Book Review

Games for Mastering Fear
How to Play the Game of Life with a Calm Confidence
Reviewed By
Judith Pearson, Ph.D.

Who has not been overwhelmed by irrational fear, at least once? Fear is a common human experience that ranges from mild discomfort to heart-pounding anxiety.

We certainly have enough to whet our fears. When I read the daily headlines about murder and mayhem, terrorism and crime, death and disease, I wonder how any of us manage to leave our homes!  We could not function if we allowed ourselves to dwell on all the terrifying “what if…”s.   Somehow, we usually seem to cope, and confine those fears to the periphery of consciousness, unattended and ignored.

But what about those of us who succumb to fear? The flight-or-flight response is a primary survival mechanism that all of us have put to use at one time or another.  Sometimes, when the danger has passed, the fear does not go away. We have a tendency to “over-learn” when it comes to danger---“once burned, twice shy.”  It seems to be hard-wired into our brains that we continue to reference fear-producing events and generalize our fears to similar situations, anticipating new dangers. Many people, imprisoned by such ongoing fear, limit their activities, become ever-vigilant or apprehensive, and avoid what they consider as fear-producing stimuli. 

Games for Mastering Fear, by Dr. L. Michael Hall and Dr. Bob Bodenhamer, is for those who want to break free of the bonds of unwarranted fear.  To master a debilitating fear is, undoubtedly, a life-changing experience! Hall and Bodenhamer combine NLP and Neuro-Semantics (NS) to show their readers how to reduce or even eliminate unproductive fears such as dread, panic, phobia, and anxiety, replacing those emotions with self-assurance, courage, and congruent resourcefulness. If your fears are holding you back, liberate yourself with this book!


Emotions are emotions, but they don’t tell you what to do. They only tell you the difference between how you have mapped the way things should go and your experience of how things actually go.” (p. 4)

Games for Mastering Fear is one of the latest books in Michael Hall’s Frame Games series.  These books take the position that our emotional difficulties are caused by the ways we mentally “frame” events, experiences, and evidence.  Emotions are the products of the associations, meanings, beliefs, and understandings that we attach to what happens around us.  Fear Games are the strategies that we employ to put ourselves into states of fear. To master fear is not to banish it, but to welcome it and transform it into personal confidence.  The program in this book is a structured, painless approach to alleviating fears and replacing them with confidence, faith, and personal empowerment.  The content has four parts: 1) Figuring out the Fear Game, 2) The Frame Game Model, 3) Foundational Resource Games, and 4) Games for Fear Mastery.

Part 1: Figuring out the Fear Game

“The power of Fear Games lies in how they sneak up on us and sucker us into playing.  They depend upon deception, misinformation, and false hopes….They pull us into them in ways outside of our awareness.  They promise to make our lives better, give us peace of mind, to make conflicts and distresses go away, but all of that’s a lie.  They only make the conflicts worse.”  (p. 22)

Emotions—their type and intensity—are created by the “coding” or structuring of internal representations. These representations are like movies that we play in our minds. We can play the movies so that they are bright and close-up, or dim and distant. We can be the actors, the audience, and the narrator/commentator.  We can play movies of the past or of the anticipated future. Sometimes, it seems we have no control over those movies and they become terrifying.

NLP and NS provide the means to managing those movies. The mind and body are connected by neurology.  Internal representations trigger emotions and sensations—the kinesthetic elements of experience.  When we learn to take charge of our internal representations and the thoughts that accompany them, then the emotions change, and the fear goes away. 

The structure of fear is this: We play scary movies and then step into those movies, reliving the horror. We turn up the fear by making the movies vivid, and telling ourselves how awful and disastrous they are. Then we dislike the feelings, and we try to reject them, avoid them, hate them, and feel ashamed of or embarrassed by them.  Paradoxically, the more we focus on the getting rid of the fear, and insisting that we shouldn’t be afraid, the more fear we have.

Once we know how to scare ourselves sufficiently, we become experts at fearing our fears, and perceiving danger where it doesn’t exist, flying into panic at any number of triggers, and avoiding those things that might trigger fear. Conversely, some people go on the offensive, turning fear into aggression, against perceived threats.  Either way, we turn our psychic energies against ourselves.

Humans are neurologically wired for flight or fight; fear or anger.  These automatic mind-body responses, the General Arousal Syndrome, contribute to our survival in life-threatening situations. Amazingly, they can also be triggered by thoughts of fear-provoking circumstances.

In fear, we move away from threat.  In anger we move against it.  Whether we have fear or anger depends on what we believe about the danger and about our capacity to deal with it. Either response can be healthy or unhealthy, empowering or disempowering. 

Most fears are learned through pain and/or punishment.  Acquiring a healthy dose of fear is part of our socialization process.  Those who have no fear of consequences or punishment are, in fact, antisocial or criminals.  The solution to fear is not fearlessness, but insight about when and where fear is appropriate. 

Part 2:  The Frame Game Model

The Frame Game Model is a cognitive approach to solving emotional dilemmas.  The essential elements are:

We create fear frames by references to frightening events—those we have directly encountered, and even those we hear about, witness, or imagine.  These “frames of reference” guide our responses to the world around us.  If we choose to mentally live through horrifying events in a fully associated way, and tell ourselves terrifying things such as “I’m going to die!” then we are playing the fear game to the hilt.  As the adrenalin flushes into the bloodstream, the fear strategy is complete.  We can make things even worse by telling ourselves that fear itself is unbearable, life-threatening, etc.

Our frames shape our strategies into self-organizing systems that operate instantly, reliably, and automatically.  Fear frames “attract” (i.e., call our attention to) events and stimuli that validate our fears.  “See, I knew it! This really is dangerous, and I really am going to die!”

We can “quality control” our frames and games by evaluating their usefulness.  Hall and Bodenhamer provide detailed methods for analyzing games and discovering the underlying rules, frames, pay-offs, and structure. If we choose, we can discard those games that do not serve us.  We can play Quality Games and maintain Frames of Excellence. Want to play a new game?  You can! Here are the steps:

  1. Name the game you want to play.

  2. Experiment with the new frames that would have to exist to support the new game.  What would you have to believe? What do you want to believe?

  3. Attach importance to playing this new game. Know why playing it will enhance your life.

  4. Play the new game and have fun with it.  Discover the rules that make it work. 

  5. As you get better at the game, take it into increasingly challenging situations.

Part 3: Foundational Resource Games

Some basic “resource” games are sure-fire antidotes to primary fear.  The Relaxation Game is the secret to managing stress. The Humor Game creates new frames.

The authors teach you how to say a resounding “NO!” to Fear Games and an emphatic “YES” to Quality Games.

Use the NLP Swish Pattern to dispel fear through visualization.  Simply create a vivid image of “The Me for whom this situation is no problem.” Then associate into the image and feel the calm courage.  Now apply that pattern to every circumstance where you have had fear!

Part 4: Games for Mastering Fear

The authors describe a number of “games” (NLP patterns) for transforming fear into resourceful states. NLP practitioners will easily recognize them as V-K Dissociation, Anchoring, Pattern Interrupts, Submodality (Meta-Detail) Changes, Time Lining, and Change Personal History.

Consider the authors’ assertion that the DSM-V Anxiety Disorder simply describes various Fear Games that can be learned and unlearned.  The problem in using the diagnostic categories occurs when people identify with their diagnoses.  There is a big difference between “I play the Phobia Game,” and “I am a phobic.” We are not our games and to believe otherwise is disempowering.

Fear gets complicated when we fear our fears.  These meta-fears tell us that fear itself is wrong.  We become fearful of self—our ideas, our fallibility, our emotions, etc. This kind of fear is not a primary fear of something external; it is a fear about what something means. Hall and Bodenhamer offer several remedies, such as reframing, advanced Swish Patterns, the Miracle Question, mapping across states, and variations on time-lining.

You might enjoy learning about and using the “Drop Down Through” meta-stating pattern:

  1. On the timeline, look into the past and identify a significant emotional event that is the basis of a current-day fear. 

  2. Identify and preserve the positive learnings.

  3. Drop down through the fear and find the emotion behind the fear. 

  4. Repeat the dropping down and through process until there is nothing—a void. Then drop down through the void until there are positive emotions. 

  5. Reinforce and solidify the positive emotions.

  6. Bring the positive emotions (resources) back on the time line to the present. 

  7. Test the change and mentally rehearse having it in the future.

For those who like Sleight of Mouth Patterns and the Meta Model, the later chapters in the book are a delight. These chapters examine the role that language itself can have in influencing neurology to exacerbate or alleviate deep-seated fears. Our internal representations are not only movies—they are our narratives about emotions and circumstances, and what they mean and what we anticipate. 

Without realizing the neuro-linguistic power in…words, people drug themselves with anti-anxiety pills while they keep turning up the fear by the way they talk.  Without an appreciation of how much language governs human consciousness, they fall into delusions and think that their fears are functions of external events, situations, and people.” (p. 255)

Our words shape our lives so much more than most of us realize. Language is what drives our games. At the advanced levels of Fear Games, we can freak out over mere words and concepts, just as though they are guns pointed at our heads. Some people even have Word Phobias or “semantic reactions,” in which they confuse words with actual experience. When fears are deeply rooted in symbols and abstractions, they operate within layer upon layer of rules, presuppositions, meanings, and complex equivalents that form a dense network of neurological structures. 

Improper use of language can lead to all kinds of toxic games, such as the Blame Game and the Victim Game. Fear Games put us into double binds and shape our prohibitions and inhibitions.  Just as we can drop down and through emotional states, and just as we can find frames within frames, we can use the Meta Model to inquire about the deeper structures, information, presuppositions, and meanings of words. We can find the “code” so to speak and discover where it is faulty (where it has deletions, distortions, modal operators, and generalizations).

The first step in changing the code of fear is to disrupt it in some way by calling it into question, dissecting it, dismantling it, and bringing in alternative meanings.  Then we can begin to operate our minds and internal dialog “from an executive level of meta-mindfulness.” To bring this about, the authors offer the “I Could Have Had a Moment of Consciousness” Game. Here, in brief, are the steps:

  1. Learn that the map is not the territory; that words are only symbols and abstractions, and that language is inherently inadequate and flawed for describing reality.

  2.  Objectively examine your thinking, feelings, actions and language and take responsibility for them. 

  3. Practice conscious mindfulness and learn how to control your internal movies and frames.

  4. Set standards for the quality of your mind, and set well-formed outcomes. 

  5. Practice accessing your resources and framing resourcefully.

Oh, that we could all manage our minds so efficiently!  In doing so, we can meet Hall and Bodenhamer’s challenge that we trade our fears for courage, optimism, hope, and inspiration. 

The Authors

Dr. L. Michael Hall is a prolific writer, psychologist and Master Practitioner/Trainer of NLP.  He has written and published more than two dozen books on NLP, as well as hundreds of articles in international NLP journals.  He holds a doctorate in Cognitive-Behavioral Psychology with an emphasis in psycho-linguistics.  In 1994, Michael developed the Meta-States model, which eventually became the foundation for Frame Games.

Dr. Bob Bodenhamer trained in the ministry and has worked for many years as a pastor.  He began NLP training in 1990, receiving Master Practitioner and Trainer certifications.  He teaches NLP at Gaston College in North Carolina .  Since 1996, he has written and published a number of books with Dr. Hall, as well as other authors, on NLP and Ericksonian Hypnosis.  He has published several articles in Anchor Point.

Hall and Bodenhamer co-developed Neuro-Semantics, a field model using the three meta-domains of NLP.  They founded The Society of Neuro-Semantics in the 1990s, from which they continue to conduct workshops and training programs for self-improvement and for helping people maximize their resources and potentials.  The workshops cover health, wealth, interpersonal communication skills, personal power, and related subjects. Together, Hall and Bodenhamer have significantly advanced the popularity of NLP and expanded upon an understanding of its theoretical underpinnings.    


In Games for Mastering Fear, Hall and Bodenhamer address a prevalent mental health issue: phobia, fear, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress. I once heard a statistic that 80% of the people in the world, at one time or another, have witnessed at least one event that was frightening enough to produce continued anxiety in the aftermath.  Leading psychiatric experts are warning that, in the year following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 , we will see increasing numbers of people with anxiety disorders in the U.S. It is certain that with the violence we hear about every day, and the military conflicts and operations taking place around the world, more and more people will be affected by seemingly unmanageable fears.

It behooves every NLP practitioner who works in a clinical setting to know as much as possible about teaching clients how to master fear and anxiety.  Games for Mastering Fear is chuck-full of NLP methods for replacing fear with calmness, objectivity and confidence. It is a well-written book, in Hall and Bodenhamer’s usual breezy, playful, optimistic style.  If you like the Frame Games approach, and especially if you work with clients in overcoming their fears, this is one book you will want to read and keep around as a reference.

That said, a reminder is in order.  This book invites readers to be completely rational about their irrational, and at times, overwhelming fears. Games for Mastering Fear is a self-help book for the non-NLP practitioner.  It is a highly readable, useful book based on proven methods, especially useful for managing those circumstances that one finds intimidating or daunting.  In some cases, reading a book may not be enough.

In my estimation, there are many people who, when dealing with the severe anxiety and loss that accompany trauma, can benefit from the services of a skilled mental health professional.  Some people may feel the need to tell their story to an empathetic, nurturing, respectful listener who can acknowledge the horror, loss and suffering, as a necessary first step in moving beyond the fear and anxiety. A clinician can also offer much-needed assistance to clients who cannot maintain objectivity about their fears, and who lapse into abreaction.  The authors would perform a service to their lay readers by reminding them that the services of a professional NLP practitioner may help greatly in their recovery from toxic, frightening events, and in applying the teachings and methods in this fine book. 

Judith E. Pearson, Ph.D. is a Judith E. Pearson, Ph.D. is a Licensed Professional Counselor in solo practice in Springfield, VA. She is a Certified Trainer of NLP and a freelance writer. 

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