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The Chantry and the Circles in Thedas as a Narcissistic family system (and how I see it as affecting Anders' character development, as well as Hawke's role within the story).

First of all, what is a narcissistic family?

In essence, what we call a "narcissistic family" is a family where the needs of the parents (or sometimes, the larger family system) have precedence over the needs of their children (or the individuals in the system).

Whereas, in a healthy family, parents are expected to:
- provide love and positive reinforcements;
- allow their children to express their feelings and develop a sense of personal identity;
- encourage them to gain their autonomy and make decisions for themselves (while also being empathetic and respectful towards others);
- teach them to act responsibly, set healthy boundaries for themselves;
- and learn to trust in themselves and in others…

In the narcissistic families, children are taught that in order to be loved and gain approval, they must reach the parents' expectations and cater to their family's needs.  Love and approval is not freely given, it is earned, and then kept only by remaining "good" and/or "obedient" (a parent's love is conditional).  The personal expression of feelings and wants is not only discouraged, but seen as a threat; as the parents (or the family) must remain in control of the system at all times.

The children's opinions are rarely acknowledged or validated (unless they concur with those of the parents or the system), and everything that the children do is evaluated in regards of "how will this affect the family"?  Personal successes and failures on the children's part are measured by how much they will make the family look good, or bad.

For example, if a child misbehaves, the parent will immediately adopt a "How could you do this to me/us?" attitude; instead of trying to see what lead to the child's behavior in the first place (perhaps someone is bullying him at school, and he was seeking to express his anger), and then, take appropriate steps to set limits for the child and correct that behavior, while also respecting his own reality and feelings.

In a narcissistic family system, children will be loved for what they do, but never quite seen or heard for who they are.  They are expected to conform without ever rebelling.  

Such families will often manage to completely stunt the development of the children's sense of identity, to the point where they will see the world according to what people expect of them, and completely lose touch with that they personally want and feel, who they are, what they value.  They often become emotionally immature and anxious, as they keep trying to hit moving targets (other people's expectations, including those that are "implied") throughout their lives in order to feel like they have some intrinsic worth.  

They become oversensitive to criticism, since they've been conditioned to believe that what they do and who they are are one and the same!  Therefore, criticizing their actions = criticizing their entire identity.  If their actions are described as "bad", it means that they, themselves, are "bad".  If their actions are described as "stupid", it means that they are "stupid".  If they make a mistake, it means that "they are the mistake".  And so forth.

Some of them will grow up to develop a number of psychological afflictions…  Ex: anxiety disorders, depressions, borderline personality disorders, dependant or codependent personalities, etc.

Paradoxically, these same children will be quick to admire and devote themselves to their parents, as they never realized that things could be different.  They have been living in a "purple world" all their lives, so never in their minds did it ever occur to them that they could have chosen the color "green".  Even once they've reached adulthood, they will keep the childlike belief that their parents only want what is best for them, and are acting to protect them and/or in their best interests.

If need be, they will defend their system of origin with all they've got…

Unless, of course, for one reason or another, the opportunity to perceive the world and their family of origin in a different light presents itself; and thus, circumstances allow them to "wake up" and understand that, not only what has been done to them was wrong and unacceptable, but there are other options…  They have other options.  They don't have to submit to their family's will to be their own person.  Who and what they are isn't measured by how devoted they are to others.  They matter, and they deserve to have their own voices heard.

However, in such a family (whether a nuclear one comprising only the 2 parents and their children, or an extended one), there often is some form of unspoken agreement "not to rock the boat".  To ensure the family's survival, everyone has adopted a dysfunctional way to cope with the situation and to follow the rules, while maintaining some semblance of peace and equilibrium.

Within that family, there are the:
- "controllers", a.k.a. the ones with the narcissistic traits, those that set the rules that everyone must follow, and whose needs must be fulfilled in priority;
- "enablers", a.k.a. those that urge the other members to "keep the peace" and avoid provoking the wrath of the "controllers".  They are the seemingly gentle, compassionate parents/individuals that encourage everyone to be reasonable, and to keep playing their given roles without rebelling;
- and the "accessories" (often the children), that are only desirable so long as they follow the rules, keep their mouth shuts, and avoid making waves.

When one of the "accessories" to the family system decides that they don't want to be mere objects serving the family's needs and purposes anymore; but wish to become real, wholesome human beings instead of "human doings", they become a threat to the peace and equilibrium of the system.

They create an imbalance that disturbs everyone else that has accepted that things are the way they are, and can't be changed!  Immediately, the family (as an entity) will fight back, defend itself.  Either they will try to put a lot of pressure on the "rebel", so that he/she returns to his/her subservient place (a.k.a. where the family believes that this individual naturally belongs).  Or they will end up viciously attacking him/her, seeking to annihilate the enemy, and often rejecting the "awakened" family member as if he/she had become a disease, or a cancer.

While playing "Dragon Age 2", I had always felt that Anders was the real protagonist of the story…  The one whose story was being told…  And now I know why.

If we observe Thedas in the same way that we would look at a narcissitic family system:

A) The Chantry is the narcissistic mother.  She sets the rules, and makes sure that everyone under her care and authority respects her needs.

Mages are labeled as the "bad", "dangerous" and potentially "rebellious" children; while regular folks are infantilized and treated as though they are unable to care for themselves…  To live and exist without their good and gentle mother's protection.

"Your brothers and sisters are dangerous!  And only I, your kind, generous, and gentle mother, have the power required to protect you from them and control their actions.  Without the Chantry, the world would only be chaos and destruction."

The mother is setting one group of children against the other to ensure that they don't learn to communicate and co-exist on their own, thus remaining in absolute control by acting as protector and mediator for both sides.

One side, she will encourage and treat them as good, worthy children.  The more obedient to the Chantry's will, the better they are.  The other side, she will make them feel worthless in a "why can't you be more like your brothers and sisters?" kind of way.  The mother will thus justify her abuse of this group by always putting on the "bad children" the responsibility to "prove" that they can be just as good and obedient as her other children.

But, of course, since the mother is the only one that can be the judge of that, they (the mages) keep failing at every attempt.  When they do succeed in gaining more rights or leeway…  When their efforts and contributions to society are finally recognized, it's only because the mages' needs coincide with the Chantry's own needs (ex: they must look good and merciful at a time where people start to complain about their methods.  There is a political conflict to win where they need the mages' power.  Etc.).  Not because mages are making any progress on the grand scale of things, or earning freedom from the Chantry.

The narcissistic mother is even taking it a step further…  If the children misbehave too much and are deemed too dangerous, she even has the right to end their very lives!  With their other brothers and sisters (the regular folks)'s blessing, of course.

Mages (the bad children) must conform and obey, or be destroyed.  

A "good mage" is a mage that doesn't challenge the rules, keep to himself/herself, does what is expected of him/her, respects the Chantry and their guardians (Templars).  If you are a "good mage", you don't get beaten, your primary needs are met, you're allowed to socialize and study your art, and you may even be allowed to go out to play with your brothers and sisters (like Wynne, for example).  The rest has very little importance.  Other than that, you don't matter.

B) The Circles are the enabling fathers.  They may see that what the mother is doing is wrong on some level.  However, they don't believe that anything can be done to change the situation.  Emotionally immature and incomplete themselves, their sense of identity is too closely linked to the mother's needs in order for them to take a stand, and really protect their children's needs, rights, and interests.

After all, without the mother, there would never be a need for them.  Without the Chantry, the Circles (as they are) wouldn't even exist!  With their very existence / way of life threatened, the fathers must make every effort to ensure that the system keeps working as it does.  That everyone knows their roles, and behave accordingly.

While they are minimally involved with the mother's good children (regular folks)...  The fathers are responsible for making sure that the bad children (the mages) stay in line, and don't rock the boat.

They will appear to be gentle, kind, consoling, and attentive to their children's needs…  But, while doing so, they will kindly remind them never to provoke the mother's anger.  They will urge them to try to draw as little attention as possible on themselves.  Keep their voices low, their eyes on the ground, be good and dutiful.  For if they do, they will be rewarded.  They will be "loved", approved of, they will matter!  If they don't, not only will they be punished, but they would "selfishly" put every other mage at risk!

For, of course, the "bad children" are not only to blame for their own mistreatments, each and every one of them are also to blame for the potential mistreatments of their siblings.  Mages carry the responsibility to make sure that everyone's needs (a.k.a. the narcissistic family's system's needs) are met, even at the expense of their own.

C) The mages are the "accessories".  They exist only to serve the needs of their mother and fathers, and meet expectations.  As long as they conform and avoid rebellion, their primary needs are met, peace is kept, and they are "safe".

If they dare develop their own sense of self and autonomy, make demands for themselves, try to break away from their "family of origin", etc.  They will be punished for daring to venture outside what is deemed "acceptable".

Stuck within this system, some of them will:
- develop self-esteem problems, ex: believe that they truly are bad, and deserve to be punished for the sins of their predecessors;
- lose the ability to feel any empathy (since no one ever bothered to teach them what it truly means), and become abusers themselves (ex: trying to gain power for themselves while not caring what could be the cost to others, seeking revenge for what was done to them, etc.);
- rebel in a way that is self-destructive (ex: dealing with demons, using sex as a way to get "love" and be in contact with others, while fearing true emotional intimacy, provoking Templars in the hopes of getting attention (any type will do!), trying to take their own lives, etc.);
- grow to become irresponsible adults unable to face the consequences of their choices and actions;
- etc.

Some of them will manage to be happy and appear well adapted, but it is most likely because they have accepted that things are as they are, never will be changed, and are thus trying to make the most of it.  Some will also excel at meeting the system's needs and will become over-achievers, champions of the mother and fathers.

D) Anders is the awakened child.  When we first meet him, Anders is a very immature, incomplete individual.  His preferred way of dealing with feelings, pains, problems, challenges and responsibilities is to avoid them (run away!).

He initiates contact with others through humor and shows a promiscuous behavior.  However, he will also remain very snarky and emotionally keep people at arm's length.  He's afraid to get too close, has learned not to trust in himself and others, and has erected a pretty solid system of barriers around himself.

He has a carefully crafted "front" that he presents to the world, but inside, he lacks any clear definition.  I don't even believe that he knows who he truly is by then.

He connects with the Warden because, although he was somehow "forced" to join the order (it was either that, or going back to the Circle, possibly to get executed), he/she is the first to see him as something else than a "mage", a "mistake", and ask him questions about what he thinks and/or wants.

The Warden is creating an opportunity for Anders to become more than what's always been expected of him.  To learn about the world through a different set of glasses, and come to a better understanding of how things work outside of the Circle.  What his possibilities are.  See that the world around him doesn't have to be all "purple"…  The color green also exists!

"Children" that were thus abused, once they start understanding how their family of origin worked, and how wrong things really were, will naturally go through the stages of the grief (often moving back and forth between them).

Denial: In order to survive in a narcissistic family environment, the child had to believe the lie.  Deny that things were really that bad, adopt the enabling fathers' point of view, and try his/her best to conform to the system while trying to avoid seeing that there was something deeply wrong within it.  Children of such systems need to convince themselves that their family is fulfilling their needs for a time; otherwise they would probably despair and die (at least, on a psychological level).  How can the self survive in a place where children have become invisible, and nothing they are or desire truly matters?

Anger: This is the appropriate, normal, and healthy emotional response that children from a narcissistic family will feel when they finally realize that their emotional needs were never met by their family of origin, and that this has affected their lives in very severe and adverse ways.  The children will feel anger and often rage towards their mother and fathers for allowing such self-destructive patterns to develop in their minds, and never having cared for their children's emotional well-being at all.  After having been forced to remain completely stuck and utterly "invisible" for such a long time, the slowly emerging self is screaming, and it wants out!  It screams for the recognition of the emotional, psychological, and sometimes physical abuses it was forced to endure at the hands of his mother and fathers, and demands justice.  That the family system takes responsibility for their actions.

Bargaining: At the same time, most will keep hoping that things will change.  That somehow, their mother and their fathers can be reasoned with.  That there is a way to make them see the pain and destruction that they are causing to their children, and appeal to their compassion.  They fail to understand that in order to do so, their mother and their fathers have to be able to see that something is wrong with them, with the system itself.  In a truly narcissistic system, sadly, there is no room for such understanding.  The (dysfunctional) system "works", and "peace" must be preserved at all costs.  Others must change in order to meet the system's needs, not the other way around.  Hoping for any change from within is sadly a complete, hopeless waste of time.

Depression: This generally occurs shortly before the acceptance stage.  Once the child truly understands that nothing he or she can say or do will ever change his mother and fathers, and make them love and/or approve of their children.  That the narcissistic system is so deeply set and self-sufficient by now, that any attempt to bargain or reason with it is lost.  The "awakened child" has to mourn his vision and expectations of achieving any collaboration and mutual respect of each other's needs within his family of origin.  It can't happen, because the system lacks the ability for change from within.  The mother and fathers  feel no inner motivation or obligation to change their ways, as they truly believe that theirs is the only right way to do things.  As such, their children exist only as utilitarian tools serving a bigger purpose…  Theirs (the mother's, a.k.a. the Chantry's in this case).  Letting go of the hope that things with their "family" can get better, can also make one feel like he or she has personally failed in saving his "family".

Acceptance: The children have come to realize and accept that their narcissistic mother truly lacks the ability to feel any genuine empathy or love for her children, and that they will never get the respect and approbation they so crave from her (the Chantry), no matter how well they behave.  The only moments where they've had the feeling that they seemed to be making some progress and learning to understand / respect each other is when the children's needs met with their mother's needs.  The mother can't change from within.  The only thing the children can do is develop their own identities, and refuse to keep meeting their mother's needs.  Acquire their autonomy.

I put these stages in this specific order because this is how Anders seems to move during the course of the "Dragon Age" games.

Stages 1 and 2 (denial and anger) occurred during Anders' stay at the Circle, the course of "Dragon Age Awakening", and his joining with Justice.

It also explains in part why the spirit of Justice fully manifests when Anders briefly returns to his "anger" stage; as the desire for justice and recognition from the victim is closely linked with this emotion.  Anders didn't have "too much anger" in him.  As a matter of fact, it is his (appropriate, normal, and healthy) anger that probably caused him to seek justice for all mages to begin with.  The need for justice almost always comes from anger.

So while Anders says that his anger made Justice more "vengeful"…  Justice's presence within his mind and body is probably what caused his anger to intensify and take center stage just as well!

Of course, as the typical child from a narcissistic family, Anders is quick to take the blame for everything that goes "wrong" in his life, instead of trying to share responsibilities.  To believe there was something wrong with him that caused Justice to change.  That he had "too much anger in him", making him "bad" and "unworthy" of being a host to Justice, somehow.

Hawke's attitude and acceptance / rejection of Anders' joining with Justice is, ultimately, what will decide whether Anders will successfully merge with Justice and integrate the spirit within his own identity; or will perceive this side of himself as an "abomination", and split both identities within.  (But we'll return to that later).

Stage 3 (bargaining) happens more or less in Act I and II, up until the "Dissent" quest.  Anders is: compulsively writing manifestos; trying to show the world how mages can make a positive contribution to society by running a free clinic in Darktown; being heavily involved in the mages underground (a resistance movement); trying to show the world what's wrong; working hard to gather support from his "sisters" and "brothers" (mages and non-mages); etc.  He's still hoping that his mother and fathers can be convinced to listen, and that the change he so desperately craves can occur peacefully.  He's still trying to prove his worth and gather love through what he does, rather than who he is.  But the real Anders is slowly emerging and defining himself.  Or, if you don't support him, Anders is slowly beginning to create two distinct identities (Anders and Vengeance) within the same body.

Stage 4 (depression) occurs in Act II and III, from the quest "Dissent" to "Justice", approximately.  You hear Anders saying things such as "I can't go on like this", and "our cause is nearly lost".  He's starting to understand and accept that his mother and fathers can't be reasoned with, and that mages can never acquire their freedom through peaceful negotiations, or by being "good examples" (a.k.a. acting accordingly to the Chantry's and the Circles' expectations).  He is losing hope of ever seeing his mother and fathers ever listening to their children's voices, and making any effort to understand their plight.  Somehow, he still feels responsible for failing to demonstrate to them how their violence is destroying the very lives they have sworn to protect.

Stage 5 (acceptance) occurs between the quest "Justice", and continues to develop until the very end of the game, where Anders has finally completed his journey towards adulthood and autonomy either successfully (friendship path, or rivalry without trying to convince Anders that joining with Justice was wrong), or not (rivalry path where Anders has been convinced that Justice became a demon by his fault).

This is where Hawke truly plays the most important role.

If you (as Hawke) keep trying to convince Anders that he is wrong, and that his mother and fathers are right…  If you become an "enabler" for the "narcissistic family system" by encouraging him to defer to his "family of origin" 's wisdom and set of rules.  If you adopt the "mages must prove that they are worthy in order to receive any external validation and approval from their mother, fathers, brothers and sisters" ' vision…  If you entertain for him the myth that his "narcissistic family system" can be changed through patience, negotiation, and mutual collaboration…

Then all you will achieve with Anders is succeeding in making him feel more and more inadequate as a human being, encourage him to lose his fragile sense of self even further, and reinforce the internal splitting between the different parts of himself.  He will fail to integrate Justice as being part of his own identity, creating 2 Anders.  
1. The codependent, self loathing, irresponsible, insecure victim (of Justice, the Chantry, the Circles, the Wardens, and so forth!) Anders.  
2. "Vengeance", a.k.a. the blending of the spirit of Justice with the part of himself that has been constantly been repressed and denied existence…  And is now understandably filled with rage and anger!

Furthermore, Anders will fail to become an adult and take any responsibility for his actions during the quest "The Last Straw".  He will put all the blame on "Vengeance", and ask to be killed because he has failed to "master the part of himself that is filled with anger" (thus, is perceived as "wrong", "unwanted", and "inappropriate").  He will act as a submissive, powerless victim.

However, if you support him and make him understand that he never did anything wrong to deserve how they have treated him as a child.  That what the Chantry and the Circles did to him (and other mages) is wrong and unacceptable.  If you validate his feelings and perceptions regarding his abusive "family of origin", encourage him to express his thoughts and opinions on the subject.  If you give him some healthy room to vent, and be truly seen and heard by someone who genuinely cares for him as an individual, not only for what he can do.  If you show Anders that no matter what he does, you still love him for who he is, and that you believe in him and his abilities as a person, not only as a mage.

You will allow him to heal, and Anders' own sense of self will not only strengthen, but he will also eventually succeed in integrating the spirit of Justice as being a part of his very identity.  He will grow to become more assertive, confident, and will take a stand against his "all-powerful family", directly confronting them.

After having finally understood (much to his chagrin) that the system itself can't be changed through patience, negotiation, and mutual collaboration, he will find the courage to oppose their power in the only way that can create a shift strong enough to put a stop to the cycle of violence.

i.e. Disrupting the alliance between the controlling mother and the enabling fathers, thus breaking the dysfunctional peace and equilibrium that allowed the abuses to take place without anyone opposing them.

Following the destruction of the Chantry, he will readily express regret for the nature of his actions, while also staying firm in his beliefs and motives.  As a fully autonomous adult, he is not trying to set blame on anyone but himself, and is ready to face the consequences of his actions.  Justice and him are "one".  Anders is "one".  He is finally whole and complete!  He's no longer running or capitulating to escape his responsibilities, or even trying to deny who and what he is.  Instead of only "reacting" to the abuse, he is taking direct actions to stop it.

If he is rejected by all of his brothers and sisters (on both sides), hunted down, shunned, and hated for doing so, then so be it!  If they don't understand and ask that he forfeits his life for his actions, he's even at peace with that.  Either way, he has already won.

Not the war, not the mages' freedom.  Anders has won himself.  His "family of origin" will have failed in destroying everything that makes him who he is.  He will have refused to submit to his mother and fathers by taking upon himself the guilt of a bunch of people (the mages before him that have historically represented a danger) that have absolutely nothing to do with who he is, and whose actions he could never have influenced even if he had wished to.

He's done believing the lies that they have been trying to project on him; fitting in the mold, and accepting the roles that he has been given.  Anders now is, as simple as that.

In the end, "Dragon Age 2" ends up being all about Anders' journey towards adulthood…  Or his failure to ever free himself from his "narcissisitic family of origin".

With Hawke either acting as:
1. an enabler for the mother and fathers;
2. a confused, indoctrinated sibling going "Wait!  He's disrupting our (dysfunctional) peace and equilibrium through rebellion and violence (funny how people are willing to tolerate the violence that is keeping the narcissistic system together and seemingly "peaceful", but will readily condemn anyone taking the necessary means to stop it)!  How dare he!"
3. a narcissist himself, by somehow believing that everyone should always defer to him for decision making, and feeling hurt and betrayed by Anders for having made this decision on his own;
4. a supportive friend or lover that is empathic, sees the manipulative and narcissistic nature of the Chantry and the Circles without trying to make excuses for them; and is willing to understand the abuses that mages, and every people in Thedas (those that are infantilized are not being respected either) suffer at their hands.

Hawke can't stop Anders and Justice from completing their task…  However, he can decide whether or not Anders will come out of the experience stronger for it, or completely destroyed…  And whether or not he is going to be part of the problem (the narcissistic family system), or the solution (breaking and opposing the cycle of violence through resistance).

In the movie "The Matrix", for example, the protagonists are sadly often forced to kill the minds of the very people they are trying to save in order to protect themselves, and make sure that their rebellion succeeds.  In "Stargate", the rebelling Jaffas have to kill some of their brothers and sisters that still see the Goa'uld as their Gods.

I see Anders' actions, though terrible, as no different when we measure them against the strength of the enemy he was trying to oppose.

Anders' full rebellion started in violence, it's true...

But the negative "peace" offered by the Chantry and the Circles was already over saturated with violence.  It was a one sided war on an imaginary enemy (the wickedness of all mages) with no army to oppose them.

So, violence being already a huge part of the initial problem, does Hawke value:

Autonomy, responsibility, and freedom.
Or
Slavery, unaccountability, and oppression.

How far is he/she willing to go to obtain it?  How much is worth sacrificing to this cause?  Will he/she fear and fight change (a.k.a. fight for restoring order, and the status quo), or embrace it (a.k.a. help mages and everyone else in Thedas liberate themselves from their oppressors)?

While I've seen many complain how Hawke, despite his "Champion of Kirkwall" 's status, had virtually no power to influence or change anything and to stop the war from happening.  I believe this was probably one of the most realistic approaches for the game, especially within a narcissistic family system context.

After all, who is Hawke, but one of the mother (and perhaps fathers, if he is a mage)'s children?

Whether he is among the "good children" (regular folks), or "bad children" (mages), the mother will only allow her child to wield some power and superior position over his brothers and sisters, as long as doing so also serves her own interests.

Did Hawke truly expect more from a narcissistic mother?  Was he/she under the impression that his/her opinion accounted for anything to her, if they do not concord with the mother (Chantry)'s own agenda?

Why in the world would Meredith (controller), Elthina (enabler), or even Orsino (enabler, despite his brief episodes where he seems to try to resist the controller) would allow him/her the power to actually change things in Kirkwall?

They must seek to control Hawke and the way that the population perceives their Champion, of course.  They have to make Hawke believe that his/her opinions matter to them, and make a public show of it; all the while tightening their stranglehold over Kirkwall's population and its mages.  While they praise Hawke for his/her efforts in keeping the peace, for example, people aren't paying as much attention to the mother (Chantry) and fathers (Circles)'s own actions, nor truly seeking to oppose them.

Besides, they are projecting their own responsibilities on the Champion.  He/she is utilitarian, a tool, an "accessory".

I believe this may even be one of the reasons why Anders purposely kept Hawke out of the loop regarding his plans.

I wonder how he/she would have reacted if Anders had gone to him/her and said:

"Hey Hawke…  By the way, I just want you to know that neither Meredith, Orsino, Elthina, nor anyone of influence in this town actually cares about what you want or how you feel.  And the more you try to change things positively by setting an example…  The more you try to negotiate, and the more you collaborate with them…  Well, the more your opinions are being completely disregarded, and you are being used.  The last 10 years spent in Kirkwall where you've tried to do some good and change things from within have more or less been an utter waste of time.  

While the ones controlling the city have allowed things to get better for you personally, everything else has gotten worse.  You lack the influence to change anything, because the ones in control will never let you do so.

The more powerful you get, the more they'll try to make you adopt their points of view and values through different means of seduction.  The more you behave according to their needs, the more positive reinforcements and praises you'll receive.  They'll even actively seek your opinion and involve you in situations of important decision making.

However, if you start rocking the boat a bit too hard, they'll make sure to try to isolate you from politics by giving you a bunch of more important matters to deal with, for example, and keeping you busy.  Meanwhile, they might start spreading rumors, making you look bad or dangerous, expressing doubts on your motivations, in order to make you gradually lose the people's support.  They will project their own faults on you; always put you in situations where you must constantly justify your action, and gradually take away everything you have been given.

The more you try to negotiate, the worse it'll be."

Hmmm…  Would Hawke have been ready to wake up and understand this?  Or will he/she have told Anders that he's only being paranoid, exaggerating, and tried for many more years to still to bring about change in Kirkwall in a peaceful manner (remain in the denial stage)?

Anders did what he had to do in order to set things in motion.  And sadly enough, no matter how much he loved (or cared for) Hawke and truly did wish to trust him/her, Hawke's position within the city made him/her an ally as well as a liability.

Anders chose to give his cause (that is, in many ways, representative of who he is) precedence over his own life, and feelings.

And, in doing so, he actually gave Hawke the opportunity to free himself/herself from his/her own mother and fathers' control, prevent them (Meredith, Elthina, and Orsino) from being able to manipulate him/her any further, and put the power to really change and influence things in Thedas back in the Champion's hands.

As for Anders, well…  He's already won (or lost, if he's been rivaled and encouraged to lose all faith in his cause and himself) and, in many ways, has completed his own Journey.

However, I am curious to see how he will keep evolving as a character, and what his fate will be if Hawke chose to let him live.  How he and Justice will adapt to what comes next.  Hopefully, the matter will be further addressed by the writers in one way or another…

If not, I'm definitely grateful for them having created such a rich and interesting character, and for the wonderful emotional ride!  Bravo!
Alright, no more procrastination! :D

Here’s the time for me to finally write that description. ;P

For those of you who have seen my gallery, favorites, or have come to know me (in some respect) since DA2 came out, you probably know that I have a slight obsession with a certain possessed healer… Lol!

I’m also a huge fan of other characters such as Alistair and Zevran, but no one has managed to touch the core of my very being as much as Anders has. In fact, at some point, I had to be careful not to take people attacking the character, and/or what he did and stood for on a personal level. Remind myself that he is but a (wonderfully built and extremely well developed) videogame character, and that everyone is entitled to their own opinions/interpretations.

Anders is a very difficult character for me to disconnect from… Never have I identified with a fictional character as strongly as I’ve identified with him! Even when he tries to push people away, or behaves erratically, I “get” him. I see a (sometimes distorted) logic through each of his actions. When he lashes out at people that don’t deserve it, I “feel” where it’s coming from. When he tries to fix everything on his own, unable to ask for other people’s help despite trusting and loving them, I “sense” what’s holding him back.

His need to sacrifice himself for some greater cause… To lie and manipulate to keep others from harm… To take the weight of the whole world on his shoulders, as if he somewhat believes that it is his sole responsibility… The way he has of seemingly feeling both worthless and yet bigger and more powerful than he really is… How he searches for trust, love, acceptance, and recognition through the act of healing and caring for others, often without asking for anything in return…

Yet, I never quite understood why Anders made so much sense to me… Why he gets under my skin as he does, and why I can’t help but feel the instinct to protect him, even from people’s criticism. Why is it so hard to differentiate between his feelings, and my own?

That is, until I awoke from a 30 years slumber to realize that I had been raised by a narcissistic, over controlling mother, and a passive, child-like, enabling father.

Until I finally saw that I’ve spent my whole childhood, teenaged, and young adult years unconsciously trying to be perfect to please my mother, in order to receive her love and approval. While in other aspects of my life, trying to escape and “run away” from my responsibilities.

In order to be loved or simply accepted by my family, I had to accept being in perfect “symbiosis” with my mom. Any attempt to individuate and move away from her own thoughts and values was met with scorn, and/or the unspoken threat of having her love and emotional/financial support taken away from me. I had to play caretaker, psychologist, best friend, husband, etc.

In short, be everything my mother ever needed, and that she didn’t know how to healthily get from people that were not as easily controllable as I (it’s surprising how easily children can be molded to fit a parent’s needs). When there was a conflict between my mother and father, I became her spokesperson, needing to resolve the conflict with my dad in her stead in order to escape her wrath. And my father let me infantilize him; coax him into being more “reasonable”, and ultimately agreeing with my mother.

Any boundaries between her and I were seen as threats. She shared every intimate details of her life with me (including her favorite sexual positions with my father, his penis’ nickname, etc.), and she thus expected the same from me, under the argument that if you really love someone, you have to be willing to trust them with everything that goes on in your life.

At 25, just before I moved out of their house, my mom would still open the door of the bathroom, completely naked, and go brush her teeth while I was sitting on the toilet, for example. It was the “natural” and “normal” way to do things.

My world was “purple”, how could I ever have believed that it could have been “green”. ;P I had no external reasons or motivations to question her actions and the motives behind them. She was my mother! The one who loved me above anyone else, and would always make sure that I had anything I needed, right?

My family was very secluded too, and I had no friend that my mother didn’t approve of. At 17, I even let her break up with my boyfriend for me because she was so distrustful of him that she was in a panic state each time I left the house to go out with him. I came to believe that if she was that scared of him, it must have been because he was dangerous and somehow I had failed to see it. My perceptions were faulty; hers were right, as usual. Why fight?

She had also told me from a very young age that she never understood why parents talked about feeling unconditional love for their children; stating clearly that if the children behaved badly or disrespectfully, parents had no obligation to love them.

I grew up with the deep seated belief that love and approval had to be earned, never freely given. That people were loved for what they did, never for who they are.

The funny thing is that despite the fact that the love I personally gave her and many of my friends was unconditional; and I was able to accept them for who they were regardless of what they did… My mind never could quite grasp the concept that these rules could have applied to myself also.

I loved others without efforts… But I had to constantly perform and prove myself worthy of other people’s love and respect.

Since my mother didn’t know how to feel empathy for other people, “negative” emotions such as anger and sadness had to be suppressed and/or rationalized. If I was angry, her reaction would be to immediately give me a whole rationale to show that my anger was unjustified, and thus didn’t have any reason to exist. Implied message: I was faulty for feeling the way I did. Normal people don’t feel anger if their life is as perfect as she made me believe mine to be. And since I need to be normal to be loved and approved of, I better “feel” as a normal person would and stop being angry.

Not knowing how to care for myself, but being highly talented in listening to and taking care of others, I became a nurse. ;P Since the only way to feel worthy of people’s respect, approval and affection was to put my own needs aside in order to care for other people’s needs, that profession fit me like a glove! It was a natural extension of the roles I had been given at home.

I could once again forget about the emptiness within, and connect with others through what I was able to offer them. Feel somewhat important, needed, accepted through what I could bring others.

Incidentally, my romantic partners often acted like immature kids in need of a mother. They often expected someone to take care for their needs, all the while being unable to reciprocate or make their own decisions.

That is, until I met my present partner, Frédérick. Frédérick comes from a very healthy and loving family where children were taught that their parents would always love, approve, and be there for them no matter what. Those parents may not always agree with what their children did, but that didn’t affect the love they had for their kids as individuals.

His family, while not perfect, is what I would call “functional”. His parents may have made mistakes, but they were and still are willing to take responsibility for these mistakes and learn from them. Unlike my mother, they didn’t devote their whole lives ignoring negative feelings and problems that their children may have experienced, and trying to hide them under the guise of deep rationality.

From my very “purple” world, Frédérick and his family began to show me the color “green”…

And as the transition within me slowly occurred, my mother became more and more controlling, abusive, emotionally and psychologically violent, and destructive.

Things became even more tense and complex between us when I was diagnosed with Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (a multi-systemic chronic condition from which only a handful of person ever entirely recover).

It was a huge eyes opener for me. I suddenly found myself stuck at home, unable to endure even a 15 minutes ride as a passenger in a car without having intense nausea and often vomiting; unable to sustain a mental activity (such as reading, or receiving a friend’s visit) for more than 1 hour at a time; unable to walk for more than a few meters inside the house… Something as simple as brushing my teeth became as physically draining as running a marathon!

No longer being able to be the responsible and effective nurse that doctors and patients can rely on… The life partner that brings her own contribution to preparing the meals, taking care of the house, and participating in normal couple activities… The dutiful daughter always there to bring active listening and support to her parents… The friend ready to stop everything she is doing to rush to a friend’s aid when called upon…

Who was I?

I had absolutely no idea who I was! My whole identity had been built around the roles I had chosen or I had been given. All my personal repairs stripped!

Confused, I asked my partner “How can you still love me? I can’t do anything! I can’t give you anything!”

Visibly moved, he told me “In a relationship, what’s important is not what we give to each other, but giving ourselves to each other”.

He reminded me that every single day that I fought to overcome my illness, and regain bits and pieces of my autonomy, I was making just as much if not more efforts than he did by assuming the household tasks that I no longer had the health and energy to complete.

He saw my illness as something that happened to us as a couple, and that we would overcome together. Not as “Amélie’s illness, that the poor healthy Frédérick had to endure”.

He valued my contribution to the relationship as a person, and the commitment we shared as partners above the possibility for him to live his life free from my problems, and pursue any endeavors he could wish to pursue.

He could’ve found another partner with whom he could’ve travelled, have children, raised a family, etc. And yet, he still chose me… Despite the fact that there were no guarantees I would ever get better and be able to offer him any of this.

At home, he didn’t try to impose any way of doing things upon me, respected as much as he could my autonomy, and let me make my own decisions while offering advice only if I asked for it. When I cried or became anxious, he didn’t try to convince me that my emotions were unjustified or that there was anything wrong with them. On the contrary, he would simply hold me, caress my hair, kiss the top of my head, and allow me some room to vent and feel listened to.

Here I was, stuck at home, unable to care for myself, and limited in almost every aspect of my life… And yet, I had never felt more free!

Unable to cope with the situation, and the fact that I had to set limits with others in order to preserve my own very limited reserves of energy, my mother began believing that I would be happier and would recover faster if I came back to live with them (a.k.a. my parents), instead of being left to the care of my partner.

She began trying to make me doubt Frédérick’s motives, saying that since I was with him, I was starting to change, and that she and all our common friends worried for me.

I was indeed starting to change in order to adapt to my condition… But also because of my slowly emerging “self” that had been suppressed all those years through constant “brainwashing” on her part.

I was slowly individuating, entering my identity crisis, learning to identify my own opinions, beliefs, and values, and rejecting those that no longer fit me.

But my mother, true to her engulfing, narcissistic personality, was unable to see and much less understand that… Frédérick became the enemy, the source of all her (and thus my) health problems! He was controlling me, abusing me, trying to change the wonderful and perfect daughter she had, sabotaging her daughter’s life, etc.

And because she couldn’t attack him directly, she began attacking me both directly and indirectly.

She told me things such as:

“Since you are blind and brainwashed Amélie, your opinion no longer has any value, and I can’t take any of what you say in consideration”.

“The person you have become since you left the house no longer acts in accordance with my values, and I can’t connect with you! In fact, I can’t even tell you that I love you because I can’t feel any love for such a stranger. ”

“The president of Quebec’s Myalgic Encephalomyelitis Association told me that you often suffered from memory losses and problems in personal judgment. I’m glad to know that there’s a reason for your behavior and the absurd way you’ve been thinking lately, and that you can still be healed”.

Meanwhile, she called my family members to talk to them about how worried she was about me. She told them that Frédérick had taken complete control of my house ever since I fell sick, was acting violently and controlling me through fear. That he had brainwashed me and forced me to deny my own needs and beliefs in order to keep his support.

Also, she warned them that people suffering from Myalgic Encephalomyelitis have memory problems, and that I was inventing things regarding events related to my childhood and teenaged years that had never happened.

Thus, anything I could say or do shouldn’t be trusted.

When I met with my aunts, cousins, or uncles, they looked at me with concern and pity. Trying to make me feel loved and nurtured, while the message I read in their eyes seemed to be “I hope you will soon find the courage to leave your abusing partner and come back to the loving embrace of your devoted mother and family”.

Despite it all, it took me a while to realize that my beloved mother, whom I had always seen as the protector, hero, and best friend, was truly a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

But when I finally realized that I had grown up being psychologically and mentally abused, used, and disrespected by my mom... Boy was I angry! I was filled with such a deep seated rage, as if all the years of having tried to play the “perfect little girl” in order to receive my parent’s love and approval screamed at me for having so long ignored and denied my pain.

I screamed and screamed until I could no longer breathe… I threw punches upon my bed, my pillows, my couch until I could no longer move or stand. Nevermind that I had to pay for it later (with my illness, the slightest exertion can take weeks to recover from). I was suffocating with rage and anger!

Part of me wanted revenge, retribution, the whole world to turn on my mom as she had turned on me.

Eventually, with help from my psychotherapist, my partner’s family, and my friends, I was able to work through the anger and accept it as a part of myself. Learn to no longer fear my emotions and work with and through them instead.

I was also able to learn to accept my mother as she was. Feel empathy and compassion for the little girl in her that had been rejected by her own parents, and never was given the chance to move past the stage of primary narcissism in her childhood years.

That didn’t excuse the abuse that I’d been subjected to, nor did that make acceptable the fact that I had been denied from ever having experienced healthy, unconditional parental love from her.

But I understood that both my mother and I had been the victims of a violent cycle that, having awakened from, I now had the power to break. I could put a stop to it, and prevent my own (future) children from becoming its victims too!

I thus wrote a letter to a few of our mutual friends and family members, and decided to break the silence on the violence that I had been subjected to. I explained that my goal wasn’t to tarnish my mother’s reputation, nor make her lose their love, friendship or support. I told them that everything I wrote was written according to my own experience, my own perception and interpretation of certain events. That they didn’t have to believe me, just accept that the content of my letter was my own personal truth, and respect it.

I told them about how violent, controlling, cruel, and manipulative my mother had become ever since I fell sick, giving them concrete examples. I described my relationship with Frédérick, and how happy and free being with him made me feel. How supportive and respectful of my autonomy he was. I explained that the reason why I had acted strange or uncomfortable around them in the company of my mom sometimes wasn’t because I had been fearful of my partner or brainwashed by him, but because I had been fearful of my mother’s reactions if I dared let my guards down.

I told them that while I didn’t wish to cut all contacts with my mother, I would communicate with her using some counter-manipulation techniques I have learned, remaining very illusive and superficial in our interactions.

Basically, I asked 3 very specific things from them:

1. Respect the fact that the need to protect myself from my mother is real to me.
2. Keep every confidence that I offer them for themselves only. Thus giving me the opportunity to choose what I decide to share with my mom, and what I do not.
3. Accept that there may be important events in my life where I will find being free to act as myself more important than having my mother present, social conventions be damned, and respect that.

While the response from my friends and friends of the family have been very positive. For example, one couple of my parent’s friends, that have known me since I was born, even wrote to me:

“We are saddened to learn that there are such difficulties between you two. You must understand that we are first and foremost friends of your parents. However, we love you, and we promise that everything you tell us in the future will remain between us. No matter what, you can always count on us.”

(Note: This is the best answer I could receive! This sent the message: “We trust you to make the right decisions for your life and respect your choices, whether we agree with them, or not. No matter what, you still have our love and support”.)

My mother’s family, however, rose up at once! Dysfunctional families have the peculiar quality of being balanced in a very unbalanced way. Even though people sometimes have the feeling that something is “wrong” with the way things are, confronting it would threaten to compromise the family’s capacity to sustain itself. People each have been assigned given roles to insure that “peace” is being kept. If someone attempts to free himself or herself from the role he or she was given, he or she is violently attacked by the others, since the narcissistic family system’s balance can’t be maintained otherwise. Change is frightening and threatens to create a shift in power that would throw the family into open chaos.

From benevolent and loving, my aunts, uncles, and cousins sent me angry letters filled with accusations, basically saying:

1. That I was the most selfish person they had ever encountered, and would end up being alone in life contemplating my big fat belly button.
2. That they’d never seen someone being so mean and disrespectful to their mother, especially when she had been so devoted to me.
3. That I should feel ashamed for spreading such blatant lies about such an honest, selfless person.
4. That I was weak for letting Frédérick manipulate and destroy me in such a way, obviously trying to turn me away from my true family.
5. That until I had come back to my senses, realized the damage I had caused to my mother, asked for her forgiveness, and left my partner, they wanted nothing to do anymore with me.

When I made one of my dearest friends (and huge “Dragon Age” fan) read their answers, she said.

“Well, this was to be expected… After all, you’re the heretic that just blew up the Chantry in their Kirkwall.”

As soon as she made her comparison, my eyes went wide, and I finally understood why Anders had managed to strike such a chord with me.

While the “epic battle he wages against forces he can’t possibly defeat” is done on a much larger scale, the emotional states accompanying his struggles reminded me of my own.

And understand this: I was never physically mistreated in any way. On the contrary! As long as I remained obedient and accepted to act as an extension of my mother, adopting her views on the world and reflecting positively on her, I was denied nothing. I was spoiled rotten!

I would find 40 gifts waiting for me under the tree at Christmas (not an exaggeration, we counted them!); they would pay for my study, my first and second cars, and my first house. My parents would bring me with them to dine in expensive restaurants, see musicals and plays, buy me gorgeous clothes to wear, etc. A perfect doll whose academic and personal accomplishments were flaunted in front of friends and family for the whole world to see what a wonderful job they had done in raising me! What perfect, loving, and giving parents they were!

“Love me, fear me, do as I say, and I will be your slave”

Surrender your own will and identity to us, and we will give you everything.

Sincerely, I would rather live alone on the streets, or even die than submitting to my mother’s will ever again. Now that I’ve discovered that I had a “soul”, selling it to reap financial or material benefits seems senseless. My fear of physical death is much less intense than becoming emotionally inexistent again.

I could never go back to their house and accept any of their so-called gifts without killing the part of myself that I’ve fought so hard and desperately to acquire.

So when people are saying that mages in Thedas are a selfish and complaining bunch, and have it easier in their towers because they are housed, fed, allowed to practice their “gift” (or curse) and offered an education... While the struggling peasants are trying to make a living and barely able to survive and feed their families…

I’d much rather risk poverty and death, than being imprisoned in a gilded cage where I must surrender my right to love and make choices for myself!

Absolute freedom is an utopia, and making choices for yourself of course implies that you have to remain acutely aware that you are “one” in a sea of “many”. Meaning that the well-being of the many must not be discarded when making these choices.

But being loved, trusted and accepted for who you are has no price.

So as I played, I connected with Anders’ confusion, his anger, his need to escape at all costs from his gilded tower, his excess of confidence contrasting with his lack of self-esteem, the distorted way he perceives himself, his fear to hurt others in a relationship, etc.

And truthfully, this description ended up being much, much longer than I initially intended! Lol! :D

So this is basically where the inspiration from that little piece came from, and why I believe I’ve been very (overly) receptive to his plight. ;P
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:icontiromani:
Tiromani Featured By Owner Nov 6, 2013  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Well, I might not be well kept in the subject of Anders and Dragon age, but about the narcissistic thing.
This hit perfectly with what it's like to grow up with narcissist parent/parents. I know this because my father is narcissist, and I didn't actually 'wake up' until like..a few month ago, and I'm 16 years old.
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:iconasheraa:
asheraa Featured By Owner May 29, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
I really love it when I find that someone has put into words a concept that matches so closely to my incredibly jumbled and rambling thoughts.

I feel a very strong... kinship? (Can one feel kinship for a bunch of sexy pixels? I guess I can feel that way towards the characters portrayed at least) towards Anders and the mages of the rebellion. I was brought up in a heavily fundamentalist household where free thinking and being 'different' were the worst crimes you could commit. Abuses were covered up for the sake of "keeping the equilibrium of the congregation and peace in the church". Anything different was considered if not evil then at least extremely destructive to the congregation.

I think even though I had a couple of knee jerk moments about relatively minor details in this piece, over all I agree with it. And it's nice to see it expressed so thoroughly and so well. When I try to explain why I can't bring myself to side with the Templars or to "hate Anders for his atrocities" (Or even why I have no issue with Merril as a blood mage or doing the blood ritual in Origins for that matter) I tend to just get all tongue tied. I actually get very flustered trying to put it into concise words because I feel so very strongly about it.

Yeah, my thoughts are more fractured than normal tonight. I hope this made some kind of sense :blushes:

Cutting a long story very short... thanks for writing this :hug:
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:iconkittymills:
kittymills Featured By Owner Apr 22, 2013
This was a fascinating read, thank you!
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:iconinuzuka-ayame:
Inuzuka-Ayame Featured By Owner Jun 7, 2012
I loved your essay. Its refreshing to find another person who understands Anders as I do! I too found attachment to this character and completely understood his feelings while others judged and spurned him without trying to figure him out. I always thought it was because I was one of those rare people who analyze everything in a psychological sense before judging. I like to see how people work and think before deciding if I hate or love them and its too bad no one else can do that for Anders. I think he's a brilliant character!
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:iconthelostgirl21:
TheLostGirl21 Featured By Owner Jun 8, 2012
Thank you so much! :D

Thankfully, I've encountered quite a few Anders fans that are willing to try to understand him instead of judging him since the game has been released. ;P We also have to consider that there are people out there that are very quick to put labels on others and categorize them in real life. So it's a bit unrealistic to expect them to be any different when they encounter a videogame character, especially one as well developed and complex as Anders.

Many liked the snarky, jester Anders. It suited them and their need to have someone always ready to entertain them, without realizing what his attitude really cost him, I think. I like both "versions" of him because I see it as part of a continuum. But "Awakening Anders" appears to me to be much more in pain and incomplete as an individual, than the person he becomes at the end of DA2.
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:iconalaskantiger22:
Alaskantiger22 Featured By Owner Apr 23, 2012
This was an amazing analysis and also makes a lot of sense for why the mages act they way they did in the game.
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:iconthelostgirl21:
TheLostGirl21 Featured By Owner Apr 23, 2012
Thank you so much! :D I'm glad you enjoyed it.
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:iconjheregassassin:
JheregAssassin Featured By Owner Feb 22, 2012
While I don't come from a narcissistic family, I do believe your essay hit the whole point of Dragon Age 2 (The Chantry, Circles, Mages, and how they work. I can see Anders in that spot.) right on the head. Good job!
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:iconthelostgirl21:
TheLostGirl21 Featured By Owner Feb 26, 2012
Thankfully, one doesn't need to have experienced it firsthand to understand the concept. ;P

And thank you very much! :D
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:iconsassamifrass:
sassamifrass Featured By Owner Feb 18, 2012
You know, after reading this a lot of the paths the DA2 plot took make a lot more sense now... thanks for putting this together! (Came here from a link you left in a comment on a DA fanart somewhere...)
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