Social Anxiety and Star Wars: Attack of the Clones

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

SA-AttackClones

In honor of Star Wars Day 2017, let’s continue the saga of the Force versus the Dark Side. We found a new hope in Episode IV, the Empire struck back in Episode V, the Jedi returned in Episode VI, and a Phantom Menace rose in Episode I. Now we visit episode two of the prequel trilogy, Attack of the Clones. It is admittedly not a great film, although it does contain one of my favorite action scenes in the entire Star Wars series: the flying car chase through the Coruscant cityscape at night. It also contains some wise insights into the Force (mindfulness) and the Dark Side (social anxiety).

Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones [1999]

YODA

In dark times nothing is what it appears to be.

When we’re clouded by social anxiety, our thoughts about reality are not what they appear to be. Meaning many of the negative thoughts we have about ourselves and what others think of us are false.

ANAKIN

She didn’t even recognize me, Jar Jar. I thought about her every day since we parted… and she’s forgotten me completely.

JAR JAR

Shesa happy. Happier den mesa see-en her in longo time.

OBI-WAN

Anakin, you’re focusing on the negative again. Be mindful of your thoughts. She was glad to see us. Now lets check the security here.

ANAKIN

Yes, my master.

This was a clear example of the false perception of social interactions caused by social anxiety. Anakin misread Padme’s intentions as negative when in reality she was glad to see him. Social anxiety comes from believing others are thinking negatively about us. But we don’t know what they’re actually thinking. Often it’s positive, or at least neutral. And even if it is negative, so what? We shouldn’t put so much value on what others think about us. It’s impossible to be liked by everyone.

MACE WINDU

The prophecy is coming true, the Dark Side is growing.

YODA

And only those who have turned to the Dark Side can sense the possibilities of the future. Only going through the Dark Side can we see.

Social anxiety can come from spending too much time worrying about the future and all its negative possibilities. No one knows what the future may hold, so we shouldn’t assume the worst.

MACE WINDU

Do you think Obi-Wan’s apprentice will be able to bring balance to the Force?

YODA

Only if he chooses to follow his destiny.

You will only be able to overcome social anxiety if you try to. It’s not something that will go away on its own.

OBI-WAN

You look tired.

ANAKIN

I don’t sleep well, anymore.

I used to often suffer from insomnia because of social anxiety. I’d lay in bed at night with my mind racing, ruminating on the mistakes I made in social interactions that day and/or worrying about potential new mistakes I might make tomorrow. I had no idea how to quiet my mind…until I learned the Force. Since I started meditating daily, I’ve rarely ever had trouble falling asleep. I may still ruminate and worry, but now I can catch myself in the process then stop.

OBI-WAN

Mind your thoughts, Anakin, they betray you.

We must be mindful of our thoughts and realize that they are not always true. Many of the negative things we think about ourselves and/or attribute to others are simply not true. Believing those negative thoughts powers the Dark Side (or social anxiety).

YODA

Don’t think… feel… be as one with the Force. Help you, it will.

Being mindful is about thinking less and becoming present. It’s almost impossible to feel social anxiety if we are completely focused on the moment, truly listening to the other person, rather than thinking about what to say next or worrying about what they’re thinking about us.

YODA

Truly wonderful, the mind of a child is. Uncluttered.

Many people with social anxiety as teens or adults report that they didn’t suffer from social anxiety as a child. That’s probably because their minds were uncluttered then, not worrying as much about what others thought. Then again, I’ve felt social anxiety for as long as I can remember, so onset may vary.

PADMÉ

You could look into the glass and see the water. The way it ripples and moves. It looked so real… but it wasn’t.

ANAKIN

Sometimes, when you believe something to be real, it becomes real. Real enough, anyway…

PADMÉ

I used to think if you looked too deeply into glass, you would lose yourself.

ANAKIN

I think it’s true…

If we overthink and worry too much about the future, we start to believe that our negative thoughts and predictions are true. For example, if we’re talking to someone, we’ll think of something to say, but then elect not to say it because we assume they’ll think it’s stupid. But we’re simply looking too deeply into the glass. We don’t know what others will think.

ANAKIN

I’m sorry. When I’m around you, my mind is no longer my own.

PADMÉ

It’s the situation… the stress…

ANAKIN

…the view.

Social anxiety is often worse around those whom we have romantic feelings for because we care what they think of us more than anyone.

MACE WINDU

Probing the Dark Side is a dangerous process. He could be in seclusion for days…

Dwelling in social anxiety leads to avoidance and seclusion, which is dangerous because the Dark Side grows stronger the longer we fail to fight it.

PADME

Maybe you should use your Jedi intuition.

ANAKIN

It doesn’t work around you. My mind is always a muddle… I can only think of you.

When we feel social anxiety, we find it difficult to speak and act normally because our mind is a muddle, thinking a mile-a-minute, worrying about making a mistake that will make the other person reject us. The Force is the key to clear the muddle. Mindfulness keeps us focused on the present moment, instead of worrying about the future or regretting the past.

ANAKIN

From the moment I met you, all those years ago, a day hasn’t gone by when I haven’t thought of you. And now that I’m close to you again, I’m in agony. The closer I get to you, the worse it gets. The thought of not being with you makes my stomach turn over – my mouth goes dry. I feel dizzy. I can’t breathe. I’m haunted by the kiss you should never have given me. My heart is beating, hoping that kiss will not become a scar. You are in my very soul, tormenting me. What can I do? I will do anything you ask…

Anakin’s feelings of lovesickness sound similar to the physical symptoms of social anxiety: knots in stomach, dry mouth, dizziness, trouble breathing, and increased heart rate. One of the quickest and easiest methods to combat social anxiety in the moment is to simply take several deep breaths. It sounds cliched, but it helps.

ANAKIN

You’re always so serious. Always carrying the weight of the universe on your shoulders.

Social anxiety can come from putting too much weight on each social situation we encounter. Our words and actions in any given conversation are not as dire as we think they are. It’s okay if we make a mistake. The fate of the universe is rarely at stake.

COUNT DOOKU

I have spent the last ten years learning to use the power of the Dark Side. It gives me infinitely greater power.

The longer you leave social anxiety untreated, the more powerful it becomes. Though it’s never too late to turn things around and move towards the good side of the Force.

COUNT DOOKU

Master Yoda. At last we shall know who is the most powerful.

YODA

Count Dooku. No interest in contests, do I have.

Social anxiety often stems from low self-esteem, which can result from looking at confident extroverts and thinking we can never be like them, so why even bother trying. But life isn’t a contest. We need to stop comparing ourselves to others and wishing we were like them. Instead, we must simply learn the ways of the Force and be the best Jedi we can be.

To be continued in Episode III. Until then, May the Fourth be with you today. And may the force be with you always.

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