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Is Voldemort truly evil or does he have a psychiatric condition?

Why is he unable to love?

If he is incapable of love can he truly be held responsible for his actions?

Voldemort remains one the most iconic villains in children’s literature. However, because of his iconic status, it can be difficult to recognise and relate to him him as a truly three dimensional character because in order to do so we must analyse him as a real person rather than a plot device.

I explore the root cause for Voldemort's inability to love and why, regardless of this "handicap" Voldemort is still ultimately responsible for his choices and his actions.

Many writers have analysed Voldemort in the past and come to the common conclusion that he has “sociopathy” or to use the current psychiatric term “antisocial personality disorder” (APD), which is a psychiatric condition characterised by a lack of conscience and socially unacceptable behaviour. Many people believe that this diagnosis of a mental disorder explains all of his actions, motivations and emotions throughout the books.

As a doctor I find this explanation deeply unsatisfying because at the core of Voldemort’s character is the idea that he is completely incapable of understanding or experiencing love. There is no evidence that patients with APD are incapable of love. The closest science can come to proving the existence of love is by measuring function in the mirror neurones in our brain which engage in empathy, and patients with APD are fully capable of true empathy. However they do have an abnormal tendency to be able to turn off their empathy at will and are slower to learn from pain inducing stimuli.

Instead, there is one glaringly obvious reason why Voldemort cannot love: his upbringing in the orphanage.

It appears that because in the sixth book, Harry judge the orphans to be well fed and clean, most of the fan community have decided that Voldemort wasn’t abused and his childhood did dramatically contribute to his later choices in life.

However we known from studies done on children from the state orphanages of Romania and Bulgaria that having enough food and clothes does not equate to producing emotional healthy adults.  These orphanages were often likened to giant battery farms for children. Whilst they were adequately fed and clothed, no emotional support was offered as a matter of policy. Unlike the orphanages of 1930s Britain, many of the newborn babies who arrived in the orphanage did eventually live into their adult years, which enabled us to assess the impact of emotional neglect on their adult lives

The institutional life actually created some degree of emotional detachment in all children regardless of age, but in babies who arrived at the orphanage before the age of 9-12 months it was discovered that the vast majority of them were unable to build any successful human relationships as adults. Although these adults had a variety of other psychiatric disorders including depression, it was clear from functional MRI scans that the part of their brain used to process empathy and emotions relating others was underdeveloped and rarely activated. The cause for this was identified as complete lack of emotional stimulation during those crucial first 9-12 months of life.

In effect, what we learnt from these studies was that humans are not born able to love. Love and empathy are skills that we learn by example.

Tom Riddle, born in the orphanage, would never have been given the chance to learn by example. This is the reason why Tom is incapable of love. Harry on the other hand lived 15 months with his birth parents and was shown how to love. Even when he was at the Dursleys he saw what love was because even though the Dursley are very unpleasant, they definitely love each other and have no shame flaunting it before Harry. Harry has grown up knowing what love is, even if he does not received any of it.

Many people have commented that if Voldemort does have a psychiatric condition this completely undermines the idea that he was truly evil. There is never any true discussion about why Voldemort made the choices that turned him into a caricature of evil. In a children’s book that preaches the importance of our choices over our origins, Voldemort as a central character is tragically ironic.

However, it is important to remember that just because Voldemort could not experience or understand love does not negate the fact that he murdered, tortured, pillaged and nearly destroyed the wizarding world. At the end of the series almost every main character has been burn by tragedy from the wizarding war. The resulting fall out of Voldemort’s uprising has created a Ministry of Magic that no longer understands the meaning of justice and is willing to throw everyone innocent or guilty to the Dementors for their own peace of mind.

Having an inability to love is not a reason for Voldemort to be declared innocent of the crimes he has committed. He is not insane; his logical and reasoning faculties are completely intact. Voldemort still has the full logical and intellectual capacity to make the correct decisions in life. They may not come naturally to him and they may not be emotionally fulfilling for him but this does not mean he is incapable of separating right from wrong. To say that Voldemort should be exempt from the same ethical and moral standards as the rest of humanity is a disservice to all the orphans who did become productive, functional members of society upon leaving the orphanage.

The vast majority of orphans from the studies conducted in Romania and Bulgaria who did have neurological damage from their upbringing in the orphanage have built functional, productive lives. We may pity their inability to form long term relationships and worry about the consequences, but that is a very ablest way of viewing the situation.  They have overcome a huge challenge in their lives that the majorities of us will never begin to comprehend and despite all their disadvantages they have succeed in becoming members of society. To say that the inability to love turns people into murderous psychopath is completely untrue, and it takes all value out of our personal choices.

Voldemort’s choices were important regardless of what neurological/psychiatric condition he may or may not have. Tom Riddle became Voldemort because he did not want to conform to the ethics and moral of society, not because he was completely unable to do so.  Although making the right choices would not come naturally for Tom Riddle, he could have done so if only he could have looked beyond his own narrow desire for power. However Tom Riddle enjoyed making all the wrong choices and Lord Voldemort certainly enjoyed the consequences of his actions.

Voldemort should be held culpable for his actions, and the families of all the people he harmed do deserve justice.


( 11 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 27th, 2015 04:12 am (UTC)
Very true.
Jan. 27th, 2015 09:09 pm (UTC)
Thinking about the orphanages and learning about the children who never learned to love makes me feel so sad. And it's chilling. We can adore Voldemort as a villain because he is so gloriously sexily aesthetically satisfyingly evil. And he's not real. But real actual adults who struggle with their past and it can never be undone, is very, very sad. :-(
Feb. 1st, 2015 02:12 pm (UTC)
I am whooping with agreement and so happy that you have said this, wellingtongoose. Voldemort was indeed capable of empathy and remorse. It happened after he killed Harry's parents and looked at the crying baby and realized he knew how this baby felt, and that he himself had created such desolation. (See the chapter "Bathilda's Secret" in Deathly Hallows: "he had killed the boy, and yet he was the boy...")

This empathy was what weakened his Avada Kedavra so much that he failed to kill the baby, and the remorse was what caused the pain that would have killed him (except for the Horcruxes) and banished his soul to the forest for years. Voldemort chose to keep empathy turned off for the remainder of his life, even though he could feel it, because it was unendurable. And he would have been better equipped to endure empathy and remorse if he'd had any nurturing at all, any, in his first few months when that kind of strength (=magic) is created from nothing except human-to-human interaction.

Voldemort's final Avada Kedavra was the last time he made that choice. Harry offered him the option of remorse and he decided to go for the kill instead. But he could have chosen remorse and stopped his violence. At any point. Yep. Choice.

You know how Tom Riddle's old orphanage was razed and an office high-rise built on the site? I like to imagine an AU in which the orphans he terrorized in the cave grew up to work for a foundation like Lumos (JKR's charity to move kids out of institutions into homes) to strengthen the lives of people who were cruelly denied nurturing and brain development in their infancy.

Feb. 1st, 2015 11:45 pm (UTC)
I actually forgot that part in the deathly hallows. That is a very good example of Voldemort engaging in empathy. I particularly love the idea that the orphans Voldemort terrorised would be able to grow up to lead happy successful lives!
Feb. 15th, 2015 09:29 pm (UTC)
Unlike the orphanages of 1930s Britain, many of the newborn babies who arrived in the orphanage did eventually live into their adult years

Why didn't the newborn babies who arrived in the orphanages of 1930s Britain live into their adult years?
Feb. 15th, 2015 10:39 pm (UTC)
Infant and child mortality in the general population was much higher in 1930s and it was disproportionately higher in orphanages. Also in 1930s Britain most institutions had cottage home schemes that tried to resemble families, boarding out schemes (the forerunner of foster care today) and a high rate of adoptions, none of which happened in eastern european orphanages.

The style of Tom Riddle's orphanage by 1930s was no longer the norm, but I think JK Rowling was going for the traditional victorian/dickens portrayal of an orphanage.
May. 19th, 2015 02:47 pm (UTC)
I really liked, no loved, your points, especially that V had still his brains and so he was actually able to chose a differed road, to which he didn't////

Though I really feel that I must add something...
Young Tom wasn't merely neglected by his caretakers as a baby and small child(though it was what probably caused the initial and most thorough damage)he was also(and nothing will change my mind to this)-probably severely- bullied by the other kids to the orphanage.-

Some will tell me "Wait a moment here, he was the bully not the others, there were those incidents mentioned at book six" but to that I will have to answer think again.

Today, at a supposedly more advanced society, we have kids bullied from other kids for their smarts,(or lack thereof)looks, personality, colour or religion -- bulling starting from verbal going to middle physical(meaning stealing things and/or some tripping ups and kicks)to severe physical(meaning full beating ups) --and that happens in actual schools(not even just the run-down ones)not merely orphanages...

Was it really possible at such circumstances of a 30s orphanage, in about 30-50 or even a hundred kids with one truly different -and yes deeply troubled one-(and so obviously odd) to be left alone???
Do you truly believe that he was the instigator of the whole thing?

NO.- There was no way in hell to be such a case/// and no that doesn't make him fully innocent on any way.- He took things far far, insanely if not outright criminally far against those kids but someone started him that way.
It wasn't just a matter of not knowing love at all but of outrighty getting intimate with hate.

That was the orphanage... what about Hogwarts???

There was a teacher Dumbledore, that had supposedly so saw his real face and had written him off...
(-someone could say that V's hate could be formed merely by that first encounter, the fact that he denied him a teaching position and probably envy for his position and power but I really doubt it will be enough to explain the depth and passion of his hate. Even a person with the deepest case of APD should have an extremely boring life/free time in his hands to devote such intense hate from those things.
(and no I doubt it just developed from the times Dumbledore thwarted him in their battles, before his attack to Harry and his parents the WW was ready to fell like a ripe fruit, so definitely not that.)
-even his extreme and indeed passionate hate to Harry didn't come only because he stopped him time and time again but cause not just that once but repeated times he had seen that kid as himself and the resulted empathy made him hate him even more.- But I digest...
May. 19th, 2015 02:47 pm (UTC)
Dumbledore may had seen the hidden face of one Tom Riddle but never ever spoke to the other professors about his discovery, maybe he did it as a last ditch chance on Tom to fix his act but the fact remains that if he had opened his mouth even the least bit to them Tom wouldn't have that rock solid perfect reputation to hide behind during the Chamber fiasco not even the audacity to open it in the first place if he had more scrutiny than Dumbles..

Dudley may have used Harry's homework to pass his classes but there is no way in hell he could have answered even a single question never mind the way he acted in class (OR AFTER THE LESSONS)so for the teachers to take Harry as the bulling, disturbing, kind they should have been utterly blind and idiotic (which I haven'r fully excluded yet) or extremely prejudiced and totally neglectful to boot.-

The barest tiniest whisper about Tom's preschool acts would have stopped any other such act(the chamber was merely the crown among them)but no one was ever able to put any control on his behaviour, not at Hogwarts and not later on and I don't think it happened just by his smarts. Half of it was either neglect or he was able to pass it like other people's agenda.

Even after Hogwarts he became a Dark Lord cause he was able to, people, and not all of them mentally sick (too large a percent) agreed with him(or with what he presented) agreed enough to not overly search his background. There was another Dark Lord right in his teens showing him(even by afar)how it was done and even tough GG got caught it took nearly a decade all the same...

With those facts and thoughts I really can't help the question:

Alright Tom wasn't totally incapable to make the right choice what reason was ever given to him to actually make it???

Again I'm not saying that what he did, nearly all his choices, weren't wrong(and he paid them, the actual life he lived, alone and closed in himself, -its doubtful that he opened up even to Bella- and his two deaths)but what would he had actually won by acting any different all the same???

We humans are actually selfish beings and every thing we do must actually have a reason, either an emotional/practical reward (which he couldn't take from merely doing the right thing)or to avoid the consequences of bad behaviour...

Tom never faced any bad consequences(at least fair ones)in his youth. His diastase to muggles(and the generalization of it) fostered by the orphanage was accepted and encouraged by his house mates(and to a lesser degree probably and from other houses as well and those people not only assisted and covered his violent/racist behaviour but became his followers afterwards and committed atrocities with him/to his name and even more raised their very kids to follow him...

Is it truly impossible, since he could close his empathy at will, that he had convinced himself that he was doing the right thing and that those atrocities were worth it???

More, even if he had done the right thing and channelled his craving for power in politics not bloodshed would he have gone even close in influence as with the bloodshed??? Remember he was a half blood and maybe even considered a muggleborn at the time...

If it was 30-40% of his fault wouldn't the other 60-70% belong in his sick, rotten society???
Jun. 30th, 2015 12:52 am (UTC)
You have raised some really interesting points.

No one lives in isolation, for every terrorist, or mass murderer there are a whole host of way society as whole has failed them. I do agree that the society in which Voldemort grew up in is also accountable.

However we now come to the very tricky question of just how much individual freedom do we actually have to make our own choices. Its the age old dilemma, if you have a gun pointed at your head, do you really have a choice? In the same way, are Voldemort's choices actually meaningful or just a inevitable product of his social conditioning?

Whilst we always have high praise for people who have overcome negative life experiences, should we really condemn people who couldn't?

I personally feel that though Voldemort had many negative life experiences, and was socially conditioned to hate muggles, this does not equate automatically to him instigating genocide. After all his peers and fellow slytherins might hate muggles but they still stay well within the bounds of the law.

Like you said, Voldemort had no incentive to behave as a good person, but he must have intellectually understood the consequences of his actions. He certainly did not seem to care that he was destroying very fabric the society that he lived in. He has definite self-destructive side, not caring what was happening to his body but only interested in immortality, even though logically he could have used his intellect to find less destructive ways to his end goal.

I don't see Voldemort has a very logical person at all. He seems ruled by impulses (if very long lasting impulses). Although he pretends to be in control, he has really never learnt to control his wants and desires. Instead he spends all his life chasing after things he can't have. This suggests to me more willful immaturity than true evil but certainly not something that he could not a correct himself if he wanted to.

But our main concern is that Voldemort didn't want to reign in his impulses and that is a choice he made, rather than a choice may for him by society.
Jun. 30th, 2015 07:30 am (UTC)
You too, especially your questions:)
But they left with a bit more questions too...

Firstly though I have to point a disagreement. Firstly his Slytherin classmates didn't lead the life he had and secondly, who told you they did nothing to muggles even if it was within the law??? It's around the same time that Aramida Meliflua tried to get a law of muggle hunting passed -- and while the law never passed I really truly doubt that she was the only supporter of that idea or the only reason it got as far as the wizenganot;-

I firmly believe that his classmates that took such delight in following him (so much so they passed it on their children)used to engage in muggle hunting/muggle baiting all by themselves before Tom got into the game, they may not have gone all the way to murder yet but they also knew all the legal trips to get away from any consequence....Voldemort probably just outright escalated things instead of starting them.
Jun. 30th, 2015 08:28 am (UTC)
Look I'm not saying he was blameless, far from it//// But, while he definitely had the brainpower to accurately guess where his actions were leading things, I really truly doubt to think on them until he was very late into the game//// If he had such a poor impulse control one action led to the next until it was too late//// Did he had to know better??? Definitely.- but he wasn't a deity either no matter how hard he pretended it even to himself:/)
( 11 comments — Leave a comment )



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