I’ve written about social anxiety in Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope and Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back. Essentially the Dark Side is social anxiety, and the Force is mindfulness. Now the time has come to complete the trilogy with Part VI – Return of the Jedi.
I can’t do it, Artoo. I can’t go on alone.
With social anxiety we often feel alone, and it’s so overwhelming and difficult to overcome social anxiety, that it seems impossible. But it is not, and we don’t have to do it alone.
Yoda will always be with you.
Just as Luke had the ghosts of Obi-Wan and Yoda with him to guide him through the Force, we have others to help us overcome social anxiety. Even if you are too afraid to see a therapist in person, there are tons of other resources like books, audiobooks, podcasts, online programs, websites, Youtube videos, and more. In these, professionals teach us how to learn the Force (or rewire our brains through cognitive behavioral therapy and mindfulness meditation.) People who have overcome social anxiety reveal exactly how they did it.
Master Yoda, you can’t die.
Strong am I with the Force… but not that strong! Twilight is upon me and soon night must fall. That is the way of things… the way of the Force.
Even if you believe you have mastered the Force and conquered social anxiety, you will still feel it from time to time. I’ve come a long way in overcoming my social anxiety, but I wouldn’t call myself a Jedi master. Social anxiety is a normal feeling in life. We can never get it to go away completely, but we can learn to better manage those feelings when they arise.
But I need your help. I’ve come back to complete the training.
No more training do you require. Already know you that which you need.
I’ve listed lots of resources to help learn the Force, but learning only gets you so far. You can fully understand social anxiety intellectually and know how to overcome it in theory, but you will not actually overcome it until you take action.
Then I am a Jedi?
Ohhh. Not yet. One thing remains: Vader. You must confront Vader. Then, only then, a Jedi will you be. And confront him you will.
Darth Vader represents our ultimate fear. To overcome social anxiety, we must confront the situations that cause our social anxiety. If we gradually do the things that scare us, eventually we will no longer fear them.
Remember, a Jedi’s strength flows from the Force. But beware. Anger, fear, aggression. The dark side are they. Once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny.
If you have social anxiety, that doesn’t mean you are condemned to suffer from it forever. But social anxiety will not magically go away on its own. You can only defeat the Dark Side by using the Force. You won’t overcome social anxiety until you start taking action through CBT, meditation, exposure, etc.
Luke, you’re going to find that many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view.
Social anxiety comes largely from negative thoughts we have about ourselves and what others think about us. We are afraid to say and do things because we think people will judge us for what we do and say. But we don’t know what others will think. Luke thought Darth Vader was a monster, but he turned out to be his father. Which goes to show most of the negative thoughts in our heads are false.
Vader humbled you when first you met him, Luke… but that experience was part of your training. It taught you, among other things, the value of patience.
Overcoming social anxiety is not an overnight process. It takes time, and there will be hiccups along the way. You may feel like you’re making progress, then a situation arises where you feel social anxiety, and you’ll think you’re regressing. But that’s all a part of the journey. It’s long and difficult, but it is possible. Patience is key.
To be a Jedi, Luke, you must confront and then go beyond the dark side – the side your father couldn’t get past. Impatience is the easiest door – for you, like your father. Only, your father was seduced by what he found on the other side of the door, and you have held firm. You’re no longer so reckless now, Luke. You are strong and patient. And now, you must face Darth Vader again!
Patience is necessary in overcoming social anxiety, but so is perseverance. Setbacks are inevitable, especially when trying to face exposure. The first time we try to speak up or do something that scares us, it might not go so smoothly. But that’s not a reason to give up. Failure is the first step to success.
Your thoughts betray you, father. I feel the good in you…the conflict.
Social anxiety develops because our thoughts betray us. A lot of times we’re not even aware of the negative thoughts we are having. In a social situation, our mind starts racing with all kinds of possibilities for negative outcomes, which 1) makes it impossible for us to think of something to say, and 2) if we do manage to think of something, it makes us afraid to say it. The first step is becoming mindful and aware of these negative thoughts as we have them, so then we can learn to dismiss them as false.
You underestimate the power of the dark side. If you will not fight, then you will meet your destiny.
We underestimate the power of social anxiety in the respect that the longer we give in to it and fail to take action, the more severe it becomes. Avoiding all the social situations that scare us feels good in the moment, but before we know it, we’ve turned from Anakin Skywalker to Darth Vader, and social anxiety is dominating our entire galaxy.
However, we also underestimate the power of each small step we take in the opposite direction. When we start using the Force to overcome social anxiety, eventually the Dark Side can be defeated. Before we know it, Ewoks will be celebrating in Endor as they burn Darth Vader’s dead body.
May the Force be with you…always.