*Trigger warning: this story describes elements of physical violence*
In the Lord of the Rings universe, there is no character more polarizing than Gollum aka Smeagol. He is clearly disturbed, having two distinct identities which argue with one another, and obsessed with the ring that guides everything in his life. At first, it may be easy to view him as bad, even evil, but as we learn more about his story, a sense of sympathy maybe even empathy can be found when considering his story. So, let’s envision this, what would it be like if Gollum went to therapy in the early stages of his finding the ring and what can we learn by diving deeper into his life?
Let’s say Smeagol is mandated to go to therapy by the authorities after recently being found in a cave since killing his cousin. He resembles a hobbit if not a bit disheveled and pale. He presents to session paranoid and wary of the therapist, constantly fidgeting stating he is afraid the therapist is trying to take his “precious” ring away from him. It is clear that the ring is a bad influence on Smeagol and could be compared to a drug and Smeagol an addict. Addiction can take over the life of a person to a point where the addict will do anything to experience the feeling the drug gives them at any cost. In the case of Smeagol, the addiction to the ring and its power caused him to make a sad and ultimately fatal decision, killing his cousin. This was a traumatic event and with all such events, one most find a way to cope. Smeagol has a critical choice to make. Should he continue to let the drug (the power of the ring) which has ruined his life continue to dictate his decisions or should he find a way to fight this addiction? To the casual observer, it seems like a clear and easy decision to make but for Smeagol, it may not be so simple.
Dissociative Identity Disorder is a mental health diagnosis in which people have two or more distinct personality states. There are clear distinctions between the personalities that change the way they react with the world, their behavior, and even memory of events. If Smeagol went to therapy, it would be clear that he suffered from such a disorder as he presents as meek and fearful one minute then angry and cunning the next. Also, having full conversations in which he argues with himself with two distinct, opposing viewpoints. In a way, his addiction to the ring has become an identity in and of itself. It even has a name, Gollum. Gollum has become the dominant narrative, the main identity overtaking Smeagol, and Gollum dictates all behavior isolating him from any other influence other than the ring. What would it have been like if Smeagol had influences outside of the ring?
If Smeagol went to therapy, did some work to distance himself from the ring, and found healthy supports in his life, it seems plausible that there could have been change. When surrounded by the hobbits, the Smeagol rather than Gollum personality seems to have a stronger voice but, as his identity is fragmented, it can be difficult for even him to distinguish who his “true self” is. No matter what, the addiction and his actions will always be a part of his story and recognition of the pain he caused can lead to guilt as well as self-hatred. In a way, it’s simpler to have that manifest as a separate personality so he can distance himself from it. The more he becomes one person, the more accountability there is to take on.
In the end, the story of Smeagol is heartbreaking and complex. It is easy to say he is a bad person that did bad things or that he is a good person controlled by evil things. But in the end, he had to take accountability for his actions no matter how powerful the influence. So, what can we learn from this story? To me, Smeagol is a character that we may have more in common with than we think. He was someone who had a bad influence in his life and he allowed that thing to control his behavior. He was never able to find a way to work through his addiction or his trauma in a healthy way and instead isolated himself, allowing his addiction to define him and ultimately creating two selves so that each could blame and hate the other. May we learn from the story of Smeagol and see that it’s ok to reach out for support, it’s ok to admit and take accountability for our mistakes, and it’s ok to create an identity in which you deserve love and kindness.
Applehelen Kirby is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor who is passionate about her clients and finding ways to support their emotional growth. Applehelen is specifically interested in the use of expressive arts therapies, dance movement, yoga, and mindfulness. She also has a love for the sciences, specifically biology and medicine as well as the arts, with dance holding a special place in her heart. She loves reading and movies, especially comedies and thinking about how our lives can be like stories with different narratives and outcomes.