EXCLUSIVE | Is Loki battling mental health issues? Experts say he craves love, not the throne
Dissecting Loki's identity as he chats with Mobius in a therapy-esque sequence from Episode 1 of the Marvel series
Gods have feelings too. Even the renegade, wickedly-smirking, power-crazed God of Mischief. For most of his character arc across the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Loki has spent his time getting comically slapped, spanked, and treated like a ragdoll (by Hulk, no less).
The trickster's smarming, self-obsessed ways of one-upping everyone around him, trying to become king, and failing miserably, have been fun, often even satisfying to watch. But not anymore. The first episode of his new eponymous series changed everything for Loki-abuse voyeurs and forced them to think about Loki as who he is — someone with feelings. Just like the rest of us.
Yes, the man has issues. He's notorious for his lying and scheming and has a rap sheet filled with numerous counts of criminal mischief, which include, apart from kidnapping and theft, stabbing his brother, and going so far as to kill a S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent. But after all this, in his eponymous series, Loki maintains: "I don't enjoy hurting people. I do it because I have to." As Episode 1 plays out like a giant therapy sesh, we thought less about what Loki does and more about why he does it. Is our beloved villain is truly worthy of redemption? Two MCU-crazy clinical psychologists shared their views.
What is Loki dealing with, mentally?
Primarily- an identity crisis and the lack of approval. Which both stem from his childhood. All kids want their parents’ approval, whether it's an acknowledging smile, a touch, or a simple “I’m proud of you”. In fact, withholding parental approval can really wreck a child’s self-image. Which happened to Loki and shows in his sensitive character. His father, the stoical king Odin, on his part, never gives away an ounce of pride in Loki’s accomplishments. He does mention in 'Ragnarok' that his mother Frigga would be proud of his magic, but doesn’t go out of his way to imply that he is as well.
Psychologist Shreshta Chattopadhyay thinks Frigga was a better parent. “She doesn't practice favoritism between either Loki or Thor.” She adds, though, that having a super-powerful father can be tough business. “ Odin is one of the most powerful gods. The reason Thanos attacked Earth only after Odin's death was because he would have been able to single-handedly defeat him. Living up to such a powerful father brings its own baggage!”
He just wants acceptance
Much like Frigga — who Loki has unconditional love for — was the root of his sensitivity, Odin is the origin of his feelings of deprivation. “He never felt valued or worthy enough,” notes Bengaluru-based clinical psychologist Gargi Chakraborty. Despite this, she says, he loved and respected Odin, which is exemplified in his gentle dealings with his old man in ‘Thor: Ragnarok’. “He is always deeply touched whenever there is the slightest chance of him feeling that his father understands him.”
Shreshta thinks that Time Variance Authority’s screening of Loki’s future was instrumental in leading him from denial to acceptance. “This is an entity which dared to prevent him from doing what he wanted to,” she says. “But after witnessing his mother, father and brother reciprocate his affection, he gradually shifts from sheer denial to acceptance of his truly glorious fate.” She says that Loki wanted love and respect from people he cared about, and because he misinterpreted their intentions, he had to learn the hard way. The TVA offered him a vision of the future, but it was only because of Loki's intelligence and belief in that future that he decided to comply.
‘Never doubt I love you’
Tom Hiddleston’s masterful portrayal of the conflicted Loki steals the show in the first half of 'Thor', when he finds out that he was adopted. It shows us how troubled he is, beneath his chatty, charming demeanor. “So I am no more than another stolen relic, locked up here until you might have use of me,” Loki cries dramatically, assuming he knows his father’s intentions. Despite Odin’s entreaties, he adds: “It all makes sense now. Why you favored Thor all these years.” This feeling didn't come from nowhere. It was deep-seated in Loki who always knew Asgard could never have two kings, and that even if it could, he would never be the first choice. So, says Shresta, he resorts to instilling fear so he could prove himself more powerful than his big brother.
Sibling rivalry is central to the relationship between Loki and Thor. The God of Thunder, himself a proud man but a loving brother, sensed their father’s favoritism and tried his best to keep Loki’s spirits up. ”He had to grow up in Thor’s shadow. So he feels underestimated and can't ignore the painful feeling. This triggered his jealousy.” Even when Thor makes fun of Loki, his little brother is often gentle and doting. He says, during Thor’s coronation: “I've looked forward to this day as long as you have. You're my brother and my friend. Sometimes I'm envious, but never doubt that I love you.”
How Mobius made Loki talk
“Insight development,” says Gargi. “Mobius gains Loki's confidence, shows him reality and lightens up his conscience.” Mobius, like Loki, is smart. Perhaps even smarter. He trusts Loki's self-awareness from the beginning and knows he loves his family to bits, and he uses that to get him to share that with him.
Shreshta elaborates: “Mobius used three techniques specifically. He uses Socratic questioning when he asks, 'You wanna get out of here, right? Yeah, so we'll start there. Should you return, what are you gonna do?'" Loki is taken aback by the messy question. He snaps back to say that he will claim his throne. That he doesn’t want to be king, he was “born to be”, to which Mobius asks: “King of what exactly?”
The strategy that Mobius uses is called the ‘sandwich technique’ where he praises Loki after the trickster god hurls one insult after the other: “If looks could kill", he says, and then adds a tense statement about Loki's deeds and then again ends with praise: “Big metaphor guy. I love it!” Finally, it’s Mobius sense of drama, well-matched with Loki’s own, which pulls everything through. “It may not happen in psychological settings but was carried out subtly by the likes of Owen Wilson!” she says.
Loki’s done his fair share of wrongs. So what makes his character so likable? Gargi puts it simply. “He is not perfect,” she says. “He is relatable.” Loki is smart, cunning often backstabbing, but also has a tendency to make things right again. “That's where people can connect with him. He is a very layered character”. Shreshta adds that Loki’s sense of independence, too, endears him to fans. “He chooses what he wants to do and is not bound by any rules.”
Gargi chips in by saying that Loki isn’t an antagonist. "He's just a "poetic blend of power-hungry and sensitive. He is not particularly deadly or destructive. He is mischievous, naughty. He is the King of Naughty. But nobody would like to call Thanos the same!” Loki is smart, sarcastic and insecure, stubborn and emotional, she says. Not to mention, Tom Hiddleston’s sensitive, nuanced portrayal of the character makes Loki the fan-favorite he is. The actor once said during a press conference: ''There are some people who are drawn to his vulnerabilities, under all these layers of charm and charisma. There is something really relatable about vulnerability.”
Is Loki playing the TVA?
Is it possible that Loki could be playing them all? "Chances are unlikely...but then who knows, its Loki!" says Sreshta. Gargi however disagrees. She says this wouldn't be the first time Loki has played his tricks. He successfully, for a while, made his brother think he killed his father, and Asgardians think that he himself was Odin. "He is master of disguise," she says.
"I never wanted the throne," Loki says in the Marvel series. But being who he is, Loki won't let such a thing as 'time' mess with his plans. It is entirely possible that he has worked out a strategy to get both the things he wants: the throne, and love and respect from his family and his country. But how probable the TVA will make that, is the question.
Loki’s diagnosis: Satisfaction is not in his nature
But both psychologists agree that Loki suffers from mood issues. Shreshta thinks he ticks the right boxes of an Antisocial Personality Disorder (ASPD) diagnosis. “He's charming, doesn't think twice before causing harm, gains the trust of people before cheating on them, and doesn't regret it.” She adds that Mobius been a wonderful ‘therapist’, so far.
Gargi thinks Loki is just a deeply troubled guy, with some psychopathic or narcissistic traits. “He is self-obsessed. And in trying to get what he desires, he doesn’t realize how difficult he makes life for other people. He longs for power because he longs for importance, he longs for attention because he longs for acceptance. He always felt overlooked, and that part of him wants people to regret treating him in a way he thinks is second-rate.”
Fueled by insecurity, Loki twists words and thoughts, refuses to trust the love that others readily show him and has a tendency to never settle. "Intelligent people often struggle with restlessness. There’s an urge for more, more, more to satisfy a brain that keeps turning, especially when that brain will turn on itself if left to its own devices," a Loki blog says. At the end of the day, Loki is a 'human' character. A God-king with talents and flaws, doing his best to hold on to himself, to others and trying to get better against all odds. And that’s why he inspires even the “sanest” of us all.