddy vs. Jason. Kia repeats Nancy's lines almost word for word, and then turns her back... on Jason. As Freddy put it, right before Kia is killed, "Wrong one, bitch."
- 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.
- Peter Jackson's adaptation of The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers has Sméagol tell Gollum to "Leave now, and never come back!"
- In The Babadook, the titular monster is defeated when Amelia unleashes her maternal rage on it.
You are trespassing in MY HOUSE!!
- Haunted House movie The Uninvited eventually reveals that the ghost of Mary, thought to be benevolent, is actually an evil spirit trying to possess Stella and drive her to her death. After the truth is revealed, Rick sends the others away. He confronts the spirit of Mary, telling her that they're not afraid of her anymore and she has no power over them. Mary's ghost departs in defeat.
- Mowgli in The Jungle Book (2016) tells Shere Khan this during their final confrontation in the branches of a burning dead tree.
Mowgli: I'm not afraid of you! Do you hear me? I'm done running from you!
- In Harry Potter, 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. Numbers can bolster courage as well, and because it can only assume one form at a time, facing it as a group confuses it.
- 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.
- In The Wheel of Time, this is the only way of fighting nightmares in Tel'aran'rhiod.
- 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 you were there. I've fought you very day of my life, and you'll get no victory now. 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 R. L. 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.
- In Patricia A. McKillip's The Forgotten Beasts of Eld, Sybel summons The Rommalb, a creature which destroys all those who fear. She's simply too young and too powerful to understand fear though, so the encounter is harmless.
- In The Dresden Files we encounter phobophages, monsters who literally eat fear. As a correlative to this, none of their defenses or countermagic works against someone who isn't afraid of them.
- In Brandon Sanderson's Steelheart, this is the reason that the titular villain was invulnerable: he can only be hurt by someone who does not fear him. Unfortunately, thanks to his imposed Reign of Terror, the only person alive who fulfills that requirement is himself.
- In the children's picture book A Not Scary Story About Big Scary Things, the boy protagonist responds to a monster's repeated efforts to terrify him by saying that he's not afraid of it because it isn't real, which causes the monster to become smaller and smaller. The boy does take pity on the shrunk-to-kitten-size monster at the end, though, and says that he'll believe in it just enough that he can take it home as a pet.
- In Selqui's character chapter of Oracle of Tao, she talks in-depth about dinosaurs and how for years people have been making plaster casts of dinosaurs, and how she doesn't believe they are real. The dinosaur-like Jabberwock is defeated by a combination of this, and a Puff of Logic as the beast stands upright with a stoop, yet it long-necked like a hydra, forcing it to fall over when all necks extend. It quickly turns into dust.
- 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.
- In "Day of the Dove", an entity that feeds on hatred tries to trap the Enterprise crew and a Klingon crew into an eternal battle. When they figure this out, Kirk and Kang drive the entity away by making a truce and adopting a friendly jovial attitude.
- 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.
- A Journey to the Center of the Mind episode of Fringe has Olivia doing this to the imagined enemies in her psyche.
- One of the evolved humans in Heroes was a criminal named Knox who had the ability to feed off peoples' fear and use it to give himself superstrength. When he faces off against Nigh-Invulnerable cheerleader, Claire, Knox is unable to gain strength as Claire's extreme healing factor and tendency for getting injured leaves her virtually fearless towards most danger.
- Wonder Woman: In "Seance of Terror", seemingly unseen poltergeists destroy Diana's car, summon flames out of nowhere, and try to scare her with their haunting cries. This has the opposite effect.
Wonder Woman: Whatever you are, mortal or otherwise, I challenge you to show yourself!
- Subverted in Stranger Things: Bob Newby advises Will to do this in regard to his recurring flashbacks of the Upside Down and the monstrous entity he keeps seeing in them. Bob happens to be Locked Out of the Loop and as far as he knows the whole thing is just in Will's imagination, so he tries to help by suggesting a method that worked on his own childhood fear "Mister Baldo". Unfortunately this turns out to be very bad advice, as this particular monster is completely real and unhindered by hearing that its target isn't afraid.
- BIONICLE: One of the tests on the way to the Mask of Life is a room which brings your worst fear to life. When the Piraka entered, it created Irnakk, a mythical boogeyman from their home island. It rapidly incapacitates five of them, until only Zaktan is left, whom it promptly absorbs into its mind, with the knowledge that Zaktan is now only a thought, and will cease to exist if Irnakk chooses to think about anything else. Zaktan, with nothing left to lose, delives an epic Shut Up, Hannibal! that, by the end of it, has made the living embodiment of fear afraid of him. Irnakk promptly backs off and lets the Piraka through.
Zaktan: You think you know horror? Horror is looking into the eyes of the Shadowed One, knowing you are about to die ... and then being forced to live. Horror is waking each day to see every part of your body moving on its own, a shifting mass of Protodites where once was solid metal and living tissue. Horror is what is in the eyes of your partners when they look at you ... and in the cries of your enemies when your swarm engulfs them. Don't talk to me about fear, creature I am fear!
- 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.
- Often said by BioShock 2 Multiplayer character Naledi Atkins upon seeing a Big Daddy.
- 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. Persona 5 shows what happens when a person who isn't inherently decent says "I actually kind of LIKE you". It's not pretty.
- Come the ending of Dead Space 2, Isaac has overcome so much turmoil and conflict. Finally close to succeeding only to encounter more difficulties, his response to the returning demons in his head? He tells them to go fuck themselves.
Isaac: Goddamnit! I trusted you! Fuck you, and FUCK YOUR MARKER!
- Yandere Simulator has a non-verbal example in Budo Masuta, president of the Martial Arts Club. As it becomes clear that a serial killer is on the loose, the school atmosphere drops and the students begin to grow afraid and paranoid. Budo is the only student who lacks a "scared" animation, giving the impression that he isn't afraid of the serial killer.
- Prince of Persia: The Two Thrones has the Dark Prince, a manifestation of all the Prince's dark impulses, flaws, and ambitions brought forth by the Sands. He constantly eggs the Prince on to keep following the path of anger and revenge until the Prince realizes his mistake and turns his back on him. At the end of the game the Dark Prince returns to try and take control of their body; the only way the Prince can win their battle is to stop fighting and leave as their conflict is what kept the Dark Prince alive.
- In Paranoiac, Miki tries to defeat the monster by insisting its not real. Unfortunately, this occurs in the bad ending the monster keeps advancing upon Miki anyway and she is found dead the next morning. Acknowledging that the monster is real leads to the good ending, although that ending also reveals Miki is a schizophrenic
- In the indie game The Cat Lady, a godlike entity called the Queen of Maggots makes protagonist Susan Ashworth Kill 5 parasitic murderers after a suicide attempt, granting her immortality at the cost of someone dying in her place each time she endures a lethal injury. The last time that she must die, she acknowledges the Queen as the apotheosis of her depression while declaring herself the stronger one, rejects the final trade, and resurrects under her own power without sacrificing anything.
- Monica's inner demons get this treatment in Wapsi Square.
- Of the Devil himself, just before crushing him with a JCB.
- Disbelief's main weapon in Roommates is simply declaring "I don't believe in you." (he can also use "The Reason You Suck" Speech if he feels especially cruel). This is frighteningly effective against the cast as they are self-aware fictional beings. Yes, contrary to most examples here Disbelief is a villain and this trope perspective flipped looks uncomfortably close to Mind Rape (or worse).
- 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 The Halloween Door.
- Filmation's Ghostbusters also dabbles in this. The Knight of Terror restrains people and demands that they look at his face (which the audience can't see), usually with the desired result of intimidation. When one boy finally refuses, says the trope's name, and blows a raspberry, the knight collapses into a pile of apparently empty armor.
- Subverted in Hercules: The Animated Series, when Hercules boldly confronts a three-headed sea serpent, only to be nervous after seeing the monster up close.
Hercules: Enough! Leave now or prepare to fight to the finish! (All three heads look at him, Herc chuckles nervously) Did I say, "fight to the finish"? (Stammering) No, no, no. When I say finish (monster attacks, leaving Herc dazed) Too...many...heads.
- 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. He lasts long enough to try and bring his sword down on Jack before vanishing right before contact is made.
- Inverted in an episode of Teen Titans. 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.
- 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.
- The Legend of Korra
- Korra claimed to not be afraid of Amon in Book 1. However, after being ambushed by a group of Equalists, it becomes very clear she was just blustering and in fact is very frightened of Amon.
- She again adopts this attitude in the Spirit World in Book 2, while she's powerless, alone and confronted by a number of dark spirits. To the Avatar, the Spirit World is a Fisher Kingdom. When she's frightened, the already unbalanced spirits become darker and more hostile. When she calms down and approaches them kindly, they shift into friendlier versions.
- Korra tries the same trick against her dark side, which may or may not be a stress-induced hallucination in Book 4. It doesn't work; her dark side crushes her in a Curb-Stomp Battle. (Or she hallucinated the whole thing and fell unconscious in the swamp.)
- She later tries to pull this on previous Big Bad Zaheer in order to get over her PTSD from their final confrontation. It fails miserably.
- Star Wars: The Clone Wars: Yoda has one of these in his Lost Missions arc. He confronts a Dark Side apparition of himself which only becomes stronger the more he denies that the dark emotions it represents are part of him. Only by accepting that these emotions are part of him does the Jedi Master triumph.
- Star Wars Rebels: Ezra gets one when facing Vader.
Ezra: I don't fear you.
Vader: Then you will die braver than most.
- Penfold, the cowardly sidekick of Danger Mouse, is definitely not afraid of Baron Greenback's pet caterpillar Nero. At least until he discovers that in "Nero Power" that the little furball had developed telekinetic powers that he uses on the heroes.