Social Anxiety and Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…

SA-RevengeSith
Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith is the final movie in the prequel trilogy, and what many thought would be the last Star Wars film ever. That was until George Lucas sold the franchise rights to Disney, and now we’re getting a Star Wars movie every year, probably forever.

When Revenge of the Sith first came out in 2005, I thought it was the best film of the prequel trilogy, though not as good as any of the original trilogy (or any of the new post-Lucas Star Wars films for that matter). Episode III included some great action set-pieces, space battles, and lightsaber duels, plus some of our favorite characters like Obi-Wan, Mace Windu, and Yoda. (Although I prefer the puppet version of Yoda over this CGI version.) The dialogue in the film isn’t very good, resulting in stiff acting performances and several cringe-worthy moments, but like the best Star Wars films, certain dialogue contains great wisdom, especially as it relates to the Force and the Dark Side. Which, if you’re new to this series, are ripe metaphors for mindfulness and anxiety.

Social Anxiety in Star Wars

Episode III: Revenge of the Sith

OBI-WAN

Wait a minute, how’d this happen! We’re smarter than this.

ANAKIN

Apparently not, Master. This is the oldest trap in the book…

Well… I was distracted.

You may think to yourself, Why am I suffering from anxiety? (Be it social or otherwise) I’m smart enough to know these aren’t rational fears. But 1) As I explained here, intelligence is correlated with anxiety. And 2) Anxiety often comes from a distracted mind. You start having anxious thoughts without even realizing it—and the thoughts continue coming with seemingly no way to stop them. But there is a way: the Force, aka mindfulness. Meditation is perhaps the best tool to improve mindfulness and train your mind to be less distracted. Just ask Yoda—he is actually shown meditating in the movie.

PADME

What’s bothering you?

ANAKIN

Nothing…

PADME

Anakin, how long is it going to take for us to be honest with each other?

A lot of people suffer from anxiety or depression in silence. When others ask if anything’s wrong, you say “no.” This may be because you’re afraid to admit there’s something wrong with you, for fear of what they might think. But that fear is itself just another manifestation of social anxiety. The first step in overcoming anxiety (or depression or any other mental issue) is being honest with yourself and others about your mental issue. They will likely be understanding and helpful.

YODA

Premonitions…premonitions… Hmmmm…these visions you have…

ANAKIN

They are of pain, suffering, death…

YODA

Careful you must be when sensing the future, Anakin. The fear of loss is a path to the dark side.

ANAKIN

I won’t let these visions come true, Master Yoda.

Most of anxiety is a premonition: your mind predicting a negative future. But the thing is, your mind is overprotective and programmed (by evolution) to focus more heavily on negative possibilities (to help your survival). But your mind’s premonitions are often wrong. Your predictions of what will happen (in the case of social anxiety, a friend rejecting you if you say something foolish) are often wrong. Our minds naturally imagine the worst case scenario, but the worst case rarely transpires.

YODA

Death is a natural part of life. Rejoice for those around you who transform into the Force. Mourn them, do not. Miss them, do not. Attachment leads to jealousy. The shadow of greed, that is.

ANAKIN

What must I do, Master Yoda?

YODA

Train yourself to let go of everything you fear to lose.

That final line by Yoda may be the wisest in the whole movie. So much of social anxiety comes from fear of losing things (friends, respect, status, reputation, etc.). So to avoid losing those things, you avoid saying anything at all. But you must risk losing friends in order to gain friends. Once you let your inhibitions go and are happy to be yourself whether people reject you or not, then, yes, some people will reject you, but others will accept you. Your goal should be to find those who accept you, not worry about those who don’t. Nobody can please everybody; so don’t try.

OBI-WAN

The Force grows dark, Anakin, and we are all affected by it. Be wary of your feelings.

Sometimes you hear the advice “always trust your feelings,” but that’s actually terrible advice. Anxiety, depression, anger, hate, fear, greed, lust, and envy are all feelings. These feelings come to us naturally, and sometimes they’re helpful, but we don’t want to always trust whatever feeling arises. We must use the Force. The practice of mindfulness aims to become more aware of your feelings and emotions then realize you don’t need to become consumed by them. If you feel fear or anger, you can learn to ignore those emotions in situations where they are not helpful. Meditation is a practice to become more mindful.

OBI-WAN

With all due respect, Master, is he not the Chosen One? Is he not to destroy the Sith and bring balance to the Force?

MACE WINDU

So the prophecy says.

YODA

A prophecy that misread could have been.

OBI-WAN

He will not let me down. He never has.

YODA

I hope right you are.

Listen to Yoda: “prophecies” can be misread, including our anxious thoughts about the future. So you should not assume every negative thought you have to be true.

PALPATINE

The Sith and the Jedi are similar in almost every way, including their quest for greater power. The difference between the two is the Sith are not afraid of the dark side of the Force. That is why they are more powerful.

ANAKIN

The Sith rely on their passion for their strength. They think inward, only about themselves.

I wouldn’t say social anxiety comes from only thinking about yourself. To the contrary, we are always thinking about others and what they may be thinking about us. But the truth is, others do not think about you as much as you presume they do. They’re too busy thinking about themselves.

YODA

A Master is needed, with more experience.

To learn the Force, an apprentice needs a Jedi Master. Likewise, to learn mindfulness, you may need a master—learn from those who have mastered the craft of mindfulness and meditation. That “master” may be someone in person (a psychologist or cognitive behavioral therapist), or the “master” could be the author of a book about mindfulness, meditation, and CBT, or the “master” may be found in apps like Headspace, or other guided meditations or CBT programs found online.

ANAKIN

Obi-Wan and the Council don’t trust me.

PADME

They trust you with their lives. Obi-Wan loves you as a son.

Often with social anxiety comes low self-esteem, which itself comes from warped perceptions of yourself and your relationships. You may feel like you have no friends or that no one cares about you, but that’s almost never the case. It’s easy to focus on the relationships you wish you had while failing to appreciate the relationships you already do have.

ANAKIN

Something’s happening. I’m not the Jedi I should be. I am one of the most powerful Jedi, but I’m not satisfied. I want more, and I know I shouldn’t.

PADME

You expect too much of yourself.

This dialogue is pretty bad—too on the nose—but still, Padme makes a good point. When you first start with meditation, CBT, or any other methods to overcome social anxiety (or any other issue) you might feel unsatisfied—that it’s not working or progressing as fast as you’d like. But be patient. It takes continued work. Anxiety is not something you ever extinguish completely (nor would you want to), but you can learn to manage and control it.

PALPATINE

Don’t you wonder why they won’t make you a Jedi Master?

ANAKIN

I wish I knew. More and more I get the feeling that I am being excluded from the Council. I know there are things about the Force that they are not telling me.

There’s a common belief (I used to have it) that there must be some secret to overcoming social anxiety (or whatever else you may be suffering from). Some pill or medication. It can’t simply be “mindfulness.” But it is. There is no secret quick-fix. “Mindfulness” may sound simple but it is difficult to master. Anybody can do it: Just start by meditating for ten minutes every day. If that’s too hard, do five minutes—or just one. Start small and with practice, mindfulness will become easier over time.

MACE WINDU

I sense a great deal of confusion in you, young Skywalker. There is much fear that clouds your judgment.

Fear really does cloud your judgment. When you feel social anxiety, you are unable to judge social situations accurately. For example, from a distance you can watch others acting anxious and awkward and think why are they doing and saying that? Just be normal. But when you are in a social situation yourself, you are overcome by fear and unable to act normal. The Force (mindfulness) helps remove the clouds from your mind so you can see reality more clearly and act normal* when you want to.

* Not that there is such a thing as “normal.” By normal, I simply mean being your true self, however that may be.

OBI-WAN

The flaw of power is arrogance.

ANAKIN

You hesitate—the flaw of compassion.

Another cause of social anxiety is being too compassionate, which doesn’t seem like it could possibly be a problem. How can compassion ever be a bad thing? Well, people with social anxiety may become so compassionate that they are afraid to offend anyone in any way. You never know what will or won’t offend somebody, so social anxiety leads you to say nothing at all. But it’s impossible to never offend anybody. Every time you open your mouth to speak (or write) you risk offending someone. It’s not that you want to be less compassionate, or purposely say things to offend people—that would be arrogance. There is a balance, however, where you can remain compassionate while not being afraid to speak your mind. Again, mindfulness is the key. (Use the Force.)

MACE WINDU

May the Force be with us all.

Indeed.

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