Do you embrace your inner superhero?
Find out why this might just be the tool you have been looking for
‘Illiest’- “someone who habitually refers to themselves in the third person”
The last 5 months have been unprecedented and a time that none of us could have conjured up in our wildest imagination. For many the trepidation of September, the return to school, and the new “normal” have all been at the forefront of our minds.
Our planning and preparing has come down to the first 10 days of September, school uniforms to buy, pens to get and the hollow but also strangely welcome feeling of an empty home, after so many months of pulling together and getting along.
How do we cope with this new challenge?
Elliott Connie a psychotherapist, Solution Focused Brief therapist and teacher has a free webinar called ‘Heroic Conversations.’ He explains how the superhero, once unleashed on the world, in their hero costume, can solve any problem. By encouraging each of us to find our superhero we can then help ourselves.
“Evoke the inner superhero.” Elliott Connie
The persona of the ‘superhero costume’ gives the wearer an ‘I can do’ attitude and provides them with an inner strength and desire to find the solution, get through that tough meeting or make it through the day.
It allows them the courage and determination and acknowledgement that they are seen and valued. So, we can use this idea in two ways.
1 – we can use it ourselves to give us the added edge and courage to approach and cope with the changes going on around us.
2 – we can encourage those we care and love around us to find their own superhero inside and by doing so we let them know that we can see them
By recognising this for ourselves and of those around us, we are all empowered rather than feeling helpless or hopeless.
Now, I’m not suggesting we jump from buildings by a spider’s web or create havoc with laser eyes, that’s just for the film sets. But in real life we can get through a tough time by having that image or strength of our superhero in our head.
Third person persona
There was an article recently on the BBC Psychology page that explained how the likes of Beyoncé, and Adele have an alter ego and how this has helped them to cope with their, at times, crippling anxiety and nerves before performing on stage. They both came up with their own personas and would embody them before going on stage so that they felt confident, self-assured and in control. They used these personas until they found that they had grown into the role and recognised that they were confident in their own right.
In America, this use of the alter ego is called ‘The Jimmy’ from the Seinfeld character and I have included the YouTube link below so you can get a feel for it.
There are many celebrities and dignitaries who use this tool and it can often, in those circumstances, be because their ego is so inflated. However, it has also been shown to have a good effect on us mere mortals.
Research and studies on this third person persona
A Psychology professor from the University of Michigan called Ethan Kross has been studying the effect of distancing ourselves from our emotions and how we can then better regulate them. By talking to ourselves in the ‘third person’ “….we provide an emotional and psychological boost…” and I am sure you can think of a time when you have done this, without even being aware of what you were doing and all of the benefits.
Out driving - “I think I’m lost - come on Sue you can do this which road next?”
Out running - “Come on Sue you can do this, keep running, you are a runner now Sue, keep moving”
At the supermarket – “Right Sue what was on that list you left at home?”
You can see what I mean, and this is just everyday occurrences when I haven’t consciously empowered my superhero persona, or my “Jimmy” but it was still lurking there waiting to be tapped into and to help me.
Ethan Kross has carried out different experiments. His first was to see how two groups of adults would fair emotionally, group one were asked to build themselves up with “I” statements and the second group had to use the word “you” and then their own name. Both groups were asked to give an impromptu speech in public, so nerve wracking and a sure-fire way to build the participants anxiety. Group two were the “Jimmy Group” and the results were fantastic with them performing better, being less critical of themselves after the event and generally having a far more positive attitude.
Delving deeper into our brains
Kross went on to study at a deeper level to see what was happening in the brains of people who used either the “I” first person talk alongside those who were using the “you” third person self-talk. Using fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) he was able to see that when the candidates were using the “I” statements this set off negative self-reflection and processes whereas the “you” candidates established a positive and seemingly automatic response. He also surmised from this study that the third person self-talk was easier to implement for the candidates.
Empower yourself and utilise this tool of third-person self-talk
By making this third person self-talk one of your tools it can help you out of a stressful situation and provide you with greater clarity. This is because you are looking at a situation from a different perspective and in that moment, you are able to gain greater control and move away from the emotions that are governing you.
Rachel White, assistant professor of psychology at Hamilton College in New York State reinforces this positive side to thinking in the third person or empowering a superhero persona as it allows us that distance from the immediate problem and marshals our anxiety, builds on our perseverance and develops our self-control.
In another study by Ethan Kross, he got a group of individuals to think about a stressful situation that they had in the future. He then used the immersion, uses the “I” statement, and distance uses the “you” and name technique, to study the outcome. This is where, in the immersed situation you are, as it sounds, inside the situation, right at the epicentre and conversely the distance group where seeing it from afar much like “a fly on the wall”. Again, the results mirrored the previous studies in that those who were able to distance themselves in some way from the immediate situation were less anxious, more resilient, were more positive, and could find solutions on their own.
How can we master our anxiety?
By using some of these techniques and focusing on the bigger picture, we can make ourselves feel better and cope better. It helps us to reduce our anxiety, lower our stress levels and generally enables us to work through situations and come out with a positive end goal. Remember that Kross also found that it is easier for us to work from the third person, alter ego, or distance mode as we by-pass the cognitive workings of the brain and the positive effect is spontaneous.
You can use this technique of the third person talk or “the jimmy” in any situation that causes you anxiety or stress or where you feel that you need that boost. Whether it’s the kids going back into school, you venturing out into the world with the changes that Covid has brought or an exam, public event or meeting where you need to take control and lead from the front.
You can do it, choose your superhero persona, channel your inner diva or rock star learn to empower yourself and those around you, encourage your children, partner or friends, anyone you know who is struggling, show them this tool so they can unleash their superhero.