Psychology TV

The Psychology Of Bojack Horseman : Narcissism and Conditional Love

so Bojack horseman does so many things, well but what I think it does better than any other show I’ve seen, is how when parents love their kids conditionally, and they base their love on their children’s success and their achievements, how that creates narcissism in children and then when those children grow up, all the consequences and behaviors that stem from that narcissism.

so what happened to Bojack during his childhood, it’s not that his parents abandoned him and completely neglect him, it’s not that his parents completely abuse him and constantly tell him he’s worthless, it’s more specific than that, what his parents and particularly his mom does, is she says you better be worth all this pain and suffering you’ve caused me, she says you have to be great to make up for all the evil that you’ve done to me, I’m slightly paraphrasing but those are direct quotes, she says that three or four times throughout the series drilling it into his head that you need to be great because I made all these sacrifices I was gonna do all these great things but because I got pregnant with you I wasn’t able to do them so you owe me, so you have to go and be great.

Here we get the biggest difference between Bojack and someone like Todd, Todd doesn’t feel he has to really do anything Todd just lives his life, and he works through his issues, his asexuality that’s something he has to work through, but Todd lives like he never feels he has to do anything, he doesn’t have anything to prove to anyone.

Bojack is constantly worried about his legacy, his popularity, his fame and whether he’s respected, he’s constantly jumping from thing to thing thinking that he has to do this and has to do that, and what’s interesting is also Diane is another character who also seems fairly unhappy, and I feel like she also feels often that she has to do things,

So Bojack early in his life, he gotten into his head that he has to be great and he has to be special to have any kind of love, he doesn’t think that just by being a good person or just by being himself that’s good enough and people will love him just for that, he thinks that he needs to achieve things not just because he wants to and because he thinks that’s the right thing to do, he thinks he needs to achieve things just to get basic human love and kindness.

So what are the effects of this in bojack’s adult life, a bunch of toxic behaviors that result in him having not a single friend, and that’s one of the most striking things about Bojack, that’s very different than the rest of the world, is that he doesn’t really have a single friend, and one of the reasons is because he’s so needy and he needs constant reassurance and praise, because he bases his self-worth and if he feels okay is based on the opinions of other people, and the validation praise that he gets from others and these external markers of success.

so that’s why getting an Oscar is so important to him, and we got this great monologue that she gives to him where she says : I know you’ve known all your life that you’re special Bojack, and right now the other special people they’re finally saying you were right, you’re special, and you just see the this is what Bojack has been striving for his whole life just as confirmation and validation, the ultimate validation that he’s special.

but the thing about it is you’re never truly stable and happy, because when you base all your self-worth on other people saying that you’re special and validating praising you, that’s always fluid, and that can always change, because people’s opinions are always going to shift, so Bojack set up for failure basing his happiness and self-worth on this, he might temporarily get it if he wins an Oscar but eventually that’s gonna fade and people’s opinions are gonna change.

when Princess Carolyne is saying all these nice things to him, if she says ten nice things, he only pick up the one negative thing she says, you can just see how much he gets off on it, and just loves when people praise him and just say these things that he just he’s craving people just saying these nice things, but ironically since he’s a narcissist and he’s so arrogant, no one wants to praise a narcissist, nobody wants to praise an arrogant person, so what he’s most craving for, which is praise of others people are so resistant to give, because they know he’s arrogant.

that’s the paradox of a narcissist the things they want the most get driven away by all their behaviors, Bojack is so needy, he needs to always be the center of attention, because when all your self-worth is based on external validation from others, if someone else getting praise from others you see that as a direct threat to your very self worth, and that’s why narcissists are some of the most jealous people, and you see this right from episode one where he says to Princess Carolyne ” you have other clients? are they more talented than me? ” he’s such a jealous person and can’t take pleasure in the success of anybody else, even his closest friends he would feel threatened by it, because it’s a threat to his self-worth.

if other people aren’t giving him praise, they’re giving other people praise, well there’s only so much praise to go around so he can never be happy for anyone including his friends.

and where this need to be the center of attention and to one-up other people is the most comical is when he goes to the AAA meeting, and he actually gets up and starts bragging about these horrible things he’s done, where I’m sure he feels guilt, but it also in this perverse way he just needs to be the center of attention needs to be the best, even if being monstrous.

and because he’s so obsessed with his own success there’s a couple of consequences, the first it’s just garden-variety selfishness when he asks Sarah-Lynn to be in his show, even though he knows it’s the wrong thing to do, he knows it could push her over the edge, he cares about his success so much more than anything else that he asked her anyways and that’s one of the worst things he’s done. and you see the tragic consequences in the show.

the other thing that results, is That he’s so self-absorbed, so wrapped up and busy thinking about himself and his legacy and his flaws and his mistakes, he doesn’t have the time, the cognitive resources to really conceptualize other people as fully developed human beings, he sees people largely through what they are to him, he sees Princess Carolyne not really as a woman with her desires and fears and this or that, he sees her as his agent, he really sees people as far as a function of what they do to him, he sees Todd not really as a sum of his personality and his traits in his hopes, no he sees him as someone he uses when he has these dark moments and he can kind of rely on Todd to cheer him up, give him some company maybe validate his ego a little bit and that’s how he views Todd, not really as a person definitely not as a friend, just as a function to him.

the worst example of this we see is when he goes to make amends, and if you really saw these other people that he’d hurt as human beings, he would either not make amends that not even go and not reopen those wounds, or he would do it in a respectful way, go during the day sober, but no, you see what he does where he shows up drunk, unannounced, uninvited, and it’s just again all about him, so even when he’s making amends he can really only conceptualize things through his mistakes, he can’t really look at the other person and look at their wounds it’s more about his mistake than actually what the effect was on them.

so narcissists are selfish they’re jealous but they’re also liars deep down at a core they’re liars, and for two reasons, one is they feel that to get love they need to achieve success, they have to prevent this image of success at all times so they build up this fake image of themselves to try to get that love, but the image is a lie. and you see the big difference between Diane’s book that she writes, which is very honest and real, and then the book he wants to write which is just about how awesome he is, and he thinks that’s that’s what’s gonna get him more loved, when that may get a more fake superficial love, but the book Diane writes him opening up that side of himself and being honest about those things that she wrote about in her book that would be the only chance he’d have for real true love and real friendship or relationship based on truth.

and then the other aspect is because during his childhood he never felt that he was loved for who he was, he feels that deep down there’s nothing there all his self-worth is based on external stuff, he feels a fundamentally deep down there’s either emptiness or ugliness, so he feels that if anyone really does get to know him if he’s to open or be honest with anyone, eventually they’re gonna see this emptiness or this ugliness, and then they’re gonna get turned off and leave. so basically he never really opens up and never really lets people in, and always keeps people at arm’s length because he feels deep down he’s just an unlovable person.

that’s why Bojack gravitated to this Hollywood bubble, that’s not the real world, in the real world people have friendships people do open up with each other and get to know each other, in this Hollywood world where he’s insulated himself, the only people he really hangs out with are people who want to use him for his fame, they want to party with him etc, no one really wants to get to know him and that’s fine with him, that’s where he wants to be, he doesn’t want to be with people who would want to get to know him, that makes him uncomfortable.

so the fear of him being fundamentally unlovable it prevents him from sharing stuff about himself with Todd, and his self-absorption and being so obsessed with his own success and his own inner life prevents him from learning anything about Todd, so when you have a relationship where Todd doesn’t know the real Bojack, and Bojack doesn’t really know anything about Todd, Todd is not really distinguishable from any other person, he’s just kind of there, so it’s not a real friendship based on any kind of knowledge, you can’t really have a true friendship.

So since Bojack bases his self-worth on other people’s opinions of him, when those opinions are positive it just creates anxiety in him, because it heightens his awareness of how much those opinions can change on a whim, and just how fleeting and transient this temporary happiness really is.

when people are not giving positive opinions of him, he can switch between two things, he can either be self-loathing and fall into this pit of self-loathing, because since other people say I’m bad I must be bad. or he can shift to a kind of missile misanthropy and just assuming everyone’s terrible and their opinion is irrelevant, that’s how he protect himself from having their negative opinions drop his self-worth. you can say well look I’m awesome and everyone else is just idiots and eventually they’ll realize how awesome I am, but it’s going to take them some time because the world is so stupid and screwed up, that’s why you see Bojack just flip back and forth routine masochism to miss off misanthropy when things are bad.

the other thing that happens is he has this huge fear of failure, and nobody likes to fail, but if someone else is more well-adjusted if they fail they may be bummed because they wanted to succeed, and they wanted all the stuff that comes along with that, but they don’t feel that they’re failure tied so directly to their self-worth. if Bojack fails it’s not just that, him failing means that deep down he’s unlovable and he’s never gonna be loved, so it creates this huge fear of failure.

one interesting consequence is there’s a thing called self-handicapping, so what it is, is you handicap and sabotage yourself, when you do fail you can blame that thing you did wrong instead of anything inherent to you, so if you have an important job interview you might show up five minutes late and not really know why but things happen, and then you just happen to show up five minutes late, what you’ve done is if you get the job great but if you don’t get the job you can say well it was just me showing up five minutes late that was silly but that’s nothing intrinsically to me I can just show up you know on time the next time, so when you throw something into the mix that you can blame all your failures on, that’s a way that you can keep from the failure hitting your self worth if you’re someone who ties the failures to your self-worth.

it comes out when he’s talking to that newspaper subscription lady, she calls them out on this and says “do you ever do bad things so then when you fail you can blame those bad things, rather than anything inherent to you” and he’s like “too real..” and he bails out of the conversation, but she’s really hitting the nail on the head, and then the other thing that Bojack will do is if he really does care about someone, love someone, he might just push them away when they start becoming close, because he says fundamentally deep down I’m unlovable, and I’m not a good person, so if I really care about this person I’m with, why would I get involved with them make them love me when I’m just making them love an unlovable person that is not worthy of love. so Bojack will kind of preemptively push the person away as this misplaced martyrdom and saying I’m doing it for their own good.

last thing I’m going to talk about is that Bojack seems he’s addicted to drugs and sex and food to an extent, but I think what he’s more addicted to than anything else is Fame, some people say oh well he likes Fame and he likes being famous and his fans because they help distract him from really examining his life. but I think it goes beyond that, I think that the speech he gives to Sarah-Lynn where he talks about his fans, he talks about that the only ones that’ll never leave you, never asked you to change, you’d do whatever it takes to please them no matter what happens you don’t stop dancing. when he gives this really haunting monologue that just symbolizes how much he is addicted to these fans, and it goes back again to the conditional love where he feels he only gets love when other people are saying he deserves it, he has this huge fan base he’s addicted to and addicted to pleasing them, because if that fan base goes away and that fan base turns his whole foundation core shaken so his biggest addiction like I say, is Fame.

Leave a Comment