Squall Leonhart – Final Fantasy VIII
- Defence Mechanisms
- Social Anxiety and Generalised Anxiety
- Attachment Theory
- Overcoming Personal Obstacles; Growth
Pretty much every character in Final Fantasy VIII has an interesting experience from a psychiatric point of view. They attribute their memory loss to the use of the Guardian Forces, and that may be true in the game world. I like to think that they have been going through a relatively common psychological phenomena that forms part of the range of human defence mechanisms. This is called repression or dissociative amnesia depending on which camp of psychology you fall into. Given that they were all fostered at a young age, that they suffered the loss of Ellone, and that they each chose to become soldiers, there is a large potential for psychological trauma. Often when humans encounter traumatic experiences that they struggle to deal with emotionally, their response is to defend themselves against this threat, and this – theoretically, though there is debate – can come in the form of pushing one’s own memories into the subconscious.
Squall himself is a very good example of a mixture of psychiatric and psychological concepts. He shows examples of obsessionality and ruminating thoughts (a form of anxiety), social anxiety, and avoidant relationship style.
Squall often paces and worries excessively. He even admits that he dislikes being alone, because he thinks too much. We spend much of the game with Squall and for a significant proportion of it we are even delivered his personal monologue – a novela of self-doubt, trust issues and a persistent insidious fear of being hurt. He struggles to form meaningful relationships with anyone, is a self-titled loner and regularly has no idea what to say, or even think, leading to a lot of text bubbles reading: “……” His reluctance to engage could be multifaceted; on the one hand is is sure that everyone will leave him and hurt him, and on the other he has a sense of personal inadequacy which he fears others will find out if he lets too much of himself out.
“I don’t mind fighting the sorceress. It’s unavoidable as long as I’m a SeeD member. What? As long as I’m a SeeD member? What if I quit? Quit… Then what? What do I have left? Don’t even want to think about it. Just stop thinking…”
So why does Squall feel so sure that he will be abandoned? As a foster child it is unlikely that Squall formed a positive, secure and nurturing relationship with any caregiver when he was an infant. The world would have seemed an emotionally cruel and empty place, where everyone has to fend for themselves. This would have persisted after being fostered by Cid and Edea, who had multiple other children to look after, and perhaps the only source of emotional protection he got as a child was from Ellone. Children are very egocentric at that age, not in a purposeful or malicious way, but their theory of mind hasn’t developed enough for them to really understand the difference between themselves and others on a basic level. Children have a habit of blaming everything on themselves unless it is overtly challenged. Toddler Squall likely believed that it was his fault both his mother and Ellone left; that he is not worth loving; and by extension, that people cannot be trusted (if you’re not loveable for your mother to stay, why would anyone else be any different?)
Avoidant Attachment Style
“Someday you’re bound to lose everything. Everybody around you will be gone. Then what are you left with? Nothing. Nobody… It’s so miserable. And inevitable. It’s so hard to recover from something like that. I never want to deal with that again. I can’t. Even if it means being alone…”
“I don’t believe in relying on others.”
“I’m not your mom.” – This is said to Rinoa after she comments that being held by him reminds her of how secure she felt being held by her mother. It’s a bit passive aggressive – presumably this snide comment mocking Rinoa is actually displacement of the resentment he feels toward his mother for abandoning him. (His mother is presumably Raine, and died giving birth)
Of course as he gets older he isn’t necessarily cognisant of this process, and he develops a personality to protect himself from the inherent pain of losing others. He becomes stoic, isolated, and independent to an extreme. He regularly cites how he has to do everything for himself because other people can’t be trusted, and he, initially at least, is quite resistent to help. He even goes as far to think insulting things about his comrades on a regular basis – likely a defence mechanism (projection) for his own feelings of inadequacy. Projection describes the attribution of negative perception of oneself to others: for example, if a person feels very angry at their partner, they may accuse their partner of being angry. Squall has a lot of subsconscious emotions and insecurities that he projects onto others, as well as mocking them for doing the same things that he subconsciously wants to.
Squall recalls his first encounter with Laguna:
“I had a dream, too. It wasn’t pleasant, though … I dreamt I was a moron…”
Confronting his avoidant nature and anxiety
The lovely thing about Final Fantasy VIII is Squall’s journey. He finds himself part of a team, and despite his reservations he learns that he can function in a multifaceted unit where all parties depend on one another. When he meets Rinoa their relationship grows and his reluctance fades. He learns to allow himself to be vulnerable. By the end he is delivering motivational speeches and sacrificing himself for others. In essence, he changes his attachment style by embracing the love of others.
“Why do people depend on each other? In the end you’re on your own. I’m fine by myself now. I have all the skills I need to survive. I’m not a child anymore… That’s a lie. I don’t know anything. I’m confused. I don’t want to depend on anyone. How can I do that? Someone tell me… Someone? So I’ll end up depending on others after all…”
“What do you think? To tell you the truth… I worry too much about what others think of me. I hate that side of me… That’s why I didn’t want anyone to get to know me. I wanted to hide that side of myself. I hate it. Squall is an unfriendly introverted guy. It made it easy for me when people perceived me that way. That’s a secret between you and me. Got that?”
Overcoming his avoidance and social anxiety
“Everything will be fine now… Because I’m not alone. If I call out… They will answer.”
Just for completeness sake, I may be wrong about all of this because there is a very convincing theory that Squall dies at the end of Disc One and the entirety of the rest of the game happens in his purgatory. Lovely!