Therapist Explains Why Everyone Ongame Throneshas Serious Issues
If you watch 'Game of Thrones,' you already know that Westeros isn't exactly a hotbed of emotional stability or healthy relationships. And the reason why -- apart from the fact that it makes for great drama -- is that nearly everyone on the show suffers from major mental health issues.
From depression to delusion to various personality disorders, 'Game of Thrones' is a veritable buffet of mental illness. And to help unravel the mysteries of our favorite characters' weird, bad behaviors, MTV News called up Colleen Jordan, a Licensed Mental Health Counselor (LMHC), to get the scoop on just what's going on in their pretty little heads.
JOFFREY BARATHEON: THE CLINICAL SOCIOPATH
If you ever called Joffrey a sociopath or a psychopath, congratulations! According to our expert, you were not wrong.
Jordan: The clinical term is antisocial personality disorder, and it’s not technically diagnosable because he's under 18; personality disorders aren't diagnosed until adulthood. But we’d say that he has traits, for sure. We’re looking at someone who's incapable of empathy, who’s all about having power over other people, and getting what they want no matter what the cost is. Joffrey is hurting people, killing people, and delighting in it. He's also an extreme case, because he's not very charming and doesn't cover it up at all. In that way he's a completely over-the-top sadistic sociopath.
MTV News: Is that partly because he's in a position where he doesn't have to cover it up?
Jordan: Yes. The fact that he's at the top of the chain, where he can't be accountable for his behavior at all, makes him extremely dangerous. People on the sociopathic spectrum already struggle with being accountable, and for him, there's no check on his behavior. A person with antisocial personality disorder wants what they want, no matter the cost, and often doesn't read the cost properly.
MTV News: So it must have come as an enormous shock to him when he was murdered.
Jordan: He’d have been completely blindsided. It’s that element of I’ll never get caught. He would be oblivious to the fact that anyone would want him dead, or that it would be a possibility.
In summary: Had Joffrey lived to adulthood, he would have been a diagnosable sociopath. Instead, he was murdered — much to his surprise.
CERSEI AND JAIME: A BORDERLINE/ NARCISSIST LOVE STORY
Jaime and Cersei Lannister are the hottest twincestual couple on television, but that’s not even the biggest reason why they’re a bad, bad match.
Jordan: Joffrey is very much a product of his parents, who have the most dangerous combination of disorders in a couple: Borderline personality disorder, and narcissistic personality disorder. Borderlines and narcissists are attracted to each other, because the borderline wants to merge, have an identity, be safe and supported. And the narcissist needs someone to essentially worship them and provide them with validation. So the borderline’s fear and focus on abandonment actually feeds the narcissist.
MTV News: How do Cersei and Jaime embody that dynamic?
Jordan: Cersei demonstrates borderline traits: She over-identifes with her children, especially Joffrey, and is complicit in helping him stay in power, because it helps her stay important. But you can see it most clearly in her relationship with Jaime. It’s I hate you, don't leave me, this push-pull back and forth. And of course, their sexual relationship. Borderlines gravitate toward risky behavior, anything that releases endorphins. Risky sex, gambling, drugs: the brain registers these things as solutions, rather than risks. And for Cersei — she's beautiful, she has power, she can be with anyone she wants, but it doesn't give her the satisfaction of this inappropriate sexual relationship with her brother. That's how her brain calculates that.
MTV News: And how does Jamie fit into this?
Jordan: He comes from a family of narcissists. Tywin Lannister is actually the worst of them; out of all the Lannisters, Jaime is really the least ill. He has some empathy. But he also has narcissistic traits, and Cersei is very attracted to that.
MTV News: It seems like she actually has the upper hand in their relationship, at least lately.
Jordan: And this is the dance that the narcissistic and borderline do, it's the dance of power and control. You can see this with Jaime: she never forgives him for his abandonment when he's taken prisoner and is gone for so long. It doesn't matter that it wasn't in his control.
And as their story progresses, as he's away from Cersei, he starts to make better choices.
In summary: With their potent, poisonous, co-dependent combination of mental health issues, it’s little wonder that Cersei and Jaime are the couple you hate to love — or that they managed to produce a monstrous little jerk like Joffrey.
LYSA ARRYN: THE ILLEST WOMAN IN WESTEROS, LITERALLY
Anyone who remembers Lysa's first appearance on the show knows that she has problems -- breastfeeding your ten year-old, anyone? -- but according to our expert, her unique history and position makes her the most unstable character on 'Game of Thrones.'
MTV News: You described Lysa Arryn as the most mentally ill person in Westeros.
Jordan: Lysa has been isolated. That's traumatic, and it’s a problem for women in particular in Westeros: they're locked away in towers, told who to marry. So she's already coming from a trauma perspective, and now that she's an adult, it plays out in her relationship with her son, which is incredibly enmeshed. She over-identifies with him, and she’s not treating him his appropriate developmental age.
MTV News: Robert Arryn isn't exactly a healthy, normal kid, either.
Jordan: It's actually entirely possible that his medical issues are Munchhausen by proxy, which is when a parent consciously or subconsciously delights in the sickness of their child, and needs to keep the child sick. It’s a really serious form of mental illness.
MTV News: What else marks Lysa as troubled?
Jordan: Her relationship with Baelish. It feels very push-pull, which might be indicative of Borderline Personality Disorder. Similar to Cersei Lannister, she does this thing — I hate you, don't leave me — where she's angry but also very needy. And lot of people who have BPD have traumatic history, so there's a large fear of abandonment, real or imagined.
MTV News: Is that why her relationships tend to be so combative? Accusing people of being untrustworthy and out to get her seems to be a bit thing for Lysa.
Jordan: There might be a tinge of paranoia in there, too, since personality disorders are often co-occurrent. But yes, people with BPD protect themselves by not being willing to take responsibility for things, which manifests itself in the form of blaming behaviors.
MTV News: It probably doesn’t help that the people around her actually aren’t all that trustworthy.
Jordan: Right. If you look at Littlefinger, we know he's not remotely personally interested in Lysa, but he likes the attention. And he needs her. Narcissists use people for functions, which he does.
MTV News: So Lysa and Littlefinger have the same dynamic as Cersei and Jamie, but in this case, it’s the narcissist who has the upper hand.
Jordan: Exactly. And Cersei has far more power than Lysa, and more resources, which is probably why she can function where Lysa can’t. But feeling like you don't matter, feeling like you need relationships -- primarily with men — to define your identity: They have a similarity there.
MTV News: And how about Robert?
Jordan: Obviosuly he had a very unusual and traumatic childhood, which affected his development. Because of the issues with his mother, he doesn't have a clear individual identity. The formation of his identity has been greatly disrupted. He could make different choices, get some help, and change… but in Westeros I’d guess that probably won't happen.
In summary: Lysa Arryn didn’t have many successes in her short life, but she wins the Westeros Mental Illness Olympics.
TYRION: THE ALCOHOLIC NARCISSIST
Despite his crowd-pleasing appeal, Tyrion didn’t escape his family’s legacy of personality disorders.
MTV News: You mentioned that all the Lannister men are narcissists. Does that mean Tyrion, too?
Jordan: Yes. The way his character plays out it often reads as whimsical, but he's pretty self-centered! He wants what he wants, and he uses his privilege to gain it.
MTV News: But… he’s so much more fun.
Jordan: He's healthier in a lot of ways than his sister and his father, which makes him easier to identify with. And he sometimes feels bad about himself, too, but he suppresses that pretty quickly.
MTV News: He does do a lot of self-medicating, doesn’t he.
Jordan: Out of everyone in Westeros, Tyrion really has a substance abuse problem. He turns to alcohol to alter his moods, which is dangerous and indicative of a problem. And of course he also medicates with sex.
In summary: Delightful as Tyrion is, he could use some serious therapy and a twelve-step program.
JON SNOW: THE SEASONAL AFFECTIVE STARK
We always thought Jon Snow was a gloomy bastard by nature, but according to our expert, it’s a little more complicated.
Jordan: If anyone in Westeros has brain-based, biology-based mental health issues, I’d say that depression runs in the Stark family. Sansa is clearly depressed, she has a depressed affect. Catelyn had that too, at times. And Jon Snow — he’s experienced a lot of loss, which is a trigger for depression, and it's also common for people displaced from home to experience depressive episodes. Plus the look on his face —
MTV News: The look of perpetual misery, you mean?
Jordan: That's symptomatic of depression. It might even be seasonally affective, living that far north!
In summary: Jon Snow knows nothing, but he might FEEL something if he just gave up his frigid post at the wall and retired to sunny Dorne.
MELISANDRE AND STANNIS: IN LOVE WITH DELUSION
Melisandre’s supernatural vibe is pure magic… or is it?
Jordan: If we put magic aside, Melisandre has serious delusions of grandeur in terms of what she believes she's capable of. She experiences episodic invincibility, and she uses aggressive sexuality to pull people in. It feels a little bit like mania, which is the opposite pull of depression in people with bipolar disorder.
MTV News: And how does Stannis fit int?
Jordan: Melisandre has pulled other peple into this world she's created, in which she has special powers. Stannis has what would be called a shared delusional disorder. The fact that he’s so invested probably indicates that he has a lack of his own personal identity.
MTV News: So Melisandre’s insistence that he’s the true king of Westeros would be pretty seductive.
Jordan: Yes, and she has all the power in that relationship. Stannis is completely dysfunctional, he's ignoring his wife in favor of his delusions.
In summary: Melisandre is a delusional seductress, and Stannis is a sheep. (And for the first time ever, we actually feel kind of sorry for Stannis’s awful wife.)
ARYA STARK: STUCK IN PTSD SURVIVAL MODE
Arya’s growing thirst to kill is an interesting plot point, but it also says some disturbing things about her mental state.
MTV News: Arya has taken to reciting this list of names of all the people she intends to kill. Is there anything obsessive-compulsive in there?
Jordan: Not exactly, because to qualify as OCD it needs to disrupt your life. This seems more like a before bed ritual — it’s just part of her routine. Think about it: in the western world a lot of people brush their teeth, read a book, turn on the nightlight…
MTV News: Fluff your pillows, recite your kill list…
Jordan: [laughs] Exactly. And in Arya’s case, that’s part of her PTSD: being stuck in survival mode. Reciting that list, she’s replaying all of these traumas that have happened to her. Her brain isn't being rational, it's stuck in an emotional hemisphere; it’s anger and fear, all of the time.
MTV News: And would that continue for as long as she’s on the road?
Jordan: That hypervigilance would, yes. She's always scouting for danger. It made her relationship with the Hound interesting, because he's a traumatized man. He's in survival mode, too. And they're keeping each other safe from PTSD triggers. It’s what makes their relationship work.
MTV News: So they’ve bonded sort of like brothers in arms? Like soldiers might?
Jordan: Yes, although PTSD isn't confined to soldiers. For instance, two siblings who have been removed from their abusive biological home might bond this way in their foster home, being very protective of each other.
MTV News: And now that Arya is in a safer place?
Jordan: Her brain will eventually shift out of survival mode, and she’ll probably become less violent, because she won’t need to be protecting herself as much. But she’s likely to still be cautious in her relationships for a long time.
In summary: Arya’s arrival at the House of Black and White should hopefully soothe her bloodlust… but she probably won’t be dating anytime soon.
THEON GREYJOY: A COMPLETE BREAK WITH REALITY
The torture inflicted on Theon’s body was bad, but it’s nothing compared with what’s going on inside his poor, poor brain.
Jordan: What’s interesting about Theon is that at the start, he had that invincible, narcissistic thing going on. Now he's so severely traumatized that he's actually having psychotic episodes. He might even qualify as schizophrenic or schizo-affective because he's totally lost the thread of reality. He actually believes that he’s someone else.
MTV News: Right, he thinks he’s Reek.
Jordan: But Reek isn't something his brain came up with, and that's where Stockholm Syndrome comes in. He's allowed to choose, and he chooses to remain with his captor. He's essentially become a different person - Reek and Theon Greyjoy are not the same man.
In summary: We hope Theon Greyjoy wasn’t your favorite character, ‘cause he basically no longer exists.
DAENERYS TARGARYEN: SHE’S ACTUALLY PRETTY OKAY!
It might seem at this point like everyone on Game of Thrones is a mess of mental health issues. But a handful of characters, including Daenerys, are in surprisingly good shape — and that’s not the only thing they have in common.
MTV News: Does Daenerys Targaryen actually have anything going on, mental health-wise?
Jordan: She's undergone the biggest arc in terms of character transformation, but… not really. She's not narcissistic. She's very empathic. And she does have a blind spot caused by her power — invading cities, pressing freedom on people who don't necessarily want to be free — but she really isn't mentally ill. She's a figurehead, but she's also necessarily in charge of everybody.
MTV News: She actually seems to be doing about as well as anyone reasonably could, under the circumstances.
Jordan: That might explain why she's such a favorite character for so many people. The people who function most healthily tend to be the ones fans like best: Daenerys, Jon Snow, Arya. And the ones with the major personality disorders, people tend not to like.
In summary: Not only is Daenerys possibly the most mentally sound person in Westeros, but your love for her is totally normal, healthy, and non-co-dependent. Hooray!