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The Bride of the Water God: Narcissistic Personality Disorder

July 21, 2019

Imagine for a moment that you are an early career psychiatrist. You are struggling with bills, working hard all day, trying your best to make your practice take off. One night you come across a strange young man who tells you that he is from another realm, that he is the God of Water, that you are his servant, and that you must aid along his quest to find three objects that will help him become Emperor of the Realm of Gods. How would you respond?

This is the premise of the 2017 South Korean drama, The Bride of the Water God (AKA The Bride of Habaek). According to the wiki, the drama is a spinoff of the manhwa by Yoon Mi-kyung. The story begins when the god of water, Habaek, goes to earth to collect three powerful stones that are supposed to help him claim his throne. Along with him, he takes his servant from his own realm. The two are supposed to look for a human who is a member of the family that are destined to serve the water god for every generation. This happens to be a young psychiatrist, Dr. Yoon So-ah, who, after hearing his story, decides she has encountered a person who is either delusional or has Narcisstic Personality Disorder. 

Habaek, the God of Water
Habaek is demanding. He makes requests that cannot be met on earth the same as in his own world. He depends on his servant a lot, as though he cannot function without him. Once he finds So-ah, he practically just moves into her life, and quickly moves into her house too. He expects her to worship him, but the knowledge that mortals used to have about the gods is now dead, and she has never heard anything about her family being descendants of the servants of the God of Water. So-ah takes him on because she believes he is unstable and she believes she is helping, but mainly he alluded to having a lot of money, so she expects payment at some point.

So-ah is a psychiatrist who has her private practice and a small number of patients who it seems have a good rapport with her. However, she seems at times disinterested in her job. She is rude to her staff. This may be because she is clearly struggling to keep up with her bills and she has other personal problems. Her life seems to be falling apart. Early on we learn that So-ah has been very depressed to the point of having tried to take her own life in the past. She doesn't have friends, she only has people who went to school with her who she wants to impress by coming across as more successful than she is. She seems to be a person who has not gotten past some childhood injuries.

Being unable to grow past her pain is turning her into a bitter person, and it is starting to show not only in her professional duties but the way she takes care of herself. She seems to be resentful that she has to work so hard. She mistreats her staff because they are childhood acquaintances and she knows that he won't leave her, but she behaves as though she wants to drive him away. This ties into past abandonment by her parents, as this is one of the childhood wounds with which she is struggling.

Dr. Yoon So-ah
There were moments when I felt So-ah was very relatable in terms of struggling to get her private practice started and having breakdowns when things were going bad. She doesn't have good nutrition due to not having enough money to buy food, so she survives on instant noodles (this hit home so hard!!). She doesn't seem to have time to do her laundry or clean her house, which she only has because it was left to her by her parents. She knows she has to take better care of her health, so she sets an alarm to remind her to work out on her days off. She is having a hard time adulting, and I loved that they were able to portray that. I can't stand it when early career health professionals in dramas are just incredibly successful so early in their career because it isn't realistic unless they had the funds to start already from their own personal wealth. Having to work hard and struggling in the beginning is more relatable, especially in the mental health field. I loved to see So-ah's character grow from focusing on being resentful about the struggle, to someone who is willing to put in the hard work and sees problems as opportunities to work even harder. I saw that growth as very inspiring.

Does Habaek Have Narcissistic Personality Disorder? 

According to the current Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM5), Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) refers to pervasive personality traits such as having a grandiose sense of self, believing one is better than others, and seeking the attention and admiration of others. These personality traits in NPD lead to impairments in self functioning and interpersonal functioning. Self functioning impairment refers to looking to others to define oneself or for self-esteem, exaggerated self-appraisal that may go between extremes (too high or too low), setting goals based on whether they will get others' approval, or unreasonably high personal standards to make oneself feel more important. Interpersonal functioning impairment refers to having an impaired sense of empathy, overestimating/underestimating one's effect on others, having superficial relationships, having no genuine interest in others, or only being interested in others for personal gain.

Habaek certainly feels he is more important than others, but he has a good reason to believe this. He is a god, and is set to take the throne and rule over all other gods. His inflated sense of self can't truly be considered "inflated", as it comes from literally having powers that most others he is encountering on earth don't have. When he encounters his peers, other gods on earth, he treats them as more or less equals and not as though he is better than them. He even shows deference to at least one of them. He does expect admiration from others, but that seems to be tied to the idea that gods have to be worshiped by mortals in order to be relevant. 

Habaek doesn't seem to show much empathy for mortals in the beginning, but this seems to change as the show progresses and he becomes curious about So-ah and why she behaves or feels the way she does, even trying to help and inspire her at times, and trying to give her good experiences. His character shows growth. It doesn't seem to me as though a diagnosis of NPD could really apply to Habaek, even early in the show, as I feel that most of the behaviors that would fit this diagnosis are also the behaviors that would be normal and expected of a deity. If it were a mortal character exhibiting these traits, on the other hand...

What do you think? Do you think he does fit the diagnosis? Why or why not? What were your favorite parts of this drama? Share your thoughts! 

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