“Chaos is a ladder.” Petyr “Littlefinger” Baelish
One of the more perplexing and complicated characters in George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones (2015) is Petyr “Littlefinger” Baelish. Littlefinger is not an overt axe-wielding, skin-flaying psychopath, such as the likes of Ramsey Bolton or Joffrey Baratheon. On the contrary, this scheming, manipulative, self-serving tactician can be found lurking in the shadows behind every major crisis that has erupted in Westeros. More specifically, in my clinical opinion, Littlefinger demonstrates precisely what a covert malignant narcissist looks like in film or literature.
“Littlefinger was born with no lands, no wealth, no armies. He has acquired the first two. How long before he has the army? Perhaps you’ll laugh, but I know him better than most, and this is the truth. Littlefinger is one of the most dangerous men in Westeros.“―Varys, speaking to Olenna Tyrell about Littlefinger
The Unscrupulous Conniver:
Aiden Gillen, the actor who portrays Baelish in the HBO series, masterfully replicates precisely the physiognomy of this unscrupulous conniver: Gillen flashes a fake smile while simultaneously holding contempt in his eyes for the unlucky duped target of his slippery plots to obtain power at all costs.
Pervasive Patterns of Lying:
Furthermore, the character, Baelish, shows his propensity towards a pervasive pattern of lying, which is very typical of malignant narcissists. For example, in the first season of the series, Baelish attempts to befriend Ned Stark, the Hand to King Baratheon. Ultimately, it is through Baelish’s covert, subtle scheming that Ned loses his head, which ultimately brings Baelish closer to the ear of House Baratheon/Lannister, situating him well as an advisor in the role of Master of Coin, and one step away from the Iron Throne.
Baelish is clearly power hungry. His relationships with people serve only one purpose, and that is for his own personal gain and rise to power and wealth. He runs a brothel, whereby he brags of raping concubines and prostitutes and in which he spreads rumors and lies about unsuspecting clients in King’s Landing.
Insatiable Appetite for Ego Fuel:
As with any malignant narcissist (covert or overt), he views people as sources of one-way ego fuel, or narcissistic supply, for the purpose of elevating his status, wealth and/or power. Baelish goes about extracting narcissistic supply by getting close to those who appear to have something he covets. He then makes his power move ever so covertly and in such a way that his slippery manipulations are undetectable to the casual observer.
For example, in the series Season 7, it is clear that Baelish wishes to drive a wedge between Arya and Sansa at Winterfell. He knows that Sansa holds power in the North and that by getting close to her, he could potentially make a chess move closer to holding the Iron Throne. Seeing Arya’s return to Winterfell and her stellar swordsmanship, Baelish takes note of a potential foe. Arya can see that Baelish is up to no good and is protective of her sister, Sansa. Baelish senses that Arya can see beyond his ever-so-carefully-crafted mask, and he fears exposure. He then sends Arya on a wild goose chase to find a scroll which shares some secret information against Sansa, thus creating doubt in Arya’s ability to trust Sansa.
Malignant narcissists have no empathy and frequently straddle the line of psychopathy, which one could argue Baelish might have one toe in. There is a sadistic streak in both malignant narcissists and psychopaths, whereby the extraction of narcissistic supply (ego fuel) is designed to inflate the ego of the power-hungry pathological, at the expense of the host (very predatory and parasitic). If the target of the abusive behavior suffers and experiences pain, often this narcissistic supply is even more potent ego fuel for the malignant narcissist (de Canonville, 2015).
Unfortunately for Baelish, most therapists would not touch him with a ten-foot pole. He is considered Machiavellian and straddling the line to psychopathy. His personality characteristics are so welded and fused in his pathology that he is permanently fossilized into the quagmire that he is.
Sadly, there is a very poor prognosis for him. He will likely keep trying to climb the “ladder of chaos,” which he so craftily orchestrates, to the Iron Throne at the expense of his foes or friends, or he will die trying. Power, control, and ego fuel are all that he is after. The targets he has emotionally traumatized can definitely benefit from therapy, and may present with complex PTSD as a result of his narcissistic/psychopathic abuse. Because his abuse is so covert in nature, survivors of this form of abuse are left with a sense of cognitive dissonance, or confusion, in the aftermath of being in this sick person’s forcefield.
de Canonville, C. (2015). The three faces of evil: Unmasking the full spectrum of narcissistic abuse. Black Card Books.
Martin, G. R. (2015). A Game of thrones: book one of A song of ice and fire. New York: Bantam Books.