Voldemort: Portrait of a Raging Psychopath
An original editorial by yrome
The character of Tom Marvolo Riddle/Lord Voldemort fascinates me. He obviously plays a key role in the whole series, and it was apparent to me that to even begin to conjecture about the remainder of the series, an in-depth character analysis of Voldemort was in order.
Heres what JKR has to say about Voldemort in various interviews:
Voldemort is complex villain:
"With Voldemort, I didn't want to create this cardboard cutout of a baddie, where you put a black hat on him and you say 'Right, now you shoot at that guy because he's bad.'" ("J.K. Rowling Interview," CBCNewsWorld: Hot Type, July 13, 2000)
"Voldemort...I wanted to create a villain...not just have a 2-D baddie, dressed up in black..." (Mzimba, Lizo. Transcript of interview with J.K.Rowling, BBC Newsround, Fall 2000)
Voldemort was not born evil, but chose to be that way:
"And Harry, as you know, from book four, is starting to come to terms with what makes a person turn that way. Because they took wrong choices, and Voldemort took wrong choices from a very early age - he decided young what he wanted to be." ("JK Rowling talks about Book Four," cBBC Newsround, July 2000)
Voldemort is comprehensible (at some level):
"And that was very conscious - I wanted to create a villain, where you could understand the workings of his mind...and I wanted to explore that and see where that came from." (Mzimba, Lizo. Transcript of interview with J.K.Rowling, BBC Newsround, Fall 2000)
We are not yet in a position to know where he is coming from or how/why he started down the road he did that is coming in Book 6 (and 7, I presume). We can only begin to understand Voldemort in the context of the information we have. So what do we have?
JKRs characterization of Voldemort:
"I'm writing about shades of evil. You have Voldemort, a raging psychopath, devoid of the normal human responses to other people's suffering, and there are people like that in the world." ("Rowling Thunder (Parts 1 and 2)," Entertainment Weekly, August 4, 2000)
"If you are writing about Evil, which I am, and if you are writing about someone who is essentially a psychopath..." ["Harry Potter and Me," BBC Christmas Special, British version (BBC, 28 December 2001)]
Let me begin by saying that I am NOT a mental health professional. I only made it through Psychology 101 (years ago), and there was limited time spent on extreme personalities. Since JKR described Voldemort as an evil, raging psychopath, I decided to check out what defines a psychopath. I began with the Psychopathy Checklist Revised (PCL-R) found here
There is a scoring method for each of the listed characteristics, but its only to be used by those who have adequate training and experience in this area (I do not), so Ill just list them generally as Present, Absent, or Dont Know, as applicable to Voldemort. (Remember that I am using these tools as they apply to the story, and am not making light of this situation as it pertains to real people so please dont be offended.)
||Present, Absent, Don't know
||Pertaining to Voldemort
||He is eloquent and charming. Ive always been able to charm the people I needed. (CoS, pg. 310)
|Grandiose sense of self-worth
I was mightier than any wizard living. (GoF, pg. 648)
||We have no evidence of pathological lying, yet there is a lot of missing time involved
|Lack of remorse or guilt
||I think thats safe to say
||I took affect to mean emotion, of which he has many, and he isnt that shallow, he does have major mood swings
|Callous/lack of empathy
||Hes devoid of the normal human responses to other people's suffering
|Failure to accept responsibility for own actions
||Hes actually quite proud of what hes done
|Need for stimulation/ proneness to boredom
||possessing others = parasitic
|Poor behavioral controls
||He does not lack self-control
|Early behavioral problems
||I assume, but we dont really know
|Lack of realistic, long-term goals
||In Voldemorts case, it is not unrealistic to think he can conquer death and/or take over the wizarding community |
||He is patient and will wait to achieve his goals (GoF is a prime example)
||Setting a Basilisk loose in Hogwarts before the age of 18 probably qualifies
|Revocation of conditional release
||Hes never been caught
|Promiscuous sexual behavior
||JKR has said hes never loved anyone, but this is different, and we dont know, nor will we probably ever know, the answer to this one (not age-appropriate)
|Many short-term marital relationships
||As far as we know, there hasnt been a Mrs. Riddle/Lady Voldemort |
||There are a lot of methods to his madness
So, Voldemort possesses many of the characteristics of a psychopath. Im sure JKR did her research when it came to this, so I am not surprised to find he fulfills so many of the criteria. But there is so much more to him than that. So I dug a bit more into the realms of psychology and based upon further research, I suggest that Voldemort also suffers from Narcissistic Personality Disorder. All following information below is taken directly from this website.
"Individuals with this Cluster B Personality Disorder have an excessive sense of how important they are. They demand and expect to be admired and praised by others and are limited in their capacity to appreciate others' perspectives.
Diagnostic criteria for 301.81 Narcissistic Personality Disorder
A pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behavior), need for admiration, and lack of empathy, beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts, as indicated by five (or more) of the following:
(1) has a grandiose sense of self-importance (e.g., exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements)
(Reprinted with permission from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fourth Edition. Copyright 1994 American Psychiatric Association)"
(2) is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love
(3) believes that he or she is "special" and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people (or institutions)
(4) requires excessive admiration
(5) has a sense of entitlement, i.e., unreasonable expectations of especially favorable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations
(6) is interpersonally exploitative, i.e., takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends
(7) lacks empathy: is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others
(8) is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him or her
(9) shows arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitude
Ok, we can begin to attack this list with some examples for each point (there are many more than what I have listed, but if I included them all, this article would never end!).
(1) There is no doubt that Voldemort has a VERY high opinion of himself. He says he is the greatest wizard of all time (CoS, pg. 313). Although, in his case, not only does he talk the talk, he does walk the walk. I dont think Voldemort needs to fake his abilities, he seems quite gifted as a wizard. Mr. Ollivander and Dumbledore both concede this point. "After all, He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named did great things - terrible, yes, but great.'" (SS, pg. 65). Dumbledore said Voldemort "was probably the most brilliant student Hogwarts has ever seen" (CoS, pg.329) and "Voldemorts knowledge of magic is perhaps more extensive than any wizard alive" (OotP, pg. 835). He does fake his credentials, though hes a half-blood and were not too sure how many wizards know that.
(2) He has been preoccupied with cheating death and becoming the most powerful wizard in the world. Voldemort devoted >20 years of his life to those goals. We really are talking about someone who is incredibly power hungry... (Time Magazine staff, "Essay: A Conversation with J.K. Rowling; A Good Scare," Time Magazine, October, 30, 2000).
(3) Status as Salazar Slytherins last remaining heir probably gave Voldemort the idea that he was special/unique/entitled. He does believe he should only associate with pure-bloods and makes it his personal mission to rid the world of half-bloods and muggles.
(4),(5), and (9) Voldemort certainly does enjoy being the center of attention, and he has managed to gain notoriety through fear in the wizarding world. He does boast about his mental and magical acuity. The Death Eaters can be construed as some sort of warped Voldemort fan club. I am sure he encourages all of the prostrating and other acts of servitude, and he did give himself the title of Lord Voldemort. He certainly expects his orders to be followed and does employ negative feedback tactics to ensure total compliance with his wishes.
(6) This could go on forever, but three prime examples are Quirrel, Ginny, and Wormtail. Voldemort used Quirrel to try to get the Stone, possessed him when it became necessary, and then left him to die when that plan failed. He used Ginny via the diary to reopen the Chamber of Secrets and lure Harry, and even though shes a pure-blood, Voldemort left her to die. As for Wormtail, Voldemort would have possessed him if he could, but instead made him give his right hand so that he could get a body back.
(7) JKR said Voldemort is devoid of the normal human responses to other people's suffering
(8) I think he believes all wizards, at least his Death Eaters, want to be him. Also, I think hes a bit envious of Dumbledore. After hearing the prophecy, he knows that the only one with the power to vanquish him is Harry yet he still fears Dumbledore. Why? He knows that Dumbledore is a better (both literally and figuratively) wizard than he is. Hints of his envy/jealousy come out when he accuses the Death Eaters of paying allegiance to Dumbledore during his rebirth speech.
Now we have a cursory understanding of what we are dealing with in Voldemort as a psychopath. I will also say that he is a cerebral narcissist - keep reading and youll understand why.
I found out some fascinating information from Malignant Self Love by Dr. Sam Vaknin, and will summarize and share some of the info I found at this website. I recommend you go to that website if you find this interesting. It is a veritable gold mine of info that helps to understand the narcissist, in this case, Voldemort. All passages in bold are taken directly from this website.
One of the more interesting characteristics (to me, anyway) of Tom Riddle/Voldemort is why the Dark Arts fascinated him, rather than what might interest a normal teenage boy, like going on a date. Dr. Vaknin offers the following explanation (in bold), with the following disclaimer, which applies for me, too : It would be correct to substitute one gender for another. Female narcissists treat the men in their lives in a manner indistinguishable from the way male narcissists treat "their" women. I believe that this is the case with same sex partners:
The woman's chores are to accumulate past Narcissistic Supply (by witnessing the narcissist's "moments of glory").
Id say Bella fits the bill, she does seem the type to stroke his ego.
Otherwise, cerebral narcissists are not interested in women. Most of them are asexual (desire sex very rarely, if at all). They hold women in contempt and abhor the thought of being really intimate with them.
That satisfied my curiosity, hopefully yours as well onto the major character analysis.
Narcissists invent a new version of themselves to present to the world: a False Self (as it is called) that is the polar opposite of the True Self, who s/he really is. On the one hand, we have Tom Riddle (True Self), muggle-born wizard with no family, status, power, wealth, etc., and on the other we have Lord Voldemort (False Self), heir of Slytherin, family of Death Eaters, presumed pure-blood, riches (either ill-gained or from the Chamber of Secrets, there was probably more than just the Basilisk down there). How does this occur? Dr. Vaknin explains (in bold):
The malignant narcissist invents and then projects a false, fictitious self for the world to fear, or to admire. The narcissist's grandiose self-delusions and fantasies of omnipotence and omniscience are supported by real life authority and the narcissist's predilection to surround himself with obsequious sycophants.
I fashioned myself a new name, a name I knew wizards everywhere would one day fear to speak when I had become the greatest sorcerer in the world. (CoS, pg. 314)
Well, that eventually happened, and most of the wizarding world wont say his name.
Death Eaters fill the role of obsequious sycophants perfectly.
To the narcissist, things and people are either entirely bad (evil) or entirely good. He projects onto others his own shortcomings and negative emotions, thus becoming a totally good object. A narcissistic leader is likely to justify the butchering of his own people by claiming that they intended to kill him, undo the revolution, devastate the economy, or the country, etc.
Voldemort. In the second book, Chamber of Secrets, in fact he's exactly what I've said before. He takes what he perceives to be a defect in himself, in other words the non-purity of his blood, and he projects it onto others. It's like Hitler and the Arian ideal, to which he did not conform at all, himself. And so Voldemort is doing this also. He takes his own inferiority, and turns it back on other people and attempts to exterminate in them what he hates in himself. ("J.K. Rowling Interview," CBCNewsWorld: Hot Type, July 13, 2000)
There is no conflict between the True Self and the False Self. First, the True Self is much too weak to do battle with the overbearing False.
Like Hitler! See! I think it's the case that the biggest bully takes their own defects and they put them on someone else, and they try to destroy them. And that's what he - Voldemort - does. (Mzimba, Lizo. Transcript of interview with J.K. Rowling, BBC Newsround, Fall 2000)
Lord Voldemort won outright over Tom Riddle.
Second, the False Self is adaptive (though maladaptive). It helps the True Self to cope with the world. Without the False Self, the True Self would be subjected to so much hurt that it will disintegrate.
Tom Riddle made up Voldemort. For what reason, we could speculate, but JKR has said shell tell us the back story by the end of the series.
The False Self has many functions. The two most important are:
1. It serves as a decoy, it "attracts the fire." It is a proxy for the True Self. It is tough as nails and can absorb any amount of pain, hurt, and negative emotions. By inventing it, the child develops immunity to the indifference, manipulation, sadism, smothering, or exploitation in short: to the abuse inflicted on him by his parents (or by other Primary Objects in his life). It is a cloak, protecting him, rendering him invisible and omnipotent at the same time.
The Voldemort personality may have been brewing inside Tom while he was at the orphanage and came to the surface and became real once he was at Hogwarts and understood his ancestry and just how powerful he could be. Remember this...someone who believes that there is no good and evil, just power and those too weak to use it (SS)? Sounds like he was on the wrong side of a power struggle once and realized he never had to be again if he decided not to be. Time will tell (only 117 more days!).
2. The False Self is misrepresented by the narcissist as his True Self. The narcissist is saying, in effect: "I am not who you think I am. I am someone else. I am this (False) Self.
Sound familiar? Not Tom Riddle, but Lord Voldemort. When he came back from his years studying the Dark Arts, he was barely recognizable (CoS, pg. 329), he was not only physically transformed, but mentally transformed as well.
The False Self, thus, is a contraption intended to alter other people's behavior and attitude towards the narcissist. These roles are crucial to survival and to the proper psychological functioning of the narcissist. The False Self is by far more important to the narcissist than his dilapidated, dysfunctional, True Self.
This bit leads me to think that the way to truly destroy Voldemort is to strip away the False Self and leave him only with his true self Tom Riddle. How that could happen, I have no idea, but it could be worse than death for Voldemort. Just a thought.
The two Selves are not part of a continuum, as the neo-Freudians postulated. Healthy people do not have a False Self which differs from its pathological equivalent in that it is more realistic and closer to the True Self.
Finally, something that makes sense (to me) of the in essence divided statement by Dumbledore! Voldemort is split in two - True Self and False Self.
In a full-fledged narcissist, the False Self imitates the True Self. To do so artfully, it deploys two mechanisms: Re-InterpretationTom Riddle reinterprets who he is: heir of Slytherin. He chose to become a character he believed would be more worthy of that title, someone who actually carries out Salazar Slytherins noble work. (CoS, pg. 312)] and Emulation. The narcissist is possessed of an uncanny ability to psychologically penetrate others. Often, this gift is abused and put at the service of the narcissist's control freakery and sadism. The narcissist uses it liberally to annihilate the natural defences of his victims by faking empathy.
We know that Voldemort is a superior Legilimens, so both as a wizard and a narcissist he is able to mentally penetrate others. He uses this over others, he knows when they are lying and/or feeling guilty, etc., and takes great pleasure in dispensing punishments accordingly.
Let's start by referring to an oft-occurring question: Why are narcissists not prone to suicide?
The simple answer is that they died a long time ago. Narcissists are the true zombies of the world.
This resembles what Hagrid had told us a while ago, that there was not enough human left in Voldemort to die. I would change that, though, to read that there is not enough Tom Riddle left in Voldemort. Maybe that is why Dumbledore refers to him as Tom, to remind him that Tom is still there. Although the prospect doesnt look good...read on.
Once formed and functioning, the False Self stifles the growth of the True Self and paralyses it. Henceforth, the True Self is virtually non-existent and plays no role (active or passive) in the conscious life of the narcissist. It is difficult to "resuscitate" it.
Well just have to wait and see how this plays out!
In summary, Voldemort has the characteristics of a cerebral, narcissistic psychopath. Again, I am NOT a mental health professional, so this is purely an amateur diagnosis! My intention was to describe the type of character that Voldemort is now, since he is the topic of THE two questions JKR said we should be asking.
Understanding how Voldemort evolved might provide some insight as to how he could be vanquished, so I am curious to learn more about his childhood and how he came to be who he is. Voldemort is a provocative and captivating character, well written and, in my opinion, one of the best antagonists in literature today.
Not only that, Voldemort is pivotal to the overall story. Without him, there would be no series. After all, JKR is "dealing with evil - I am trying to examine what happens to this community when a maniac tries to take over." ("Potter author's content warning," BBC News, 29 September 2000).
Posted by: Sara