My favorite Disney villain of all time has to be Mother Gothel from the movie “Rapunzel”. At first, she seems to be one of the more mild villains (she doesn’t want to skin puppies alive or turn into a fire-breathing dragon), but watching the way she treats Rapunzel is enough to raise the hair on anyone’s neck. And here’s why: she’s a narcissist. We’ve all met someone like Mother Gothel…and it makes us cringe!
Mother Gothel isn’t just obsessed with herself and being young and beautiful, she mentally traps Rapunzel as easily as she physically traps her. She uses manipulation, guilt, and emotional abuse to convince Rapunzel that the world is a scary place. Even when she leaves the tower, Rapunzel battles with the mental snares Gothel still has on her.
Villains are not supposed to be one-dimensional, classically “evil” characters that twirl their mustaches as they tie our protagonist to train tracks. They are not “evil” just to be evil. Even Voldemort from Harry Potter is a classic sociopath that suffered from a bizarre magpie-like tendency to collect trophies, believed himself to be better than everyone else, and suffered a disabling fear of death.
To give our villains real dimension, they need to have real personalities! Real fears, real painful histories, and real personality defects and disorders. Personality disorders often take real characteristics and magnify them to an unhealthy extreme. For example, we can all feel insecure at times, but extreme insecurity becomes damaging to both ourselves and others around us. By studying actual personality psychology, we can draw inspiration from a myriad of established “unhealthy” characteristics to give our villains, well, character!
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (The DSM-5) there are three clusters of personality disorders:
(Odd, Bizarre, Eccentric)
Example Disorders: Paranoid, Schizoid, Schizotypal
Common Characteristics: Suspicious, untrusting, strong sense of personal rights and superiority, projecting thoughts and feelings onto others, lack of empathy or bonding, lack of emotional responses, may retreat to an internal world, avoid social interactions. odd appearance, speech, or tendencies.
Example Characters: Voldemort (Harry Potter), Becky Sharp (Vanity Fair), Iago (Othello), The Joker (The Dark Knight)
Example Disorders: Borderline, Histrionic, Narcissistic
Common Characteristics: Emotionally unstable and erratic, prone to outbursts or rages, deeply insecure, acts impulsively, can appear charming, turbulent relationships, overly dramatic, obsessed with attention and approval of others, demanding of others.
Example Characters: Joan Crawford (Mommy Dearest), Mother Gothel (Rapunzel), Cruella De Vil (101 Dalmations). Gilderoy Lockhart (Harry Potter), Miranda Priestly (Devil Wears Prada)
Example Disorders: Avoidant, Dependent, Obsessive-compulsive
Common Characteristics: Deep fear of rejection and abandonment, helplessness, idealizing unhealthy individuals (especially cluster B people), naive or child-like views of the world, perpetual victims, obsessive preoccupation with lists, details, rules, order, schedules, perfectionists, humorless, overly-controlling, seeing things as very black and white.
Example Characters: Dolores Umbridge (Harry Potter), Two-face (Batman), Syndrome (The Incredibles), Captain Hook (Peter Pan), Loki (Marvel Universe)
For more information on (not so) fun personality disorders check out this great source: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/hide-and-seek/201205/the-10-personality-disorders