Thursday, May 29, 2008

Darth Vader's Psyche: What Went Wrong?

As you all know, I'm interested in mental health, but also am a fan of Star Wars. I found the following while Google searching on Darth Vader's physical injuries for a piece of fan fiction writing and took interest.
Darth Vader's Psyche: What Went Wrong?

Anakin Skywalker, Who Became Darth Vader, Had Borderline Personality Disorder, Psychiatrists Say
By Miranda Hitti
WebMD Medical News

Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

May 21, 2007 -- Anakin Skywalker, the Star Wars character who became Darth Vader, had borderline personality disorder, psychiatrists report.
The news comes not from a galaxy far, far away, but from San Diego, where the American Psychiatric Association (APA) is holding its 160th annual meeting.
Today, experts from the psychiatric department at France's University Hospital of Toulouse told the APA's annual meeting that Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader could "clearly" be diagnosed with borderline personality disorder.
Borderline personality disorder is a serious mental illness marked by instability in moods, interpersonal relationships, self-image, and behavior, according to background information on the web site of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH).
The French psychiatrists -- who included Laurent Schmitt, MD -- based their diagnosis on original Star Wars film scripts.
Skywalker Psyche
Schmitt's team describes Skywalker's symptoms, including problems with controlling anger and impulsivity, temporary stress-related paranoia, "frantic efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment (when trying to save his wife at all costs), and a pattern of unstable and intense personal relationships," including his relationships with his Jedi masters.
Changing his name and turning into "Darth Vader" is a red flag of Skywalker's disturbed identity, note Schmitt and colleagues.
The researchers aren't suggesting that real people with borderline personality disorder are Darth Vaders-in-the-making. Skywalker's symptoms are an extreme, fictional case.
Borderline personality disorder can be treated with psychotherapy and medication. But that wasn't part of Skywalker's script.

SOURCES: American Psychiatric Association's 2007 Annual Meeting, San Diego, May 19-24, 2007. National Institute of Mental Health: "Borderline Personality Disorder." News release, American Psychiatric Association.

© 2007 WebMD Inc. All rights reserved.

Apparently there has been quite some discussion of this in the blogsphere as well.

Real Space, wrote on 6/6/05:
"Watching Star Wars 3 (much better than the first two), I couldn’t help the train of thoughts running through my mind: Paranoid delusions. Grandiosity. Impulsivity. Inflexibility in thinking. Black and white thinking. Anger management issues. Issues with authority figures. Tendency to aggression and violence. Ambivalence. Labile. Poor coping style. Difficulty with trust. Psychomotor agitation. Lack of insight. Query psychosis. Query antisocial personality disorder, possibly psychopathic. Query borderline personality disorder. At very high risk of PTSD, depression. Management? Likelihood of medication compliance? Need for involuntary treatment order? We’d need a lot of backup.."

Rebel Doctor MD, who claims to be a board certified psychiatrist/sleep specialist/internist, responds:
"I think Realspace is on the right track when he mentions the cluster B personality disorder diagnoses of antisocial personality disorder and borderline personality disorder, though I would vote for a diagnosis of narcissistic personality disorder (he has a grandiose sense of self-importance, is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited power, believes that he is special and should only associate with other high-status people, requires excessive admiration, has a sense of entitlement, shows arrogance, and is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him. He also lacks empathy, at least at the end of the movie). Anakin is very grandiose and believes that the jedi masters are envious of his power; at the same time he envies their postion on the jedi council. He wants the admiration of others and does not feel that he is getting due respect from the other Jedi. Anakin is preoccupied with power; near the end of the movie he talks about taking over the Galactic Empire from Palpatine.
I agree that he would have been at risk for developing depression and PTSD after he killed his wife and got burned, but there was no direct evidence for either of these diagnoses in the movie. I did not detect any true psychosis in Anakin/Vader...."

Borderline Personality Disorder is a very real and serious mental health disorder, but I find amusing that medical professionals have psychoanalyzed a Star Wars villain. It was very apparent in the movies that the character of Anakin Skywalker was struggling with inner demons. His mental health and personality were probably negatively influenced starting early in his life, as a child slave. Although his mother, Shmi Skywalker, tried to do her best in raising him, they were both slaves, subject to physical abuse by their master and poor treatment by other citizens.  Because of this, Anakin developed unhealthy fear and anger. Also, as a child, Anakin would, "would often risk his own well being...with little forethought or regard for the consequences of his actions," he was daring and adverturous, impulsive and reckless. Also, while still in childhood, he left his mother behind to train as a Jedi, something he always resented.  His grieft was probably further accentuated by experiencing the traumatic death of his mother in his adolescent years. As a young adult, Anakin developed as an arrogant and somewhat socially awkward boy. His natural abilities placed him leaps and bounds above his peers, and this fed his ego as well as caused him to distance himself from other learners of his age. He frequently showed off, chafed against authority, and displayed little respect for his master, Obi-Wan Kenobi.  Also, he married in secret because Jedi law forbid marriage and he had unresolved conflict between attachment to his wife and his Jedi duties. Couple his traumatic past and personality flaws, with the pressures of Jedi duties, changing hornones with puberty (which may have increased agression), and potential genetic disposition, Anakin was probably high risk for developing a mental health disorder.

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