Pablo Griego

Clinical Psychology

University of the Republic of Uruguay

Montevideo, Uruguay

Pablo Griego

Student of Psychology, with a lot of interest in getting to know the way people think and what makes them act in various ways. Interested in comic books and video game, because sometimes they can have great and hidden meanings to explore.

Joined On:
May 18, 2017
Last Active:
June 12, 2017


George Raymond R. Martin

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Formation of a Pathological Personality: Mini Family-dynamic Psychology Lessons We Can Learn From Game of Thrones

The HBO series Game of Thrones, based on the novel of the same name, presents classic cases of negative family dynamics. Come along and I’ll show you what you can learn from this story.

Mini-lesson Nº1: Excessive fusion with the mother can lead, sometimes, to pathology if not balanced by a father figure

We can't deny that parents are the gateway to the world for a child. A healthy relationship with a parent implies “good maternity” in terms of physical care, especially intense during the child’s first years and even more important during the first months of life. This means that during the first months, the parents’ quick attention to the child’s needs is critical.

In this sense, the ability of the mother (or the person who takes charge of those functions) to “read” the baby's states is very important. This “reading” includes knowing what is happening to the baby—what does he want, why is he crying—so she can respond accordingly. But this quick response to the child’s needs must decrease with the passage of time. These delays cause the child to face the necessary frustrations that will teach him limitations and will reduce the narcissism that he presents, knowing that from his first years, the child is inside a bubble of omnipotence, where everything succeeds, his needs are attended quickly, and he is placed in the center of the family. Everything revolves around him. But without this delay in gratification or that slow separation from the caretaker, the possibility of presenting pathologies increases. These pathologies can be the lighter ones, such as separation anxiety, to the more serious ones, such as perverse or psychotic structures.

In that sense the series offers us some clearly pathological cases, like when we see the overprotection that Lysa Tully provides to her son Robert in the Nest of Eagles. Robert shows a huge dependence on his mother as well as a clear infantilization, recognized in the tantrums he sometimes presents. We see him sick and with little tolerance to frustration. It seems that he has not yet developed a thought of his own; he is very attached to the values that are transmitted to him from his mother, and he seeks her approval every time he has to make a decision.

Another classic case is the relationship that can be seen between Cersei and her eldest son, Joffrey. Given the perverse features that Joffrey presents in the show, it can be inferred that something has failed in that relationship with the mother. Some features in Cersei may make us think of the establishment of an early seduction relationship with Joffrey, an obviously unconscious seduction. From one point of view, she is a woman who has already transgressed the law of incest, a basic law that allowed the human being to pass from the animal world to civilization and culture. On the other hand, I see a woman that is dissatisfied with her husband, Robert Baratheon, and finds in Joffrey a way to fill that gap of dissatisfaction and to obtain the completeness that she seeks. The seduction between mother and child becomes paramount, and as a result, the figure of the father and what he symbolizes becomes blurred; it loses weight until he and his word become almost non-existent. This is particularly significant because Cersei would fall under the category of a person with Antisocial Personality Disorder, a person who does not obey the laws and may have drug problems. In Cersei this would be her lies and her alcoholism. This kind of person is very unlikely to show signs of guilt or repentance and shows an attitude that most of the time is seen as arrogant. This is a totally bad example to set for her son, made worse without the other parent to set limits and what can and cannot be done. Joffrey only has his mother to look up to and follow her example, leading him to be like her, or as seen in the show, even worse. Even though some of these aspects are not seen explicitly, one can see the results in the personality of Joffrey, giving form to a wicked personality, in which more than to respect the law, he establishes as though “he is” the unique law, treating others like puppets of his property and showing a sexuality where sadism and violence play a preponderant role. These aspects are typical of perverse childhood structures.

Mini-lesson Nº2: The characteristics of the neurotic family: The children must reach the goals that the parents couldn't

While in the families of people with psychosis the child does everything that a parent has planned for him. On the opposite side, in "neurotic families," the child has an unconscious desire to accomplish what the parents could not. This happens in families where there is little respect for "otherness" (assumes that the other, in this case the child, is different and has desires, thoughts, and values that are not those of the parents). We might find an overlapping mandate in which the children are sent to fulfill the parents’ wishes—to study, to go to university, to play certain sport. The child will have to shake this mandate in his development so that he does not get trapped by his parents’ desires. And he will have to see what parts he accepts as his own—that it fits with what he is, what he feels, and what he thinks—and which ones are not consistent with what he is so he can discard them.

The father models that are seen throughout the series do not usually respect what we have previously called "otherness." We see “hard” parents who do not allow their children to separate their values from that of the parent. And in the case when the son departs excessively from them, the parents repudiate him, as in the popular case of Samwell Tarly, who ends up on “The Wall” for not matching the son ideal that his father had. It is very noticeable that this is a rigid and hierarchical society in which traditions are paramount, and the respect for the other as a different individual is kept to a minimum. The newcomer has to adapt to the “suit” that has been given to him.

Even in our society, which is obviously more respectful of differences than the ones that we see in the series, it is not difficult to find people who live under the ties of more or less the conscious expectations of their parents. Other times what happens is that this load is still present in a less obvious way. Children, when they are overly pressured by the parents' thinking but are not able to identify with those values, or at least part of them, may have intense separation reactions. This can cause the child to incarnate the opposing values. This can happen, for example, in people who have a political thought or lifestyle radically different from the parents. It may be the child’s overacted attempt to find his own space and individuality, which was not respected for years. These would be cases where, although the child has apparently escaped parental commands, their influence can be seen in how this person, conditioned by these mandates, felt compelled to build a life far from the values of the parents and not from the fruits of his own tendencies. It is not the same growth that comes from being given greater freedom.

Mini-lesson Nº 3: Losing the feeling that one can do something to improve and get better, eventually leads to passivity and depression

Feeling helpless is the result of learning and feeling that no matter how much a person works and struggles, he or she has no influence to change their situation and avoid being harmed. Living repeatedly with this feeling of impotence is a path to passivity, demotivation, and finally to depression. Okay, this one isn’t about psychosis, but it explains how a character living in this wild world can become overwhelmed by it.

The character of Sansa Stark, for example, is subject to different painful situations, living those situations passively, reaching the point of being overwhelmed by pain and sadness. Her shy and hesitant attempts to adapt to her situation lead to more punishment and more pain. She settles into a depressive symptomatology because of the difficulty of mourning not only the death of her father, but also for the destruction of what had been her world. She is so trapped in that pain that we find her in a state that is close to mutism. When she is given the opportunity to improve her situation through the help of Tyrion Lannister, she does not trust him or take advantage of his help. She just remains adamantly attached to pain and passivity. We could say she is traumatized because of all the things that have happened to her, and because it isn’t her psychology to be aggressive, she doesn’t fight back, so her personality formed as person who is shy and “coward” within the world she lives in.
Here we find a huge contrast between her personality and the character of her sister, Arya, who takes an active attitude and fights all the difficulties that may present. Although they have almost the same reason to seek revenge, Arya's mood is very different from Sansa’s, and in no moment does Arya show us that she will lose hope in the events that may come. Arya’s active attitude may be because she is, in comparison to Sansa, a fighter and a reckless girl. To Sansa, her sister acts in a wild way. As a result, they almost always bother each other because of their opposite styles and ways of living. Arya is always ready to fight and confront, getting to the point that she began to learn how to use a sword with the permission of her father, who approved all of this. Sansa never thought or wanted to do that and was never encouraged to do so by her father.

Use these lessons to help us understand the influences that shape who we are

We can finish our analysis by making a brief summary of the main ideas and comment how these concepts are reflected in the series' history. As we observe with Joffrey, his relationship so attached to his mother, who has a perverse personality and a personality disorder, leads him to act like her and in some cases, even worse, he takes perversity to the next level, especially sexually. We do not mean that a total attachment to the mother leads to a pathological state, but in this case many factors influence Joffrey’s psychology, including the same pathological personality of the mother, and at the same time the lack of a paternal figure that can regulate and give another example to the child.

As in the case of Robert and his mother Lysa Tully, sometimes this total attachment to the mother does not allow the boy to form a personality of his own and makes him act in function of the mother, always awaiting her approval.

With our second mini-lesson we see an example in Sam Tarly and his father a parent who expels or outcasts his son only because he has failed to meet the parent’s expectations. This can be seen in today’s society in parents who have failed to succeed in everything they proposed in life, and as a way of achieving this, they transmit and even force their children to accomplish what the parents could not as a way to feed their narcissism.

Last but not least, is how we can see that when a person is a repeated victim of events that significantly damage his or her subjectivity, and at the same time this person does not have the ability to defend themselves or do something to get out of these situations, the individual may sink into depression and reach an extreme state of impotence. Feeling that you can do nothing to change what goes on around you can lead to a submissive and passive personality, where it would not be rare to find suicidal tendencies.

While all of the cases that we see in the series can be transferred to today’s society, few manifest as such extremes. I think that the most common is the feeling of helplessness and impotence, which is a common manifestation in those suffering from depression. But as I described above, we can now see how, to a greater or lesser degree, some aspects of our family or events that happened to us can mark us and define us our whole lives. So we should always be aware of the way we have lived and how that made us who we are, always reflecting on ourselves to become better.

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