I confess, I am a fan of Star Wars. I would not say I am a Star Wars fanatic. I don’t dress up. I haven’t even marked the release date of the new Star Wars movie, Episode VII: The Force Awakens–yet. But I will see it when it comes out, especially with that title!
One of the varied reasons that I like the Star Wars movies is that every now and then, there are comments or scenarios that I think say a lot about human relationships, about the personal power we have as humans, and about what we choose to do with it. Do we use The Force for good or do we go to ‘the Dark Side” and use our power to damage, undermine or conquer others?
Many people will readily point fingers at ‘the Dark Side’ of their spouse, partner, friend, co-worker, the Democrats, the Republicans, or other groups. Look at it in yourself first.The fact is, all of us have a Dark Side. If you are honest, you probably have seen some of it in yourself, even if you don’t admit it. Sarcasm. Mean, cutting remarks. Criticism. Blaming & shaming. Icy silence. Withholding and withdrawing. Manipulation. You know what I mean.
Why in the world would we do things like that to someone we love?
Yoda gave us one of the secrets of ‘why’ we all do it sometimes — and therefore offers us a different path to create a happier and healthier marriage or partnership.
In Episode 1: The Phantom Menace, the Jedi Council asks the young Anakin (who later goes to the Dark Side), if he is afraid. He denies it. Yoda reminds him that they can see through him. Another Council member tells him to be mindful of his feelings. He says that he can see that Anakin is afraid of losing his mother. Anakin gets defensive and retorts, “What does that have to do with anything?”
“EVERYTHING! Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger.”
Even though Anakin’s fear was normal and even positive for his mother, even a fear of loss can be a path to the Dark Side in us and in the way we relate to one another.
Why? Fear is normal.
Even if a person does not feel fear, anything that the brain perceives as a ‘threat” or “danger” will send a signal to protect ourselves from the danger. The ‘threat alert’ happens with a perceived emotional lthreat as well as a physical threat.
For example, an underlying fear might be something like “no matter what I do, it’s never good enough”, or “what I want or need doesn’t matter to you”, or “if I get close to you, you I will lose who I am”. Small comments or behaviors can trigger the ‘fear’, or sense of “threat”, even if that was not the person’s intent.
Spouse 1: “Honey, it’s really better to put the silverware facing down in the dishwasher instead of facing up.”
Spouse 1 means that as a helpful suggestion that will make both of their lives easier.
Spouse 2 whose fear is about being inadequate in some way, snaps back: “Here we go again. No matter what I do, or how I try to help out, it’s just never good enough for you”.
Spouse 2 storms out of the room and isolates all evening.
Our Dark Side shows up in the ways we defend or protect ourselves from the fear/threat response of the brain. One person’s reaction to a ‘threat’ often triggers the other person’s ‘threat’ alert in their brain and that person’s reaction re-triggers the first one. Both spouses or partners brings more of the Dark Side into the relationship. The relationship feels increasingly threatening to the brain–and increasingly stressful and unhappy for the couple.
When things like that happen, you can actually ‘feel’ the Dark Side, the distress, disconnection and resentment in the climate of your marriage or relationship. And, it usually get worse if you don’t have ways to identify it and work with it.
So what Yoda speaks an important secret that can help couples to build a happier marriage.
1. Yoda and neuroscience know that under the Dark Side lurks a fear, even if the person is unaware in that moment. Unconscious fear is the path to the Dark Side. When you, or your partner, goes into attack or withdraw, it is not because the person is an obnoxious human being or that one or both lack love. It means that something triggered ‘threat’ which means ‘danger/fear’ to the brain. Cortisol is coursing through our body to get us ready to protect ourselves from a bear — even with a ‘threat’ that is only on the emotional level in a comment about how to load the dishwasher.
2. Be a “Dark Side Detective”
Get curious whenever you see any aspect of the Dark Side protective behaviors in your or anyone. Look for the fear of loss, of needs being ignored, concerns being dismissed, and distress themes –in yourself, in the people you love, and in the people you hate. (Yoda goes on to see that “fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering.“) What do you fear in the people or groups you hate?
So don’t let fear take you along the path to your Dark Side. You have the power within you to stay on a different path.
May The Force be with you!
PS. If you are in a victim or the perpetuator of domestic violence, get help. Even if fear is underneath the violence, you are not going to be able to shift that on your own.