Originally answered on Quora and reprinted here in response to:
Q: Is Geralt of Rivia’s personality similar to a mask off psychopath?
A: NO. The extraordinarily persistent and foolish efforts of some Quorans to spin Mr. of Rivia as a sociopath rests on a fundamental misreading of dialogue in the books, games, and show. Geralt has emotions. No, not even magically deadened emotions. Emotions flat out. He is not “cleansed of his humanity” (show Foltest’s phrase). He lives by an informal, if unwritten moral code. He feels love for Yennefer and Ciri as well as emotional loyalty to friends. But even in the books and games, where he is way more talkative than the show, Geralt simply suppresses his emotions to an extremely intentional degree. Poorly.
Look, I have long maintained and will continue to maintain on an emphatic level that if you are unfamiliar with psychological trauma, whether from abuse, combat, or treatment of it as a medical professional, you will miss a significant aspect of the Witcher texts (not so the show and games, where it is much less explicit). Geralt has PTSD. I mean, it’s just obvious.
“And from that pristine whiteness, spring emerges,” he said “And Aedd Gynvael appears, an ugly city with a beautiful name. Aedd Gynvael and its pile of trash, a huge stinking heap of garbage that I have to enter because I’m paid to do so, because I was created to deal with the filth that fills others with fear and disgust. I have been deprived of the ability to feel, so I was not able to feel the horror of that disgusting squalor, so I would not retreat nor flee before it, full of dread. Yes, I have been deprived of emotion. But not completely. Whoever did it, botched the job.” (a fan translation, pretty much the same as the official, but more wooden).
A key thing to remember in context from this story, “A Shard of Ice” though, is that Geralt is not making a factual claim that he was deprived of emotion. He is verbalizing insecurity, regurgitating the narrative Istredd sold him to justify Istredd’s superior “claim” to Yennefer. Geralt is terrible at human relationships, and Jaskier says the same thing essentially in “A Little Sacrifice”. Geralt is an ordinary man who relentlessly foists his “abnormality” on to others. He is, at heart, self-loathing and dramatic.
He does this because he was abandoned by his mother, saw most of his friends die as an adolescent, and has worked a thankless, highly stigmatized profession since around 18–20 or so for decades, his age never specified but anywhere from 50s or 60s to nearing a century by this point. His is a constant battle to ignore and avoid believing the abusive and bigoted narrative he has been sold for an entire lifetime. Geralt is not emotionless. He simply lives in constant denial of his emotions, resulting in the shit social skills he displays in the books.
In “The Lesser Evil”, when Geralt threatens to kill Stregobor, his “if you touch one hair on her head…” line is situated in narration suggesting he is experiencing something like an out-of-body experience. Dissociation.
In The Swallow’s Tower, Ciri describes a psychological reaction to being beaten and abused by bandits on the edge of the Korath desert while talking to Vysogota of Corvo. It is not named clinically in the text, but this phenomenon is called “depersonalization”, a form of traumatic dissociation in which the mind essentially shuts out bodily awareness in a manner simulating death. Her relationship with Mistle, who rapes her, occurs a few days after this event, Ciri’s near death experience in Korath prior to being captured, and her commission of a self-defense homicide after being saved by the Rats gang. In short, trauma bonding. How can I say all this with certainty? Because I have experienced all of these psychological phenomena (albeit for different, real world reasons) and read these passages to a clinical professional in psychotherapy. There is no universal response to traumatic stress, albeit a common range of symptoms that typically occur. Geralt, Yennefer, and Ciri all manifest some of these symptoms. There are dozens of further instances in the books I could cite, but I want to save space.
Geralt is emotionally numbed. He has become so, consciously and unconsciously, due to the endless horror of being a Witcher on the Continent and what that entails. Not due to sociopathy/psychopathy.
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