Diagnosing Bad: Saren

I was asked to visit C-Sec the other day to profile a few criminals causing problems out in Kepler Verge, and on my way there a very angry-looking N7 operative accidentally slammed into my shoulder as she rushed down the hallway. After a brusque apology, she stalked off, muttering something about the “damn Council.” An Alliance lieutenant and an asari followed behind her, looking equally grim. The asari saw me and did a double-take. It was like she recognized me, as if we had spent hours in each other’s company. Taking my arm gently, she pulled me to the side of the hallway, glancing at the retreating backs of her human companions. She asked me to profile a particular turian – a Spectre, no less – and to send my report to her right away. The flash of biotics around her hands kept me from asking too many questions.

Today’s Villain: Saren Arterius

Background: Saren is the main antagonist/anti-villain of Mass Effect, who betrays the Spectre order and the Council, and murders a friend of his, in order to help usher in a peaceful transfer of power – and consciousness – to the Reapers.

Image result for saren

Saren is a distinguished Spectre, used to working outside of the law in order to clean up the galaxy’s messes using means that might not always seem palatable to the average Milky Way resident. When the Reaper threat begins to creep into the galaxy, Saren appears to be all too ready to surrender to what appears to be an impending doom. And only the most silver-tongued N7 operatives would ever have a hope of convincing him otherwise.

Throughout the events of Mass Effect, Saren shows his unwavering loyalty to the Reapers, despite them posting a very real threat to the galaxy he has sworn to protect. He is dismissive of any arguments against the Reapers’ plans, and when he begins to waver, the Reapers manipulate him (in this case, via implants) until he comes around to seeing their way of thinking again.


That is, until he believes that they are not harmful, but rather the only way to survive. While some might argue that he was trying to preserve the fate of organic life in the Milky Way galaxy, the same way the synthesis ending does, what is most concerning to me is that he comes to this conclusion after he has become indoctrinated – brainwashed – by the Reapers. This decision does not appear to be made when he is in full control of his faculties, as, when he begins to doubt, he is simply further abused until he believes the words of his captors.

Diagnosis: Stockholm syndrome (not an official DSM diagnosis)

Explanation: The most well-known trait of a person who has fallen victim to Stockholm syndrome are a belief that the captor is actually a kind, considerate person who takes very good care of their victims, to the point where the person will defend their captor against people trying to get them out of the situation. Examining Saren’s behaviors toward the Reapers, it’s clear that he has lost his autonomy to the Reapers.

As a side note, I know there is an argument that he was trying to save the galaxy in the only way he thought was possible, but I also think that this idea is suspect because Saren did not appear to believe this prior to his indoctrination.

Just the (Real) Facts: Stockholm Syndrome is a very real psychological situation, and even though it’s not in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM), it is a very severe condition that stems from having all autonomy striped away to the point that being allowed – I repeat, allowed – to use the bathroom twice a day (for example) by one’s captor is seen as a kindness.

Stockholm syndrome is often described as when a captive “falls in love” with his/her captor, but this is an oversimplification of the issue. In reality, what has happened is that the captive has been forced back into a completely dependant, infantile state of existence, occurring after facing the trauma of fearing death, the loss of autonomy (or control over one’s state of being), and the hopelessness of thinking they won’t be rescued. This trauma continues for a long time, wearing down psychological resistances. Then, when the captor does something “nice” like allow you out of your cell with a leash around your neck, you are so relieved to be out of you cell and not being harmed that you see the captor as kind for letting you out, rather than seeing the action as another degrading thing you need to endure. It is, in a way, how the brain can deal with the severe psychological trauma of being a captive. In the titular case of Stockholm syndrome, once the captives were rescued, they were legitimately convinced their captor was a kind man who didn’t deserve to be imprisoned.

This is an unfortunate occurrence, and is obviously quite traumatic for the captive. Luckily, though, with therapy people can often make a full recovery, with no extreme actions necessary to break the hold of one’s captor.

What do you think? Is Saren a victim enthralled by his captors, or have I fallen in love with my own diagnosis? Let me know in the comments! 

Thanks for stopping by, and I’ll see you soon!

~ Athena

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    1. The closest thing that the DSM has is something called Dissociative Disorder, which includes personality changes due to some sort of mental coercion (“brainwashing,” torture, and other sorts of indoctrination processes to things like cults and the like), but I didn’t go with that because it also includes dissociative symptoms, like not remembering stretches of events after mentally “checking out” (dissociating) in order to give the brain a break from the stress. I’m not sure if Saren ever dissociated or not. Regarding just having a straight-forward “brainwashing” diagnosis… no, I don’t think there’s anything specific for that (yet??).

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Stockholm syndrome was what I was thinking, too. I enjoyed reading your explanation of how it works in reality.

    I think more research needs to be done in the Indoctrination area. Maybe we can preemptively protect ourselves from a Reaper invasion? You never know! We do reside in the Milky way galaxy… just saying. 🙂


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