Odds are if you are a living, breathing American, you have seen, or are at least familiar with a little saga known as Star Wars. If you're a super nerd like me, you're particularly familiar with a character known as Anakin and his seemingly pre-destined path to the dark side. It seems to take six movies (and the completely unnecessary existence of Jar Jar Binks) to finally get to that turning point, but when we do, the moment is a memorable one.
Anakin and Obi Wan meet on the planet Mustafar (extra nerd points there) and basically hash out years of pent-up aggression. By that point Anakin has essentially already become Vader and with each limb that gets sabered off by Kenobi we see more pieces of the old Anakin leaving the planet. Literally.
But this scene is more than the immolation of Anakin Skywalker. This scene begs so many questions, the most prominent of which being, how did the cute kid from Tatooine end up here? How did the pod race winning adolescent end up killing little Jedi's and fighting his best friend?
The answer is simple - Fear.
The psychology of Anakin is pretty fascinating to behold, actually. He is essentially a fatherless orphan who is raised in slavery by his mother. He then leaves his mother to train as a Jedi and meets Padme Amidala at a very young age. (insert Oedipus Rex comment here). Upon returning to his home years later, he finds his mother dead (dying) at the hands of raiders. Anakin kills the entire village in retribution for her death. It is at this point that he becomes obsessed with protecting Padme, his now wife, out of fear of losing her like he lost his mother. The Sith Lord, Sidious, detects this fear and exposes it, using Anakin's fear of losing Padme to manipulate him into performing unspeakable acts. Eventually everything crumbles. Padme finds out that he's been decapitating cute little Jedi and tearfully tells him he's breaking her heart. Anakin reacts by using his soon-to-be famous imaginary choke hold on her and she collapses. Lord Sidious later lies and tells Anakin that he killed Padme, sending him beyond emotional repair and into a permanent black suit and cape, complete with heavy breathing and James Earl Jones voice. And the rest, as they say, is history.
It seems that our friend Yoda was right all along when he said, "Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering."
The lessons learned from Anakin Skywalker, crazy as it may sound, can be applied to every day life. Fear can be a debilitating experience, and if we don't both recognize and confront those fears, they will eventually dictate our futures for us.
I personally struggle with the same fears Anakin did:
- Fear of losing a loved one.
- Fear or being abandoned.
- Fear of being alone.
These fears have lead me to make decisions that I would have never made in my right mind. I stayed in a physically, emotionally, and psychologically abusive relationship for three years because I was told I would never be loved by anyone. I have clung so tightly to people when I feel them barely start to pull away that they flee in the other direction. I have gone from relationship to relationship for years performing a proverbial "Are You my Partner?" quest out of a deep rooted fear that no one will want me.
It was not until very recently that I realized the paralyzing control that this fear was playing in my life and that until I harnessed and released that fear, it would continue to dictate my decisions.
So, what do we do about it? How do we prevent ourselves from losing Padme and becoming Vader?
Step 1: Identify the Fear.
Like the old cliche goes, admitting you have a problem is the first step to solving it, but let's take this one step farther. Actually tell yourself out loud what you are afraid of. Write it down on a piece of paper. Record it on your iphone. Scream it from a mountain top. However you want to do it, just identify the fear and put it into actual words.
Step 2: Find the Source of the Fear.
Now dig a little deeper. Ask yourself what it is in your past or present that has caused this deep fear. Was it something from your childhood? (Raises hand) Something from school? Or perhaps you are catching a new fear at the onset and something about your life right now has sparked it. Take some time to truly explore the origin of the fear. This step can take some time but it cannot be over emphasized, as it is perhaps the most important part of this process.
Step 3: Confront the Fear
Once you have located the origin of the fear, confront it. When you were a child and afraid of monsters in the closet, what would your parents do to make you feel better? They'd open the closet and show you there was nothing in there but shoes and clothes. The same rule applies for your current fear. Ask yourself, what would happen if my worst fear were to come true? Take your fear to it's logical conclusion. For me, I had to ask myself, "so, what if I did end up alone?" I pondered this for some time before ultimately reaching the conclusion that I would get a dog and a Subaru and explore the world with man's best friend at my side. I'd sit on my front porch one day and enjoy the same sunset I would be enjoying with a partner by my side. Not such a scary thought after all, is it?
Step 4: Overcome the Fear
Once you have worked the fear to its logical conclusion, tell it to take a hike. That fear can no longer control you, because you have harnessed it's energy and can now use it for good. You've essentially taken wild lightening and turned it into productive electricity. You are finally in control of the fear, not the other way around. Take the paper you wrote the fear down on and tear it up. Scream it from that mountain top. Like Elsa says, Let. It. Go.
Overcoming our fears is a constant struggle and once we overcome one, more may pop up, like a Hydra, but the process for each fear remains the same. Identify the fear. Find the source of the fear. Confront the fear. Overcome the fear.
George Lucas has not written a script for your life. You are the author and director of your own story. Do not let your fears dictate your future. And dear Lord, don't become Darth Vader. Not everyone looks that great in black.