Thursday, 10 June 2010

Does Darth Vader meet the diagnostic criteria for Borderline Personality Disorder?

In a brazen act of arm-chair diagnosis, Eric Bui and colleagues at Toulouse University Hospital in France have written a short academic article arguing that the Star Wars character Darth Vader probably meets the diagnostic criteria for borderline personality disorder (BPD). The authors point to Anakin Skywalker's (as he was originally known) life history, including fatherly absence, early maternal separation and infantile illusions of omnipotence. They go on to claim that Skywalker meets six of the formal nine DSM (diagnostic and statistical manual) criteria for BPD:
'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.'
Does this matter? Bui and his colleagues argue that Skywalker's condition could help explain the appeal of the Star Wars films to teenagers - an age group they say presents 'more frequent BPD traits than adults'. They also suggest that promoting recognition that such a famous fictional character meets the criteria for a BPD diagnosis could help combat the stigma associated with mental illness. 'Finally,' they write, 'as [the Star Wars films are] part of most students' cultural background, this case study could prove useful in teaching the criteria of BPD to medical students and residents.'

Bui first made these claims at a psychiatric conference in 2007. Digest readers seeking a more scholarly consideration of the borderline personality disorder diagnosis could try the journal Personality and Mental Health's special issue published last year [pdf of editorial].

ResearchBlogging.orgBui, E., Rodgers, R., Chabrol, H., Birmes, P., & Schmitt, L. (2010). Is Anakin Skywalker suffering from borderline personality disorder? Psychiatry Research DOI: 10.1016/j.psychres.2009.03.031

Post written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.

Image is from the Star Wars Wiki.


PsychBook said...

Who says academics don't make meaningful contributions to public life?!

Ender said...

I'm not sure diagnosing one of the most iconic villains in the world with BPD will do much to remove it's stigma... though he is pretty badass* :p

*originally, not his whiny re-make in the new 'films'

Anonymous said...

epic!!! haha its things like this that make being a psychology student so awesome

Anonymous said...

Actually this is simply a case of ignorance.
Annakin Skywalker did the things he did from a genuine Cassandra Complex. He knew the future, but was powerless to stop destiny.
I like to think he sacrificed himself to distract Sidious because he foresaw Luke fixing the problem later.

Unknown said...

Surely the point is that none of the characters had any of the disorders mentioned as they are all fictitious characters. Their behaviours is the result of the imagination of the scriptwriter(s) rather than any medical condition.

Anonymous said...

Anakin Skywalker was a narcissist, pure and simple.

Anonymous said...

He wasn't that bad a dad.

Anonymous said...

How about Tyler Durden? :p

Anonymous said...

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, 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

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"

A.J. Mahari said...

What really needs to be talked about and focused on is the stigma that makes the already complex and painful challenge of Borderline Personality Disorder in people's lives worse. You'd think professionals would have, oh, I don't know, patients to treat? The thought that this psychiatrist will use this flawed and misguided analogy to teach students about Borderline Personality Disorder makes a case for the argument that BPD has not yet truly been brought out of the dark ages of psychiatry.

Anonymous said...

I agree, you're absolutely right. He is not boderline, he clearly demonstrates narcissistic features

Anonymous said...

Hmm, I'm not sure it's at helpful to 'diagnose' DarthVader with BPD. I was diagnosed with this many years ago and despite being in far better position to control many of the behavioural manifestions of this 'soul sickness, I still face an everyday battle with deep seated self loathing- not good and not something i'd wish on my worst enemy! I certainly don't believe that being tarred with the same brush as Darth Vader is going to help combat the enormous stigma that's out there.

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