The people we surround ourselves with—our circle of influence, if you will—really matter for our continued well-being. But what about individuals who help us aspire to improve and grow? Where does that influence come from, and why? Let’s explore why personal heroes are important for your recovery.
What a Hero Is—and Isn’t.
When we were children, our heroes might have worn capes, had invisible planes, and created new technology in a bat cave. Or they were champions of fairy tales, able to withstand everything from abandonment and abuse to wicked witches and treacherous monsters. As we advanced into our teen years, we learned about heroes in various myths and legends and the challenges they conquered.
But who are our heroes now? In an article for the magazine Grotto, writer Emily Mae Mentock says, “role models may teach you how to do something, but a hero is one who inspires you to do it. They turn your perspective beyond the ‘here and now’ and onto something much bigger than ourselves.”
Why Do We Need Heroes?
It’s easy to idolize celebrities and initially consider them heroes, but mental health experts agree that we actually need a more well-rounded and relatable view of our heroes in order to make a significant human connection. This includes their successes and flaws. Professors and psychologists Scott T. Allison and George R. Goethals at the University of Richmond co-authored numerous books on the subject, including Heroes: What They Do and Why We Need Them. Here are the top 10 reasons they say we need them (which we’ve provided verbatim):
- We’re born to have heroes. “Humans appear to be innately prepared for certain people and tasks, and we believe this may include encounters with heroes.”
- Heroes nurture us when we’re young. “All of us owe whatever success we’ve had in life to the people who were there for us when we were young, vulnerable, and developing.”
- Heroes save us when we’re in trouble. “This principle explains the powerful appeal of comic book superheroes.”
- Heroes pick us up when we’re down. “Our research has shown that it is during these phases of great personal challenge in our lives that heroes are most likely inspire us to overcome whatever adversity we’re facing.”
- “Heroes lift us up when we’re personally in danger of falling down emotionally, physically, or spiritually.”
- Heroes give us hope. “Heroes prove to us that no matter how much suffering there is in the world, there are supremely good people around whom we can count on to do the right thing, even when most other people are not.”
- Heroes validate our preferred moral worldview. “Just thinking about the fragility of life can lead us to need and to value heroes.”
- Heroes provide dramatic, entertaining stories. “Joseph Campbell suggests that we identify strongly with the hero story because it taps into an important part of our collective unconscious.”
- Heroes solve problems. “Our research has shown that people’s heroes are not just paragons of morality. They also show superb competencies directed toward the goal of solving society’s most vexing problems.”
- Heroes deliver justice. “Research has shown that we need to believe that we live in a just world where good things happen to good people and bad things happen to bad people.”
An Exercise: Define Who Your Personal Heroes Are
Gratefulness.org asked a similar question, and the answers it received might prompt you to single out one person, living or dead, or a whole host of individuals, who add to your motivation.
- One person said, “The beings I look up to are all beings who practice nonviolence, loving kindness, compassion, and peace. All of these beings also practice ethical conduct and hold the ethical conduct standards in the forefront.”
- Another mentioned her father, who was visually-impaired but ran a successful restaurant and had a heart of gold, never failing to help others.
- Another response came from someone who said, “My parents are my heroes, they have sacrificed far too much for their children, and I owe most of my success to them.”
- One gentleman said, “Three came forward, all men, all younger than I am. They share a common heroism: their vigilance in staying on their chosen paths come what may. Their callings were critically important to me at the time. They weren’t perfect, they had weaknesses and somehow these were always integrated seamlessly in their day-to-day life in a gentle, gracious way.”
- A woman named Pollyanna wrote, “I have many heroes who inspire me to become more fully human, but today I will cite all who are on an intentional road of redemption and recovery from whatever person, place, or thing is perceived as limiting.”
As you can see, there are no rules for defining your personal heroes. So:
- Take a moment in quiet contemplation, considering the positive influence of people you admire.
- Visualize how their qualities help you navigate the world.
- Write down a few notable quotes or actions from them and place them on a mirror for whenever you need an added boost.
Could the Hero Be You?
It shouldn’t be a surprise that by choosing to go into treatment and living a fulfilling sober life, you might be someone else’s hero. Talk about what this might mean in an upcoming Willingway community care group throughout the Southeast.