*GENTLE RAINFALL* AZULA: “My own mother… ” “…thought I was a monster.” AZULA: “Why would he want you back home, except to lock you up where you can no longer embarrass him?” FIRE LORD OZAI: “She’s a true prodigy.” MAI: “I love Zuko more than I fear you.” AZULA: “I thought I’d find you here.” AZULA: “No, YOU miscalculated! You should’ve feared me more!” AZULA:“Come down to the beach with me. Come on. ” URSA: “What is *wrong* with that child?” AZULA: “Let’s settle this, just you and me, brother. The showdown that was always meant to be– Agni Kai!” AZULA: “’Almost’ isn’t good enough!” URSA: “No. I love you Azula.” *GRUNTS WITH EFFORT* *GLASS SHATTERS* *AZULA SOBBING* This video is brought to you by my patreon supporters and my book, “On Writing and World-Building,” which compiles all of my writing and world-building content into a single, easy-to-read, easy-to-reference book. And you can pre-order the e-book now, or on Amazon, for just $5, down at the link below Release date is May 30th YOUNG AZULA: “♩Dad’s going to kill you♩” … [Really, he is.]” ‘Avatar’ has always endeavoured to bring a depth to its characters, even its villains. And Azula is no exception. Her story is one of abuse, emotional manipulation, mental breakdowns, and deeply broken parental relationships… …All things woven into a complex psychology. To examine her, we will begin with four traits and what they mean for her, psychologically. Azula is introduced to us as a calculating, cunning, and shrewd enemy And, even as a young child, a hallmark of her psychology was a lack of basic empathetic skills When learning of Lu Ten’s death– her cousin– and that uncle Iroh would be returning (from the war front) home… Instead of understanding her uncle’s pain and grief. She says the following… YOUNG AZULA: “Uncle’s coming home.” “It means Uncle’s a quitter and a loser. He found out his son died and he just fell apart” YOUNG ZUKO: “He’s probably just sad his only kid is gone.” YOUNG AZULA: “A real general would stay, and burn Ba Sing se to the ground; not lose the battle and come home crying.” She even theorizes about the death of Iroh in the war with hope YOUNG AZULA: “If Uncle doesn’t make it back from war, then Dad would be next in line to be Fire Lord. Wouldn’t he?” URSA: “Azula we don’t speak that way.” She is shown to give a little concern to the deaths of others at two other points, as well. YOUNG AZULA: “He’s not exactly the powerful Fire Lord he used to be. Someone will probably end up taking his place soon.” Even the death of her own brother, Zuko, whom she has known her whole life… *DOOR OPENS* “♩Dad’s going to kill you ♩” She seems completely unable to grasp the gravitas of others dying or the ability to empathize with their suffering in the way that her mother would. Instead, her focus seems to be on what those deaths can do to get what she wants– such as seeing her father on the throne. But a second, and perhaps more defining part of her psychology, is her proclivity for emotional and psychological manipulation for personal gain. Rather than engaging in direct physical aggression– despite outmatching almost every opponent she could have– She, instead, undermines her enemies by identifying their weaknesses and exploiting them for personal gain. This is no clearer than during her introductory fight in Season 2 against Zuko– a scene designed to epitomize her character. She begins by playing Zuko’s deepest insecurities of being unwanted, unloved, and forgotten against him. AZULA: “And [father] considers you a miserable failure for not finding the Avatar!” “Why would he want you back home, except to lock you up where you can no longer embarrass him?” Azula doesn’t even use her firebending at all, despite being superior in skill. But immediately identifies Zuko’s deepest insecurities and manipulates his anger and hurt into making him weaker. By, first, delaying his retreat from the battle IROH: “ZUKO! LET’S GO!” And, second, causing him to lose firebending form. Only in the last moment, when her opponent is at his weakest, does she strike. *LIGHTNING FLARING UP* There also appears to be a glee for Azula that comes with inflicting pain and suffering on others another hallmark of her psychology– This trait can be seen in her childhood with Zuko pointing out how she interacts with animals YOUNG ZUKO: “Hey, mom, wanna see how Azula feeds turtle ducks?” *SPLASH* URSA: “Zuko! Why would you do that?” This is markedly similar to the morbid and sadistic curiosity of young children who trap, burn, or kill insects or rodents for fun – a sign found in children who are often eventually diagnosed with a violent personality disorder. Even as a teenager, she does things such as destroy a child’s sandcastle in “The Beach” for, seemingly, no reason. This sadism is complemented by an unconventional sense of right and wrong. Though, she does exhibit a moral framework we will discuss later… …the notion of doing righteous things for righteousness’ sake seems to be foreign to her. When Zuko becomes infuriated that he no longer knows the difference between right and wrong… …she dismisses this as, “pathetic.” ZUKO: “Because I’m not sure I know the difference between right and wrong anymore.” AZULA: (softly chuckling) “You’re pathetic.” This part of her psychology, too, matches with her paramount focus on personal gain. The rigid moral framework of “right and wrong,” that Zuko needs, would, necessarily, conflict with what she wants. Particularly when it comes to the acquisition of power. At first, though we might identify these four traits with a severely destructive kind of psychopath… …the focus on indirect aggression through manipulation of others for personal gain (in Azula’s case, power) is more indicative of what is known as the… In particular, she lacks the impulsivity that is commonly identified with psychopaths. As well as the tendency for emotional outbursts of rage, grief, and sadness when engaging in violence Her violence is more calculated, and limited, for the most part. And this Machiavellian psychological framework is reinforced by a number of other traits that we can identify… The first is that Azula’s manipulative tendencies are not limited to the antagonistic relationships she has with her enemies. But that she uses them to regulate her social group, as well. In the episode, “The Beach,” Azula’s position at the top of the social hierarchy of her, Mai and Ty Lee… …appears to be a matter of control, and social power. and it’s threatened when others pay attention to Ty Lee instead of her. The following transpires… AZULA: “Those boys only like you because you make it so easy for them– you’re not a challenge, you’re a tease. It’s not like they actually care who you are.” Just like with Zuko, Azula immediately identifies Ty Lee’s deepest insecurities… TY LEE: “…Growing up with six sisters who look exactly like me… It was like I didn’t even have my own name!” “I joined the circus because I was scared of spending the rest of my life as part of a matched set!” …The idea that she isn’t unique, or that people don’t see her as her own person. Because of this, whether or not she realizes it, Azula’s relationships have an undercurrent of exploitation Ensuring her position in the social hierarchy, by having one person who worships her every move, instead of challenging her TY LEE: “But, you’re the most beautiful, smartest, perfect girl in the world.” Azula also has Mai– someone she thinks is too apathetic to ever challenge her And both of them pale in skill to her, as a firebender. In some capacity, she sees them as both there to support her goals. The second trait is her tendency and skill in deceiving those around her. This was clearly enough of a common occurrence, even in childhood, that a young Zuko would have to tell himself, repeatedly… YOUNG ZUKO: (breathing heavily) “Azula always lies. Azula always lies…” “…Azula always lies.” Her skill in deceit comes to light in, “The Day of Black Sun – Part II,” when not even Toph could determine whether she was lying Something unseen throughout the series. And, the third (and, perhaps, most definitive) trait to indicate Azula as a Machiavellian rather than a psychopath… is that her manipulative tendencies are accompanied by a remarkable capacity for patience and level-headedness. She shows surprising premeditative abilities for a fourteen-year-old– thinking long in advance, putting pieces of her plan in motion long before they ever need to bear fruit. The clearest example of this is in, “Crossroads of Destiny”… where, though Azula strikes Aang down with a lightning bolt, she gives credit to Zuko for dealing the killing blow. She frames the suggestion as a kind gesture to her brother AZULA: “You seemed so worried about how Father would treat you because you hadn’t captured the Avatar…” AZULA: “… I figured if I gave you the credit, you’d have nothing to worry about.” …But it truly hides a trap. Azula doesn’t need the credit to remain in power, to remain the golden child in her father’s eyes… …But it gives her leverage over Zuko, and should the Avatar prove to have survived… …It would only solidify her position in the family hierarchy. As Ozai casts Zuko out as an embarrassing failure and liar once more. In this, she plays Zuko’s emotions and fragile pride against him– knowing full-well that he earnestly wants the approval and affection of his father. The first time in the entire story that we see him get this, is when Ozai praises him for taking Aang down. FIRE LORD OZAI: “And I am proudest of all of your most legendary accomplishment…” “You slayed the Avatar.” This Machiavellian patience even manifests in a deeper form of cunning… Unlike Zuko, she refuses to be dragged or baited into a fight that she knows she can’t win. In the episode, “The Chase,” when faced with six opponents, she strategically retreats, rather than stand her ground… Only taking out Iroh as a strategic precaution, knowing full-well that he is the only one skilled enough to take her down. Psychologically, this capacity for manipulative patience is complemented by an emotional detachment not as commonly seen in psychopaths, who’re often emotional and impulsive. In the episode, “The Beach,” after hearing how Zuko feels unsatisfied with the love of his father, Ty Lee’s desire to distinguish herself as an individual, and Mai’s frustration with her controlling parents… Azula wholly dismisses them all as “performances.” AZULA: “Those were wonderful performances everyone.” ZUKO: “I guess you wouldn’t understand, would you Azula?” Performances. At first, not only does she refuse to engage in emotional or relational development… But she seems, almost, incapable of understanding these exchanges as people genuinely reaching out. Instead, they are “performances” –emotional displays put on for a purpose. Perhaps, seeking attention, or asserting oneself within the social group. TY LEE: “[But, you’re] the most beautiful, smartest, perfect girl in the world!” The problem is that Machiavellianism is a *personality type*
It is not a diagnosable disorder. In this light, Azula could be diagnosed with its counterpart… … under the DSM-V criteria. A degree of incapacity for mutually intimate relations but relying on exploitation, and antagonism. Made up of an special focus on both manipulation and furthering one’s goals, deceitfulness, and sadism. Though, she does not immediately exhibit the factor of antagonism, called hostility, in the criteria which is, being prone to disproportionate outbursts for minor insults. Instead, her capacity for level-headed patience and manipulation means that she isn’t prone to such outbursts, for the most part She also does not exhibit the strong trait of impulsivity that characterizes an Antisocial Personality Disorder What *should* be noted here is that all of these traits exist on a *spectrum* Not all of those that have ASPD will show every sign. For Azula, sadism is a stronger trait, but for others, it may not be. For many, impulsiveness is a stronger trait. But this is not the case for Azula. And, while this behavior, and mentality, could be explained by ASPD… Azula also exhibits a number of traits that might suggest a Narcissistic Personality Disorder This is … Part of this may come from Azula’s position as royalty… Being taught by her father such ideas that there is no right or wrong, apart from what the Fire Lord decides. This is particularly true when it comes to her relating to commoners or servants, whom she regards as inherently inferior… … but, it also characterizes the relationships she has with those close to her *socially* She sees herself is inherently more intelligent, beautiful, and perfect more than anyone else, to the point that she is puzzled as to why others don’t see her this way during, “The Beach.” TY LEE: “But, you’re the most beautiful, smartest, perfect girl in the world!” AZULA: “Well, you’re right about all those things.” AZULA: “But, for some reason, when I meet boys, they act as if I’m going to do something horrible to them.” This belief in her unlimited brilliance and power is almost fantastical An illusion reinforced by her father, by the friends she chose, and her desire to believe it. This, too, is reinforced by her lack of empathy, and tendency to use those around her to satisfy her own needs without compassion. No one else can be as brilliant as her, because no one else is as human as her. But, the DSM-V criteria for a significant impairment in self-functioning in a Narcissistic Personality Disorder highlights one of the most fascinating parts of Azula’s psychology… The second criteria here for an impairment in self-direction is clearly satisfied in the story. One of Azula’s clearest personality traits is a deeply-rooted need for personal perfection. LO / LI: “One hair out of place.” AZULA:“‘Almost’ isn’t good enough!” This self-imposed standard is so entrenched in her mind that the scene designed to introduce her character to the audience uses it to *define her character.* But, this first criteria is more interesting, and when it comes to Azula, there are two types of “approval” to consider. The first is that natural, human desire for intimacy with another And the second is that detached need for superficial self-esteem and status to prop up one’s identity externally. Each of these two needs arise from different power dynamics in Azula’s relationships. Azula’s relationship with her father is the *only* relationship in which the power dynamic is *not* pitted in her favor. Because of this, it is the only relationship in which *she* requires this first kind of approval– a genuine sense of love and affection. And, in contrast in *every* other relationship, *Azula* is the one in power. And, thus, “approval” is that more detached form of reverence, deference, and worship. A dynamic that involves manipulating and undermining others to be the most beautiful and smartest girl in the room. AZULA: “I’m so used to people worshipping us.” TY LEE: “They should!” AZULA: “Yes, I know, and I love it.” In light of this, Azula would satisfy this first part of the DSM-V criteria But, we must ask the question that every viewer has had at the forefront of their mind when thinking about the true depths of Azula’s psychology… AZULA: “My own mother thought I was a monster” In Season 3, we were given an episode called, “The Beach,” which places Azula in a social context outside what we normally see Not only do people not recognize who she is, as the Princess of the Fire Nation But there are no enemies around her At first, we see how Azula’s mentality leads her to view even the most basic of social interactions as combative During a game of beach volleyball, she immediately identifies a weakness of her opponent to exploit AZULA: “When she runs toward the ball, there’s just the slightest hesitation of her left foot, I’m willing to bet a childhood injury has weakened her.” There is an interesting line that she says afterward… AZULA: “Yes! We’ve defeated you for all time! You will never rise from the ashes of your shame and humiliation!” Her need for perfection and social dominance means that “friendly games,” are impossible. Because to lose something, even something as trivial as this, is a *moral* failure of shame and humiliation. It’s also in this episode that we see how her lack of empathy, and combative mentality negatively impact her capacity for social connection with others. There is a clear desire to do so, but it requires skills that are fundamentally opposed to her psychological framework. Which lacks the pro-social internal standards or abiding by culturally-agreed social cues. The clearest example of this, for Azula, is being unable to connect with any of the guys at the party. Until Ty Lee teaches her how to moderate her own behavior to fit in. TY LEE: “If you want a boy to like you, just look at him, and smile a lot, and laugh at everything he says, even if it’s not funny.” TY LEE: “How ya likin’ this party?” *LAUGHS OVER EVERYONE ELSE* Though played as a joke, Azula has never had to moderate her behavior in this way before. To conform to a social standard of this kind. Beyond this, her Machiavellian traits, and Antisocial Personality Disorder mean that her usual inclination towards emotional manipulation cannot get her what she wants in this scene– The genuine affection of a boy her age. Minna Lyons writes, in “The Dark Triad of Personality,” that the… This research supports the idea that Azula does not have a Narcissistic Personality Disorder. There are smaller examples of her lacking socio-emotional skills, as well, such as when she arrives at *exactly* sundown for the party. Simple, colloquial phrases going over her head. But… If something can be more easily explained, in psychology, by simple environmental factors, then it should be. Being raised in the somewhat isolated, rigid social environment of the Royal Court… where others deferred to her, could also explain these basic social deficiencies more easily. At the same time, this episode is also designed to demonstrate that Azula’s Machiavellian persona is not all-encompassing But there are deeper emotional dimensions to her character Psychology is never as black-and-white as that. And Azula is no exception. Though empathy does not come naturally to Azula I want to narrow-in on one scene that gives us a glimpse into her capacity for it, in regards to one, specific character… Zuko. ZUKO: “Those summers we spent here seem so long ago…” “…So much has changed.” AZULA: “I thought I’d find you here… Come down to the beach with me. Come on. This place is depressing.” This moment is perplexing for Azula’s character… When Zuko later talks about his struggles… it’s Ty Lee who reaches out, the one who was shown to be the most empathetic of the group But here, it’s Azula. There does not seem to be much of a reason for Azula to purposefully search out her brother and bring him down to the beach here. She has purposely excluded him before, but there is a depth to her line here. She is simultaneously recognizing that Zuko is in pain and needs to be around other people… and she also reflects on their shared history in this place… That it’s depressing. Perhaps because she, too, sees past the façade of happiness they had in the past And that she does understand, on some level, the trauma they both grew up under. There is an earlier moment in the story, where Azula seems to express *genuine* remorse when she hurts Ty Lee. AZULA: “Those boys only like you because you make it so easy for them. You’re not a challenge, you’re a tease.” *TY LEE CRIES* AZULA: “Okay, okay, calm down. I didn’t mean what I said.” One reading of Azula’s actions here, is that she wants to maintain her position at the top of the social hierarchy by not alienating Ty Lee, who worships her. Remorse, being an emotion very rarely seen in Machiavellians. And, though, I prefer to read this as genuine it doesn’t strike me in the same way that Azula’s scene with Zuko does. This one is isolated, away from any eyes but their own The Beach is meant to be a place where people can learn about others and themselves– away from the rest of the world No Fire Lord, no Avatar, no battlefield, no tension just a brother and a sister A glass moment of Azula outside of all of that As if, this is what Azula may have been like, if they took away the pressures of the rest of the world– of their father. However, despite this instance of genuine empathy, the scene immediately following does demonstrate how limited this empathetic trait is for her. When Zuko calls Ty Lee a, “circus freak,” [Azula] is the only one to laugh, despite knowing how much it hurts [Ty Lee]. When Zuko rages that he no longer knows the difference between right and wrong, [Azula] scoffs. One interesting detail in Katie Mattila’s script of the scene reflects this limited lack of empathy… Azula is silent for most of the conversation. Where Mai, Ty Lee, and Zuko trade slights and sympathies… it is almost as if Azula is entirely unable to keep up with them, emotionally. And then, as noted before, she dismisses them all as “performances” fictions, like costumes one might put on to gain attention, gratitude, or sympathy. She notes that she could weave a “sob story” about how much Ursa loved Zuko more, but that she “[doesn’t] really care.” Of course, we know that she *does* care, deeply. This comes to light in one of Azula’s only moments of deep and true introspection. AZULA: “My own mother… thought I was a monster.” AZULA: “She was right, of course, but it still hurt.” This moment is of interest because introspection is not a trait commonly found in those showing signs of an Antisocial Personality Disorder –especially a Machiavellian one. Azula’s central belief in her superiority and perfection does not allow for admitting weakness or pain Like Iroh did when he lost Lu Ten After the culmination of all of this emotional turmoil Azula then makes an interesting suggestion… …to destroy the party. One reading of this scene is Azula reasserting herself, lashing out violently against those she felt slighted by Retreating from that moment of vulnerability that she allowed herself to feel, and putting herself back in the position of power she knows best. To return to what she feels is a safe, social space to be in… …maintaining control through intimidation and aggression AZULA: “[Trust is for fools!] Fear is the only reliable way!” AZULA: “Even you fear me.” Following, “The Beach,” Azula’s psychology takes a darker turn when she begins to develop a… …The idea that those around her are conspiring to cause her harm. It takes root when Azula is caught off guard as Mai first betrays her, followed by Ty Lee When asking why, Mai says something that doesn’t just *confuse* Azula, but it *enrages* her… MAI: “I love Zuko more than I fear you.” Azula has grown up around family relationships based on power and fear And because of this, she, too, has based her relationships on it Which Mai even explicitly acknowledges here. To someone who has only seen power and fear respected, and primarily related to others through those things, the prospect of Mai acting out of love over fear is unexpected and inexplicable. If someone she controlled for so long (through fear) can do this, then… And being weak is the worst thing you can be. It doesn’t fit within her psychological framework and worldview Which is why this is one of the few moments where we see Azula lose her emotional composure. AZULA: “No, YOU miscalculated! You should’ve feared me more!” This scene marks the beginning of delusions of persecution developing in Azula’s mind and it’s unsurprising that it begins with Mai and Ty Lee – the two characters we see she regularly trusts with her life and goals If they can betray her, anyone can. The seeds of delusion had been planted but it’s important to understand how delusions develop, psychologically. In the episode, “Into the Inferno,” Azula begins to suspect those around her of treachery, for even the smallest of things When the Dai Li are a few minutes late to the throne room, she interprets this as purposeful treachery This is what is known as an interpretive delusion. The dominant idea here is that people are conspiring against her, and a series of events are interpreted to fit that idea. She banishes the Dai Li and soon after banishes all of the Imperial Firebending Guard, and her servants under the same suspicion Even seeing a cherry pit as an intentional threat to her position When Lo and Li arrive to dissuade her from ascending to the throne, She interprets this as an attempt to undermine her authority This interpretive delusion reaches its height later in the episode When Azula attempts to do her hair by herself, but it tangles and she fails… …uttering a peculiar line… AZULA: “All right hair, it’s time to face your doom!” Instead of accepting that relying on fear and raw power to accomplish things makes her weaker… …she interprets this as *her own body* conspiring against her Treating her hair like she had all those in the palace. It is at this point that Azula’s delusions evolve, as she begins to hallucinate her mother. URSA: “What a shame. You always had such beautiful hair.” This line is interesting for a couple of reasons: Firstly, Azula’s desire for perfectionism has always been represented by perfectly symmetrical hair. From her opening scene, to when she fought Katara in, “Crossroads of Destiny,” The fact that *this* is the moment where her hallucinations begin could be because seeing this reflection of herself as “imperfect” is the thing that cuts most deeply. For Azula, to be imperfect is a moral failure. It’s shameful and humiliating. AZULA: “Don’t pretend to act proud… You think I’m a monster.” The hallucinatory version of her mother continues to criticize her, playing into her delusions of persecution That she’s too aggressive, too ambitious, her hair is already cut– things that she cannot change about herself. This is somewhat reflective of the relationship that we see they had in her childhood. Interestingly, nearly every interaction Ursa has with Azula is a critical one URSA: “Azula, we don’t speak that way.” URSA: “Young lady! Not. Another. Word!” URSA: “What is *wrong* with that child?” URSA: “What is going on here?” YOUNG AZULA: “I don’t know.” URSA: “It’s time for a talk!” Facing down against this construction of her mother, Azula reasserts what she has always believed… AZULA: “Trust is for fools! Fear is the only reliable way!” … that fear has made her strong. But her mother rebuts this immediately. AZULA: “Even you fear me.” ‘URSA’ HALLUCINATION: “No. I love you, Azula. I do.” This scene, psychologically, repeats Mai and Ty Lee’s betrayal. The revelation that love could, somehow, be a stronger motivator in a relationship than fear… –for both, them and her mother– … undermines the way in which Azula sees herself as powerful. To be loved is to be weak, because the only way to be strong is through fear, intimidation, and power To accept otherwise would mean to be imperfect– that she needs others emotionally, that she has a weakness In much the same, as she did in, “The Beach” Azula then lashes out violently, smashing the mirror to reassert her position, based on violence and fear. It is at this point that many rushed to “diagnose” Azula with schizophrenia, a disorder characterized by delusions and hallucinations Both of which she now has. Importantly, the delusions also fit the DSM-specific criteria for schizophrenia. Her mother’s criticism is precisely this. Schizophrenia also requires: (A) a significant breakdown in interpersonal relations due to these delusions or hallucinations… and (B) failure to reach personal standards of excellence. Both of these criteria are definitely met in her banishment of those around her… …And an inability to maintain the perfect firebending composure that she is so well-known for Particularly in, “The Last Agni Kai” There is a sharp literary symmetry between her first fight, and her final fight with Zuko. Where she was decisive and composed, she is now erratic and without form. Where she fought defensively, she now fights aggressively. And where she never let emotion get in the way, she is now fueled by anger and spite. But, it’s critical to note that duration *is* identified as a qualifying factor in diagnosing such a disorder Even fully-functioning people *can* suffer from temporary psychotic breaks when placed under extreme pressure. And Azula is increasingly isolated and stressed towards the climax of the story. It must persist for at least six months. And, at least, at this point… …It would be irresponsible to diagnose so quickly. AZULA: “Don’t pretend to act proud.
[I know what you really think of me…]” A second point in Azula’s psychological development here, is the transition from interpretive delusions to a systematized delusion. One that “may involve several themes, and they can turn into complex, all-encompassing narratives.” Interpretive delusions grow and warp into a central belief about ‘why the whole world is the way it is, in its entirety.’ Persecutory delusions are particularly prone to this and Azula’s systematized delusion begins here, with the belief that her mother is manipulating everything in her life: her failures, her defeat, her betrayals. In, “The Search,” Azula begins to see the actions of others as orchestrated by her mother (PARAPHRASING AZULA’S DIALOGUE:)
“Tell me how she got to you and Mai! … How she got you to lose your fear of me!” “Which one of you miscreants does she approach first?”… … “How does she convince you to help ruin my life?” Eventually, facing another hallucination of her mother, she accuses her, outright. (PARAPHRASING AZULA’S DIALOGUE:)
“You’ve been conspiring ever since I was an infant to ruin my life because you saw something in me: power!” “Power makes you fear me!” Not only is her mother transformed into a Mastermind whose sole goal is to destroy her, and prevent her from ever taking the throne as Fire Lord… …but, her father, Ozai, is transformed into a Saint, who fought her off long enough for Azula to find her. A defining element of systematized delusions is that they cannot be challenged, and that the world fits into *them* Though, Azula does not understand how Zuko and Katara could have communicated with her after she disappeared… …none of this ever undermines this grand, persecutory delusion. They’re forced to work around that central belief. It should be noted that Azula has always, arguably, had delusions of grandeur, as well. – An inflated self-importance, high self-esteem, and a rigid belief in her inherent superiority. But this persecutory delusion that began in, “The Boiling Rock,” eventually warps to include a secondary type of delusion that works within this wider, systematized one. A delusion of control. (This is the idea that forces outside herself are controlling her thoughts and actions, or the actions of others.) This becomes clearer later in, “The Search,” when she finally finds her mother… (PARAPHRASING)
“You don’t get it, Zuzu! We’ll be finally free! You of the throne you never wanted, and me of this incessant nagging in my head!” She even earlier accuses Ursa of “turning [her] own mind against [her]” Psychologically, this is actually to be expected. A 2017 study showed that… To Azula, her mother is the puppetmaster putting thoughts and ideas and her head to control her More specifically, though, the focus in Azula’s psychological processes seems to be on the throne – that her mother has done everything she can to put Zuko on it, and not her. The closest this systematized delusion comes to breaking for Azula, is when it becomes fundamentally challenged by her real mother in, “The Search” Azula demands to be called a monster, for her mother to admit that she’s been orchestrating her downfall the entire time… …But Ursa, of course, does no such thing. (URSA’S DIALOGUE:)
“I’m sorry I didn’t love you enough.” Once again, it comes back to that ‘Love vs. Fear’ dynamic. Though this revelation threatens to shatter this worldview, Azula remains deluded. As we discussed before, outside facts are not necessarily rejected, but forced to fit into a persecutory and control delusion. Which is what we see in the story of, “Smoke and Shadow.” The revelations from “The Search,” warp into a stranger delusion (AZULA’S DIALOGUE:)
“I *know* I will never be Fire Lord because I’m not *meant* to be Fire Lord!” “My *destiny* … is to make *you* into the Fire Lord I tried to be — one who’s *strong,* [one] who rules through *fear!*” “And then, *chuckles* in a sense, I’ll be *Fire Lord* again.” The delusion evolves so that it’s *not* that she was wrong about her mother conspiring Or that she wasn’t meant to take the throne.
Her mother is still the mastermind. But Azula now knows that she *is* to be Fire Lord in a way she didn’t expect –through manipulating, through puppeting Zuko. Interestingly, this is a contradictory belief system, now. Something quite common in systematized delusions. Her mother is both simultaneously preventing her from taking her rightful place on the throne… …And she is not meant to have the throne, now. Though the persistence of her delusions and hallucinations over months and years built on the lies and abuse of her father may mean she meets the DSM-duration criteria for a schizophrenic disorder… A closer examination of Azula’s behavior and psychological processes may be better-explained by a second diagnosis… This is defined as when a person prominently exhibits both schizophrenic signs, and major mood symptoms, such as manic depression or mania. In, “The Search,” Azula is shown to have suicidal tendencies– even throwing herself from Appa, while in flight, with little regard to her own safety. …uncontrollable thoughts, and rapid speech are identified with schizoaffective disorder, too. And, while not certain, Azula is constantly tormented by her own tumultuous thoughts and voices. Negative symptoms, like an inability for self-care, are also not as severe for Azula. Despite her initial breakdown… she does show a remarkable return to form in, “Smoke and Shadow,” once again, maintaining perfectly symmetrical hair. The defining feature of schizoaffective disorder is experiencing periods of hallucination and delusions without mood symptoms for intermittent periods. This part of her psychology enters something of conjecture, because we can’t ask precisely what Azula has felt across her years in the story. But, in the comics there is plenty of suggestion that she experiences bouts of radical anxiety, glee, and depressive thoughts. Collectively, these features would suggest a schizoaffective disorder, rather than just schizophrenia. URSA: “What is *wrong* with that child?” Before delving any deeper, it’s important to recognize that psychological disorders are not explanatory by themselves A “diagnosis” is not the end of the discussion. These mentalities and disorders develop under a host of environmental factors And, in particular We should examine Azula’s relationship with her parents to see where this mentality comes from. One of the interesting things that we see in Zuko’s flashbacks is that though, there are moments of tenderness with Zuko… …virtually every interaction between Azula and her mother is a negative one. Azula even clearly overhears her own mother questioning what is wrong with her URSA: “Young lady! Not. Another. Word!” “What is *wrong* with that child?” This kind of dynamic can be quite damaging for a child This is not to say that Ursa was emotionally abusive to Azula, at all She clearly loves her, and on a subliminal level Azula even understands this. Where, then, does this belief that her mother sees her as a monster come from? This leads us to a concept called… Here, being Ozai and Ursa, the two parents bear a stark contrast in parenting strategies: Ursa seems to positively reinforce social skills and behaviors that are based on… …and her approval is not dependent on their skills, like their firebending. In contrast, Ozai only seems to find worth in his children in their expressions of… …with a darker truth that these skills are useful in furthering *his* own goals. The clearest scene to demonstrate this dynamic is when Azula and Zuko demonstrate their firebending abilities to Fire Lord Azulon. *YOUNG ZUKO GRUNTS* YOUNG ZUKO: “I failed!” URSA: “No. I loved watching you.” URSA: “That’s who you are, Zuko. Someone who keeps fighting, even though it’s hard.” Here, Ursa expresses affection for Zuko, just because he tried, anyway. Whereas Ozai only scowls. However, when Azula performs, the prodigy, Ozai smiles. Whereas Ursa says nothing. The result of this dynamic is that Azula gets positive feedback, as a child, primarily from her father Showing immense talent and skill in firebending, and in her ruthlessness. This is how she learns to develop her ego, a term for ‘the vital sense of self, and self-esteem’ that every child actually needs. She is also presented as ‘the prodigious, perfect child’ in Ozai’s eyes; with Zuko constantly living in her shadow. At the same time, Ozai positively punishes weakness. Saying , at one point, to Zuko, that “[Azula] was born lucky. You were lucky to be born.” We also see that Ozai sees virtues, like mercy, as a weakness. When Aang refuses to kill him he says… OZAI: “Even with all the power in the world, you are *still weak!*” This is a sentiment that Azula, clearly, takes to heart, repeating it to Zuko during “The Search” (PARAPHRASING:)
“Even when you’re strong, Zuzu, you’re weak.” He describes Iroh’s sensitive empathy as, “the way of tea and failure.” When Zuko confronts Ozai with why he would physically abuse his own child, Ozai dismisses it, without thought. OZAI: “It was to teach you respect.” This belief that respect comes wholly from power, is also something that Zuko clearly believed as a child. Pleading with his father that he did not mean to disrespect him. Ozai’s parenting reinforced the idea that to be feared is to be respected. That to be a strong leader is to punish your enemies, and assert your authority through fear and power. The only time that we ever see Ozai express pride in Zuko, is when he praises him for killing the Avatar. Necessarily, this is entirely opposite, even antithetical to the values Ursa is attempting to instill in her children. She admonishes Zuko for not showing empathy to the turtle ducks weaker than him and she emphasizes the value of relationships based in love. URSA: “Zuko, please, my love, listen to me. Everything I’ve done, I’ve done to protect you.” These two parental moral frameworks that emphasize opposite principles, and values, and behavior, give a child little clear direction for emotional development. Children naturally gravitate towards the parental moral framework that provides them with positive feedback And because of Azula’s prodigious firebending talent, this was her father’s. The fundamental problem in their co-parenting here, is that Ozai punishes the very skills and virtues that Ursa reinforces Because he views them as weakness While Ursa punishes many of the skills and values that Ozai reinforces. It cannot be underestimated that Azula, also, saw these two moral frameworks playing out before her in real time. Though never depicted on screen, there is a clear implication that Ozai physically abused Ursa in the comics And there is explicit evidence of emotional abuse when he cuts her off from friends and family entirely, to make her dependent on him – A hallmark of an abusive relationship. One scene in, “Smoke and Shadow,” shows Ursa experiencing bouts of anxiety and she’s unable to sleep in the same room that she once did, with him. Abuse victims often find themselves unable to be in the same physical space as where they experienced such trauma. From these signs, it’s possible to suggest that Ursa could have had depression while raising Azula Something that would have severely impacted her parenting skills. To demonstrate the gravity of this the 2007 Grube & Dorn’s study concluded that… To Azula, her parents’ relationship is a morality-play that teaches that fear and power is the only reliable way to protect yourself, and keep people loyal to you because her father is the one in total control of them, and the household. Meaning she’s less-likely to develop her mother’s social skills. And this becomes a spiral for her relationship with her mother. The more Azula worships and gains the approval of her father… …the more she feels that her mother is rejecting her. To a child, repeated moral disagreements are difficult to distinguish from complete rejection or even hatred, over time. Especially, if Azula feels that this *is* the way she is. To Azula, the only way to be strong –which is the most important thing in the world to her now – is to be a monster in her mother’s eyes. The end result is clear. AZULA: “My own mother… thought I was a monster.” This relationship leads her to idolize Ozai from a young age Firmly believing that he would be the best Fire Lord, doing everything she can to appease him… She sees herself as, “the rightfully privileged child.” She’s the loyal one, the successful one. But, the cruelty that underpins this twisted idolization culminates in a scene, during, “The Phoenix King” when it comes time for her, and her father, to assault the Earth Kingdom OZAI: “You will remain here in the Fire Nation.” AZULA: “But, I thought we were going to do this together!” AZULA: “You can’t treat me like this!” AZULA: “You can’t treat me like Zuko!” This moment of isolation and rejection by her father cuts deeper than anything else before To be rejected like this, is to be put on the level of her imperfect and weak brother, and there is nothing worse than that. It also speaks to a household fear of abuse, where siblings try their best to not be the one who bears the brunt of it. For Azula, this was always Zuko. But, this line suggests a fear of inheriting that position in an abusive household. But, rather than finally seeing her father for the manipulative psychopath he is… Using even his own children as tools to further his own goals… …Azula believes him when he tells her that he can only trust this task to her. OZAI: “I need you here to watch over the homeland. It’s a very important job that I can only entrust to you.” For the first time in her story, a person successfully manipulates *Azula.* Ozai, knowingly, plays her desperate need for his approval against her… …For his own personal gain. This, instead, would be his victory, alone. He discards her when it becomes useful. This damaging lack of co-parenting leaves Azula out of her depth in other ways, too. Menninger stated that… All three of these factors are shown to exist during Azula’s primary psychological development. The 1993 Fincham & Osborn study reinforces this. Finding that… Though not dead, per se, Ursa does leave; which, to a child, can feel like abandonment on par with death. This next discussion is mostly conjecture regarding what we see of her story. But the Hajdu-Gimes study explained that, of the children who developed schizophrenia or related disorders, such as schizoaffective disorder… The roles of the sadistic and the passive parent are swapped here. Ursa was never “malevolent” towards Azula She actually expressed a deeper affection for her; though, never to the extent that we see her connect with Zuko. Theoretically, this preference may hold some truth and it could explain a lot, psychologically. Sullivan writes… Sullivan’s description fits Azula to a T. Lashing out when she feels vulnerable It’s likely that Ozai would have rebuffed any of her early attempts to find that tenderness, empathy, or that nurturing love. And if Ursa felt unable to connect with her, becoming more passive in her parenting… …Either due to her depression, or Ozai’s controlling, abusive role in their relationship… This would have contributed to Azula’s more violent tendencies. Ursa may be “inadequate, rather than malevolent.” Building on this, the loss of a parent is a recurring theme in the development of disorders in children But Sullivan also highlighted the importance of a Rescue Parent Who enters the situation and, by giving the child genuine love and acceptance, manages to undo some of the damage. This point colors a stark contrast between Azula and Zuko Who faced many of the same traumas and familial pressures at home as they developed, psychologically But where Azula only ever seemed to confide in Ozai, her abuser Zuko had Iroh A surrogate rescue father who works to undo much of the same mentality that has taken root in Zuko’s mind And he succeeds. Partly explaining the difference between the two siblings, psychologically. In this sense, it was Azula who was left behind, who wasn’t rescued, who wasn’t nurtured, who wasn’t wanted in the same way that Zuko was. Azula’s story is a tragedy, at heart Her psychology is the final domino to fall in a long chain of familial abuse, flawed parenting, and emotional rejection. Though it’s easy to read her as an adult; she is, in fact, just fourteen A teenage girl It’s unlikely that Ozai had much time for immaturity, much time for her to be a young girl Like Zuko was given time to be a young boy, by Iroh So many things play into why we are the way we are And, while Azula’s wrongdoings cannot be pinned on anyone… …It’s important to recognize the complexity behind violence and abuse. These are cycles… …and perpetuated, again… And it feels inescapable. And, Azula… “…even with all the power in the world…” “…*she* is still weak.” *GENTLE RAINFALL*