Darth, Interrupted: Does Vader have Borderline Personality Disorder?


Armchair psychiatric diagnoses of real people can probably be classified as, in general, a bad thing. Armchair psychiatric diagnoses of fictional characters, though: That's pretty much just awesome.

Case in point: The team of researchers at Toulouse University Hospital in France who not only make a pretty good, DSM-based case for the mental illness behind everybody's favorite black-clad evil overlord—they actually took the time to do the diagnosis right, publishing in the journal Psychiatry Research

'He presented impulsivity and difficulty controlling his anger and alternated between idealisation and devaluation (of his Jedi mentors). Permanently afraid of losing his wife, he made frantic efforts to avoid her abandonment and went as far as betraying his former Jedi companions. He also experienced two dissociative episodes secondary to stressful events. One occurred after his mother's death, when he exterminated a whole tribe of Tuskan people, while the other one took place just after he turned to the dark side. He slaughtered all the Jedi younglings before voicing paranoid thoughts concerning his former mentor and his wife. Finally, the films depicted his quest to find himself, and his uncertainties about who he was. Turning to the dark side and changing his name could be interpreted as a sign of identity disturbance.'

Sadly, I'm not sure I buy their argument that publicizing Darth Vader as a BPD sufferer is going to do anything to take away the stigma of mental illness.

British Psychological Society Research Digest: Does Darth Vader meet the diagnostic criteria for Borderline Personality Disorder?

Photo by Flickr user AlexSlocker, used via CC


  1. BORDERLINE personality disorder?
    If he’s not a full blown psychopathic nutter, then I’d hate to meet one.

  2. No, this can be classified as a bad thing too.
    This helps “take away the stigma” ?
    Here’s a big “fuck you !” to the armchair idiots.

  3. There’s nothing geekier than such speculation. That said, my main problem with the prequel story arc is that I have never found it believable that Anakin would have been so duped / fallen so far so quickly as to kill all the “jedi younglings.” It seems to me that this would take a whole other level of disassociation with reality that would have made it impossible to have had the discipline to have become a jedi in the first place. I believe this is why it happens off camera. To actually show him slaying a bunch of children one by one, with a light-saber no less, (other than being really gruesome and probably R rated) would have revealed the inconsistency with the character Lucas had built up in the first two “episodes”. I know Lucas had to fulfill certain established plot points set up by the original trilogy, but this and the “romance” between Anakin and Amidala seem terribly forced, imho, and leave the series deeply flawed (albeit thoroughly entertaining in most other aspects.) So any attempt to analyze this character, although amusing, seems just as flawed to me.

  4. BPD is the physiological disorder he was diagnosed with so the Empire’s HMO wouldn’t have to cover his mental illness.

  5. I’m working on an interview with a psychologist about AI, and something that came up was whether robots would ever have symptoms of mental illness. After reading this analysis of Hayden Christensen, I guess that’s that question answered. Boarder personality disorder? The man was miles from any personality in the prequels. /drums /crickets /adjusts tie

  6. After working at a psych clinic for seven years, my diagnostic test for BPD is simple: If someone makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up, s/he has it. Oddly enough, many of my inlaws meet this diagnostic criterion.

  7. I’ve heard about researchers at this university. Famous for playing too fast and Toulouse with the facts.

  8. Psychiatric labels are great if they help a person get a handle on their situation and get the right meds or deepen their understanding of themselves, their loved ones, humanity, whatever. But, too often, labels are used as weapons. And that is certainly a bad thing.

    I had a friend who went on and on about how horrible her mother was. Her mother was a vile human being, and if you didn’t completely agree with this assessment, then you were vile too. The last straw for me, was when she started passing out DVDs about BPD and insisting people watch it so they, too, would understand that her mother was not just bad, she was *clinically* bad. I guess it gave her some measure of power, or maybe distance, to have that label between her and her mother. I just thought, what good did the (armchair) diagnosis really do? Make her feel that the self-imposed estrangement was justified? Put the blame for the relationship problems all on one side? I don’t know. All I can say is Darth and Luke have nothing on some of the mother/daughter relationships you see out there. Good lord.

  9. Nice one!

    Except, BPD is a personality disorder. Not a mental illness. Two very different things.

    1. ‘Except, BPD is a personality disorder. Not a mental illness. Two very different things’

      WRONG bpd IS a mental illness. Using real-time brain imaging, a team of researchers have discovered that patients with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) are physically unable to regulate emotion. It should no longer be on axis one, as it is not a character flaw, it should be moved to axis two, with other mental illnesses such as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. I have bpd, and you saying it is not a mental illness really pisses me off, as you obviously no absolutely nothing about it, or what it feels like.

      1. I wouldn’t say “PJ” is wrong – this is a debatable subject – it’s more a question of opinion.

        I do find it very interesting that they have found abnormalities in the brains of people who have BPD, but not surprising. I personally believe that all psychological difficulties can be linked to physical processes and environmental exposures (ie/ many mental illnesses can be traced back to childhood trauma/abuse, and many ‘personality disorders’ can be traced back to insecure attachments with parental figures). It’s more complicated than ‘my brain doesn’t work, I can’t help it’. People need to take responsibility for their actions; you can learn how to regulate your emotions through therapies (such as DBT) – stating that it is simply physical or chemical implies that nothing but surgery and medication will help. Medication is barely helpful for BPD – DBT has proven to be the most effective therapy. So although your brain may work differently, I still think that this is only a small piece of the etiology.

  10. “…the thought of losing you is unbearable.”

    IIRC, the Chancellor/Dark Lord/Emperor said that to Padme: shortly before she saw Annakin for the first time in ten years.

    More than co-incidence?

    1. And let’s be clear: Darth Vader is a horrible mass murderer of children.

      And currently the only genocidal maniac to be immortalized in Potato-head form by Hasbro (for ages 2 and up).

  11. @Canuck, Wait, are you saying that he was horrible at mass murdering children, or horrible AND a mass murderer of children?

    I thought he was pretty good at mass murdering children.

  12. Huh. Hasn’t Misaki Nakahara been armchair-diagnosed with BPD?

    Incidentally, I know that three other disorders in the same DSM-IV section — avoidant, narcissistic, and schizoid — have been suggested for the pilots in Evangelion.

  13. Maggie, good on you for the disclaimer re: armchair diagnosis. There was an article in the 5 Jan 2008 Lancet about “The Ethics of Passer-by Diagnosis”, talking more about physical or general medicine, but the principles apply to psychiatry too. Some psychiatrists have written books like “Bush on the Couch,” diagnosing public figures without ever meeting them in person, but I thought that kind of public speculation was officially branded as unethical by the APA.

    Also check out the Wall Street Journal article from earlier this week, “Fictional Stars, Real Problems” offering diagnoses for Edward and Bella from Twilight, Tony Soprano, Chigurh from No Country for Old Men, Winnie the Pooh, Harry Potter.

    It seems like it would be helpful for teaching psych students how to diagnose, but I don’t see mental illness stigma going down with a PSA starring Darth Vader.

    1. “Some psychiatrists have written books like “Bush on the Couch,” diagnosing public figures without ever meeting them in person, but I thought that kind of public speculation was officially branded as unethical by the APA.”

      Are we talking about the same APA that has refused to disapprove of its members participating in torture regimens presided over by that same Mr. Bush?

  14. Technically, Darth Vader is psychotic insofar he develops a delusion that he can save his lover’s life by becoming the altar-boy for the Emperor.

    Thus he may meet one of the exclusion criteria for BPD (not better explained by another disorder).

  15. Darth Vader is no more a borderline than he is a ballerina.

    I am the author of three best-selling books about borderline personality disorder and have a number of other credentials you can find at my web site, http://www.BPDCentral.com. I am also a blogger for Psychology Today.

    In my PT blog post “Putting Darth Vader On the Couch,” I go point by point to explain why borderline personality disorder is the wrong diagnosis.

    You may not think it’s that important, but Bui and his colleagues are using this false example when training their psychiatric medical students. BPD is widely misunderstood and misdiagnosed, which causes a great deal of suffering. We don’t need more. You can find the post at http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/stop-walking-eggshells/201006/putting-darth-vader-the-couch

    Please check it out. Thank you.

    Randi Kreger
    Author, “Stop Walking on Eggshells,” the “Stop Walking on Eggshells Workbook,” and “The Essential Family Guide to Borderline Personality Disorder”

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