Psychology of Cersei Lannister

As always, please read the Disclaimer and also remember that this post WILL CONTAIN SPOILERS for the current season (Season 4) of Game of Thrones on HBO.

If you want to read more of these analyses check out Diagnosing Westeros – The Psychology of Game of Thrones currently available on the Amazon store as an ebook.

psychology of Cersei
Cersei doesn’t approve of your diagnosis.

I was starting to think that I had run out of characters to analyse in terms of psychology for Game of Thrones – but then there was “First of his Name” and I was reminded of the lovely Lysa and her son and the general unease with which they leave me – but that is for another day.. Watching the blogs and comments sections this last week, I found that there was plenty of questions which essentially asked the same question “Will the real Cersei please stand up?” Her interactions with Margaery Tyrell were somewhat soft for Cersei and she seemed to have lost a bit of that bitterness that she has had in the past. Has she lost her touch after the death of Joffrey? She seems broken, right – or maybe that there is another personality that she is channeling. Ok wait – no it is not ‘Multiple Personality Disorder’ – otherwise known by it’s proper name of Dissociative Identity Disorder…So, without further ado, it is time to look at the psychology of Cersei.

Despite this being one of the oldest posts on the site it continues to be the most popular – check out some of the more recent Game of Thrones characters – Jon Snow, Arya and Theon.

The Problem

So let’s get to it, what is the Psychology of Cersei Lannister? To start with, Cersei has labile temper – often swinging between being relatively calm and then without a great deal of warning she is threatening, vengeful and intimidating. She is a great game player, and manages the relationships around her with a massive amount of time and energy. She is willing to accuse her own brother for the death of Joffrey (Joffrey’s analysis is here) without any real evidence that he did anything, because potentially the blaming of Tyrion means that she does not have to cope with her own feelings.

She also engages with what could be termed risky sexual behaviour, or incest to put it better. Potentially this sexual relationship with Jaime, which he seems more invested in, is a way of managing yet another relationship in her life…

So what could it be that underlies these behaviours? Freud would say hysteria, although Freud would say that about a female with emotional problems. Besides that, Freud is dead, and dead men tell no tales, nor do they make diagnoses. For the more psychologically savvy among you, you may have already hit the nail on the head – the behaviours that Cersei exhibits are probably those which best match the diagnosis of Borderline Personality disorder.

People with this disorder find the concept of strong emotions to be very hard to handle and as a result use other methods to distract them from these feelings. People in clinical settings tend to show a history of self harm, binge eating and risky sexual behaviours, all of which help sufferers to manage their emotions with these alternate behaviours rather than having to deal immediately with intense feeling states. People with BPD, in general, find the ups and downs of everyday life to be too intense to handle, problematically this often leads them to have bigger life problems. These problems tend to compound meaning that, in the long term, people with BPD face a high risk of suicide and self harm due to their desperate desire to avoid uncomfortable emotion.

Cersei tends to keep people at a distance so that she can better manage and manipulate them, however when people catch on to the manipulation they soon start to leave and ostracise the person suffering from BPD. As a result of this people with BPD tend to become isolated which increases their feelings of loss of control which in turn leads to more extreme behaviours to try to wrest this control back. This often means parasuicidal and other behaviours which tend to take the focus off the actual feeling. People with BPD are not craving attention, although it seems that way, but rather they are seeking a way to mitigate the feelings that strong emotions raise in them. Unfortunately, the behaviours which they engage in can look like they are trying to get attention, which in turn increase the judgment of others towards them, leading to further interpersonal conflict. Thus, the vicious cycle of relationship difficulty is forever perpetuated for the person with BPD. A good example in Cersei’s case is that she uses the accusation of Tyrion as a way to manage the intense emotions that she is feeling in relation to his death.

Treatment?

The (somewhat) good news is that BPD can tend to go into spontaneous recovery in the 4th decade of life, which she is somewhere close to at this stage. However, this recovery is usually preempted by a stable and supportive home environment, something that Cersei is not particularly privy to…

To explain her actions in First of his Name, people with BPD will often have moments when they realise that their actions are having a serious effect on their ability to engage with others, in clinical practice these brief insight periods are often the things are the most easily worked with. Unfortunately, with the lack of a good therapist in Westeros (maybe just some old Maesters with ulterior motives) the ability to get any recovery is very difficult I have a feeling that the real Cersei will be back with us some time very soon.

The way in which characters so closely meet psychological diagnosis makes me wonder whether the writers of the show are basing characters based on these diagnoses. What are your thoughts? Will Cersei’s game playing get her into trouble in the near future?

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