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Could Star Wars' Darth Vader Teach About Borderline Personality Disorder?


French researchers have posed a very interesting theory on Anakin Skywalker’s transformation into Darth Vader. In a letter to the editor in the journal Psychiatry Research, Eric Bui, a psychiatrist at Toulouse University Hospital in France, says that the Jedi Knight displays six out of the nine criteria for borderline personality disorder.

Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) is a serious mental illness characterized by pervasive instability in moods, interpersonal relationships, self-image and behavior. BPD affects about 2% of adults and accounts for 20% of psychiatric hospitalizations.

According to the fourth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM IV-TR), BPD is diagnosed when an individual displays at least five of the following nine symptoms:

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1. Frantic efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment.
2. A pattern of unstable and intense interpersonal relationships characterized by alternating between extremes of idealization and devaluation.
3. Identity disturbance: markedly and persistently unstable self-image or sense of self.
4. Impulsivity in at least two areas that are potentially self-damaging (e.g., promiscuous sex, eating disorders, binge eating, substance abuse, reckless driving).
5. Recurrent suicidal behavior, gestures, threats or self-injuring behavior such as cutting, interfering with the healing of scars (excoriation) or picking at oneself.
6. Affective instability due to a marked reactivity of mood (e.g., intense episodic dysphoria, irritability or anxiety usually lasting a few hours and only rarely more than a few days).
7. Chronic feelings of emptiness
8. Inappropriate anger or difficulty controlling anger (e.g., frequent displays of temper, constant anger, recurrent physical fights).
9. Transient, stress-related paranoid ideation, delusions or severe dissociative symptoms

Dr. Bui came up with his “diagnosis” of Darth Vader while watching two of the three Star Wars prequel movies, “Attack of the Clones” and “Revenge of the Sith”. He says that young Anakin Skywalker was separated from his mother at an early age and his father was absent, factors that could have contributed to his mental illness.

Also indicative of BPD are his “infantile illusions of omnipotence” and “dysfunctional experiences of self and others.” He often showed impulsive behavior and had difficulty controlling his anger. His eventual “turn to the Dark Side” and name change could represent the ultimate sign of an identity disturbance.

Bui and his colleagues hope that use of the Star Wars character may help to explain borderline personality disorder to medical students and may help those who suffer better understand their illness.