Star Wars Psychology: The Problems with Diagnosing Kylo Ren

Can we diagnose The Force Awakens' villain without knowing more background?

Posted Feb 10, 2016

Travis Langley
Jedi Master Langley fends off a cell of Sith at New York Comic Con.
Source: Travis Langley

What's wrong with the Solo kid?

Star Wars: The Force Awakens villain Kylo Ren is insecure, conflicted, and temperamental. Although a grown man, he throws destructive temper tantrums. Many mental health practitioners like Adam Smith (The Cantina Cast episode 115) suggest that he may have borderline personality disorder, that chaotic condition defined by poorly formed personality with erratic, unstable traits. A strong argument can be made there. His volatile moods and vacillating views toward important figures in his life (e.g., having both idolized and despised his father) certainly fit. He's a bit old to be acting like a moody adolescent. Could he be a psychopath? The first problem with suggesting that he has any kind of personality disorder is that we don't know what he was like before he got hooked on Force power. Pumped up on the dark side, he may act differently than he did before. 

The family dynamics are those of parents struggling to deal with a child whom they still love but who has sunken deep into addiction. His grandfather Anakin was a good, empathetic boy who cared about others and sought to do what was right - the kind of person who does not grow up become a psychopathic mass murderer. I had a hard time connecting Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace's child Anakin Skywalker with the young man he turned out to be in II: Attack of the Clones and III: Revenge of the Sith. In fact, I could do little more than chalk it up to poor characterization until I compared it to drug addiction. 

Force power that can lift a spaceship from a swamp or convince a Stormtrooper he's looking for other droids could potentially alter the Force-user's cognitive and emotional processes much like stress, drugs, brain injury....

....may maintain self-control no better than does a person who says, "I'm not drunk," while staggering from having nine drinks too many. "'Roid rage" would barely light a candle compared with the firestorm that dark side-fueled fury might unleash.
(Star Wars Psychology: Dark Side of the Mind, p. 11)

Here's an example of recent Twitter chatter on the subject:

  • @revsully: Hey Travis? Any pronouncements on Kylo Ren yet? A No-Diagnosis? ^_^ Cheers! @Superherologist
  • @Superherologist: The problem with diagnosing Kylo Ren is that we don't know what he was like before getting hooked on Force power. Maybe Kylo Ren has borderline personality disorder, but maybe he's more like a drug addict. #SWpsych
  • @JADaysFan: @Superherologist not borderline.....straight psychotic !
  • @Superherologist: IF he thinks Vader's helmet speaks to him. People talk to plants, pets, things without believing it's conversation. Kylo Ren could be hearing bits of Force-ghost Anakin trying to speak to him. Misunderstanding would not be psychotic. #SWpsych  ...Ren wants Vader to speak to him. We don't know he thinks Vader does. Many sane people worldwide pray for spirits and gods to speak to them.
  • @DanKurtz_: @Superherologist @revsully I think he wasn't Force hugged enough as a child.
  • @GeekFurious: @Superherologist Kylo almost seems frustrated that's he's been doing dark side hardcore, expecting to become an addict, but not there yet.
  • @matt_magus: @Superherologist or Anakin's force ghost may not be as "redeemed" as we were led to believe.
  • @Superherologist: Interesting idea. We don't know how new canon relates to that.
  • @JoaquinSlowly: @Superherologist @matt_magus Anecdotally, the story group confirmed it's still the same, but unestablished onscreen, it's still nebulous.
  • @GeekFurious: @JoaquinSlowly @Superherologist @matt_magus and there are no dark side Force ghosts, so he could just be delusional.
  • @TheGeekishCast: @Superherologist there has been some talk of a schizophrenic anakin skywalker force ghost. 
  • @Superherologist: Anakin relinquished the dark side. Died in a state of grace, so to speak. RT @ckaiserca Aren't these force ghosts?
  • @TheRu1es: @Superherologist @ckaiserca That might be one of the most irritating edits to the original trilogy. Hands down. And Lucas' explanation? "Anakin died when he became Vader." Then WHO was it who told Luke that he saved him? Was it a 3RD personality?
  • @Superherologist: Anyone who doesn't want me quoting their Kylo Ren diagnosis ideas at @PsychToday, please let me know. I'm quoting this discussion. #SWpsych
  • @Superherologist: Kylo Ren - Borderline? Psychopath? Dissociative? Reactive attachment? Explosive? Drunk with power? Addict? Really immature dude? #SWpsych
  • @ashleycdarling: @Superherologist Cry baby with daddy issues. Totally not my favorite. Such a wanna-be villain.
  • @CT_blog: @Superherologist but we still don't understand Kylo's true motivations - even his pleas to Vader are ambiguous/as his comments to his father
  • @Beebidon: @Superherologist desperately compensating by trying to push being evil after being told that a natural emotion (anger) is inherently evil. young, under a lot of pressure, probably more volatile than most but we can't diagnose him yet. his tantrums are an attempt to reconcile the dark side's need to lash out while the light side says no killing. So, smash.
  • @jimmie3507: @Superherologist Trying to get attention and bad attention is better than no attention.
  • @drowsypal: What would he be addicted to? Power?
  • @drfangirlphd: @Superherologist Seems too soon to tell, but def see insecurity, trying to prove his worth surrounded by a family of legendary fighters.
  • @MythicMage: @Superherologist Boy Interrupted. Dark Side gave him 2 much power 2 early. Light Side is hard work and lots of Feels 2 deal with.
  • @TheVillainist: @Superherologist millennial
  • @revsully: @Superherologist he's a metaphor.KR Might represent the Good Parent's Struggle against Autism. In TFA novelization, he's more withdrawn. ^_^
  • @dingos8myTARDIS: @Superherologist Definitely some Cluster B traits in there, would need a bit more background for RAD, but it's a possibility!
  • @chazin140orless: @Superherologist lots of possibilities - reactive attachment is an interesting addition to the list! 
  • @marginal_error: @LovingSanders @Superherologist Definitely has an addictive personality, with a little OCD mixed in #StarWarsPsychology
  • @Beebidon: It's way too soon. We've barely seen any of him. At least wait until movie 2 comes out!

Please add your thoughts about Kylo Ren in a comment here. You can also enter the discussion on Twitter and add to this list. Tweet me about it at @Superherologist. #SWpsych

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