Let’s imagine, just for fun, that I’m sitting in my office when the phone rings and on the other line is Master Yoda wanting me to take a referral by the name of Anakin Skywalker. Of course, I’m glad to help I would say. Troubled youth is, as Obi Wan would say, my specialty!
Let’s first have a look at the history:
Anakin Skywalker was born to a single mother of low socioeconomic status. This puts him at an automatic statistical disadvantage. The children of single mothers are much more likely to do things like develop drug problems and engage in criminality than a child whose parents are together.
At the age of 9, he is voluntarily taken from his mother by a pair of Jedi to learn the ways of the force. 10 years later, he finally returns to his home planet (they have spaceships that can traverse galaxies but they don’t have cell phones to call your momma?) only to find that his mother has been abducted. He finds her strung up in a teepee by native nomads, to which she quickly dies as soon as he cuts her free while still in the teepee. He then goes on a killing spree, laying waste to the entire village.
Anakin blames himself for his mother’s demise. No one intervenes. You would have thought that the well-developed Jedi establishment would have mental health checkups, or psych assessments, or counselors on retainer, or SOMETHING, but instead Yoda and the rest of the Jedi tell him something to the tune of “snap out of it, bucko” and the drum of a developing mental illness marches on.
Flash forward a couple years later and sure enough we have an arrogant narcissist being fed sweet nothings by the main Sith Lord himself. Arrogant narcissists are typically overcompensating for insecurity somewhere in their lives, you know, things like being born to a single slave mom and having her killed by nomads in teepees doesn’t exactly have the same social class ring as say… Queen Amidala, who, oh-by-the-way he secretly marries! Social envy much? The future Emperor Palpatine takes advantage of this insecurity by sowing seeds of mistrust between Anakin and the Jedi. Dark times are a-comin’.
Now, let’s say that before he actually goes psychopath and kills all the Jedi and becomes Darth Vader I take the call from Yoda (I am imagining this to take place sometime between Episode II and III to give you some reference) and begin hypothesizing how the sessions will go:
I imagine my first meeting would be something to the tune of me asking questions about his history and receiving halfhearted answers from a boy who is being forced into my office in the first place and not quite willing to be completely forthcoming with answers, much less cooperate in a sensible way.
So how would I break past that? I don’t. I let the client break past that on their own.
You see, with this discipline, the client has to want to get help. We can’t force them. It’s not like medicine where we can put our clients under anesthesia and save their lives in spite of their willingness to cooperate. In psychology, if the client doesn’t want to advance, there will be no advance.
What a good counselor will want to do is to explain to the client that he understands that this meeting is forced, and that we don’t have to do anything that young Master Anakin doesn’t want to do, but since you are here already kind sir, you might as well get something out of it.
At this point, the future Dark Lord of the Sith may begin to open up a little, but more than likely I will staring at a cold glare and saying something to the tune of, “well we don’t have to do anything if you don’t want, if you don’t mind I’m going to finish up on some paperwork from earlier. You can take a nap if you like until the hour is up and then you can go.”
This might go on for quite a while, but one thing I can promise: Inside the brain of our young Padawan learner you would see spinning wheels, and those wheels will be spinning towards the thought of whether there is anything to be gained by talking at all to this counselor guy.
You see, narcissistic clients and most clients that are forced to come into counseling are like cats. You can’t chase them, because all they’ll do is run. But a narcissist, just like a cat, ultimately can’t live without attention. So eventually they will break down and begin to tell you things and you can begin the steady process of building rapport and trust in the counseling environment. For some it takes a long time to be able to build that relationship. But a good counselor should have the discipline to understand this and not try to force the action, but rather allow space enough for the client to gain comfortability in their own time.
So though Anakin’s glares were intense in the beginning, so was my resolve to not be flummoxed by them. Then we can start talking about his past, and the core components which have been left unresolved. Most importantly, the disconnect between what happened with his mother and where he came from.
In the next installment, we’ll talk about helping poor Master Anakin process his past and become a Jedi Master of the moment.