family, Star Wars

Does Kylo Ren Have Reactive Attachment Disorder?: RAD and the New Star Wars Movie


I know I can’t be the only trauma mama out there rooting for the new villain, Kylo Ren. When I watched the new star wars movie, my heart lurched when this new character removed his mask. The new Star Wars movie, “The Force Awakens,” is rife with analogies for Reactive Attachment Disorder. Perhaps I over-identified with the character of Kylo Ren. Perhaps I have been in the trenches too long, and see RAD lurking around every corner. Perhaps I’m just a mom who can see the potential of a lost boy behind the villain in a movie.

I don’t really know anything about Star Wars. I’m not a movie critic. I’m just a mom identifying with a movie. The character in the movie isn’t adopted, and wasn’t written to be a person with RAD, as far as I know.

Whatever the case, I was riveted to the screen. I predicted the boy’s treachery  long before it happened. The first glimmer of attachment disorder came in a scene relatively early on. The character Kylo Ren had the female protagonist, Rey, captured in a cell. He was attempting to draw information out of her. She said something along the lines of she couldn’t tell if she was talking to a “man or a machine behind that mask.” So he took it off. There was Kylo, a perfectly normal boy. He didn’t have any facial disfigurement, scars, or any visible reason to hide his face. So why the mask?

It was in this moment that I began to see the mask as a protective layer between his emotions and the world. If he kept a barrier between himself and others, then he could continue to wield his power as if he were something other than human. But human he was, at least to me. In the scene where his mask is removed, the hero, Rey, looks into his eyes and begins to see his true fears. Kylo recoils instantly and retreats to his mask once more. After all, sharing feelings, allowing emotional intimacy, these are scary things for those with RAD. This is where I sensed a “disturbance in the force,” so to speak.

Later in the movie we learn that Kylo Ren is really the son of Princess Leia and Han Solo. In this scene, Kylo is alone in a room with Darth Vader’s melted mask. He is begging for strength to remain with the “darkside” while lamenting that the presence of Han Solo was bringing up old feelings. I know I’m not the only mother who experienced this very thing from a child with Reactive Attachment Disorder. A child tries to renounce their love for a parent or primary caretaker. They panic when feelings towards this person begin to surface. I knew in this moment, that the character of Han Solo was doomed. I knew it for the simple reason that I could see there was no way that RAD, the dark force, or whatever you call it, would allow this boy to feel love towards a father figure.

That struggle is real for kids with RAD. The scariest thing they must face is their own growing attachment. To feel love, even a little, for a caretaker seems deadly to them. In order to get rid of the threat (love) the person with RAD must take very drastic action to sever the attachment. I know when our teenage boys got too close, they took drastic measures. They said anything, did anything, and in the end, physically hurt me, in order to burn that tie. I am no stranger to death threats, plans for my murder, and other homicidal ideations. After all, the bigger the love, the bigger the action will need to be in order to be rid of it. That’s how I knew Han Solo would die.

What I didn’t plan on was the absolute perfection of the RAD metaphor played out in Han Solo’s murder scene. I couldn’t look away. It’s only a movie after all, so how could they have gotten this so perfectly, truly accurate as a metaphor for RAD?

Han Solo calls to his son and approaches him. The boy removes his mask. There it is. The vulnerability. The human connection. Kylo says that he is being torn apart. He doesn’t want to feel this pain anymore. How many attachment-challenged children have felt the same way when confronted with the love of a parental figure. Kylo asks for his father’s help, and of course, Han replies that he will “do anything.” In so offering up this unconditional love and support, Han literally aides in his own death. He holds the lightsaber, with his son, as Kylo slices it through him. Our own giving is too often our own undoing. We give without thought to our own needs. As parents, we put our children first. Children, of course, deserve nothing less. But RAD? Rad will take this from a child. RAD will twist this into something terrifying and threatening.

The most poignant moment in the whole movie, or at least for me, is not the stab itself. The slice through Han Solo’s chest is just like so many parents have felt their own hearts town asunder. It’s what happens next that seals the RAD metaphor for me. Han Solo, now impaled,  reaches a hand up and and cups the face of his son. In this moment, he shows his unconditional love. He still sees the boy he loves, no matter his actions.

Parents who are in the trenches with me will empathize. I know I had absolute empathy for that moment. No matter the actions our children may take, they are not villains. They cannot defeat our love. Yes, they can sever ties, and destroy relationships, and walk away seemingly unscathed. But I know the truth. It is not our children who are the villains. It is the RAD inside of them that can do this to a family.

As the movie ended I found myself in a strange position that so many other RAD mamas are probably in. I was rooting for Kylo Ren. I am pulling for his redemption in future movies. I don’t believe that his character is beyond hope. In him, I saw a boy who was afraid to love. In him, I saw the two sons I lost. He may be the new antagonist where the Star Wars franchise in concerned, but not to me. Never to me. I will always see RAD as the true villain.

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