This is the third instalment in the Psychology of Game of Thrones series, previous posts here and here – The world of Game of Thrones is filled with wondrous creatures, magic and myth, but is there a different explanation for it all? Could it be that some of the characters are actually suffering from psychotic illness? Of those who could be potentially this way inclined, Stannis Baratheon seems to stand tall above the rest of them, with his reliance on black magic and shadow assassins.

Yes, I know, it is a fictional series and there is magic involved and that we need to take this into consideration when watching, but what if there wasn’t magic involved, what if Stannis was genuinely unwell? What if the things that he saw Melisandre do were not actually real, but figments of a delusion?

Stannis is somewhat distanced from the rest of his family and has acted as a military arm to Robert previously and is currently trying to mount his claim to the throne. However, it seems through desperation that he has been required to take on the services of the priestess Melisandre, who believes him to be the person who will defeat the White Walkers. Through some rather nifty manipulation, Melisandre has convinced Stannis that he is the rightful King and that he needs her by his side. She has given birth to a shadow assassin to do their bidding at one stage, and sacrifices have been made, but what if there was no shadow?

Sharing (Psychosis) is caring

Folie a Deux is what we are talking about, or the shared psychotic delusion. Shared psychotic delusion? Yep, it’s for real and often involves a person of higher influence with a psychotic delusion being able to influence another person to the extent that they also start to exhibit the same symptoms. However, the illness is exceedingly rare ‘in the wild’ and is not often diagnosed or seen in clinical settings. One of the major reasons of this is that this illness cannot be diagnosed if the beliefs are culturally acceptable to those around them.

Another factor that could very well play into the fact that a lot of their Stannis’ followers also believe the same things as he and Melisadnre is the concept of emotional contagion which is the psychological theory which explains why and how we mimic the feelings and emotions of others. This theory also accounts for cultural beliefs and ideals and how often these views are shared by large groups of people, hence the inability to diagnose the folie a deux if beliefs fall into a shared cultural belief.

But, no, surely there couldn’t be an instance where a whole group of people believe in the same strange belief system? Think of ancient religions to start with, especially those that required blood or human sacrifices to appease Gods. When these beliefs perpetuate and are shared by a large group of people then it falls into the category of mass hysteria, (seriously check that link to Wikipedia out, it has awesome information on some incredible outbreaks). If you read the work on mass hysteria you will find that it is not just isolated to small outbreaks that are easily addressed, but rather whole towns and villages that seemingly ‘came under the spell’ – one of the best examples being the Salem Witch Trials which led to the deaths of almost 20 people due to allegations of witchcraft.

The thing with psychosis is that people who suffer from it are not always believing in delusions, a common misconception is that they may walk around muttering to themselves or interacting with things that aren’t actually there. This isn’t actually the case at all and a lot of people who suffer from psychosis, or psychosis-like illnesses, may actually appear completely without symptoms except when they are triggered, or not medicated, or tired or stressed. Some people are able to carry on with work and can actually be quite persuasive in their arguments, thereby sometimes being able to inadvertently ‘recruit’ others to their cause. This in turn leads to a process of interpersonal reinforcement – ‘If they believe it, it must be true’ and around and around meaning that the delusion is often difficult to break in this sense. Think major cults who have believed in UFOs coming to collect them, and you can see how ingrained these beliefs often get and how hard it is for individuals, and even communities, to break free from them.

So, is Stannis truly using the power of ‘The Light’ or have he and his followers merely fallen under the spell of Melisandre, a person suffering from her own psychotic delusion?

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Written by The Psychologist

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