Is tangled about narcissism?

Tangled is a 2010 Disney animated film loosely based on the fairy tale Rapunzel. The movie centers around Rapunzel, a princess with magical long blonde hair who has been locked away in a tower by Mother Gothel. Over the course of the film, Rapunzel goes on an adventure with a thief named Flynn Rider, falls in love, and discovers her true identity.

On the surface, Tangled appears to be a typical Disney princess movie. However, a deeper analysis reveals strong themes of narcissism and codependency woven throughout the narrative. While not overt, there is a psychological complexity to the characters and their relationships that suggests the core conflict in Tangled is rooted in narcissistic dysfunction.

What is Narcissism?

Narcissism is a personality characteristic associated with an inflated view of the self and a preoccupation with one’s own needs. Narcissists tend to have an excessive need for admiration, lack empathy, and take advantage of others for personal gain. Though often portrayed as self-confident, inwardly narcissists struggle with insecurity and rely on external validation to bolster a fragile sense of self.

There are two main types of narcissism:

Grandiose Narcissism

Grandiose narcissists outwardly display arrogance and seek attention and status. They feel entitled to privileges and gravitate towards leadership positions.

Vulnerable Narcissism

Vulnerable narcissists are similarly self-absorbed but outwardly display insecurity and sensitivity. They crave recognition but shrink from the spotlight.

Both forms share core characteristics like selfishness, manipulation, and inability to empathize. The key difference is in how the narcissism presents itself to the world.

Narcissism exists on a spectrum. At its extreme, the pattern of thinking and behavior can lead to Narcissistic Personality Disorder. This causes significant impairment in relationships and other areas of life.

Does Mother Gothel Have Narcissistic Traits?

The primary antagonist in Tangled is Mother Gothel. While charming at first glance, as the story unfolds it becomes evident she is manipulative and driven by her own self-interest. Gothel exhibits many classic narcissistic traits, including:

Need for Excessive Admiration

Gothel is fixated on maintaining her youth and beauty. She routinely sings an affirming song praising her own flawless looks in the mirror. Her magic flower and later Rapunzel’s hair represent permanent sources of admiration that keep her feeling young.

Lack of Empathy

Gothel disregards Rapunzel’s needs and desires, isolating her in a tower to serve her own agenda. Even as an infant, she only valued Rapunzel for her hair’s healing powers. Gothel uses force and guilt to coerce Rapunzel into obedience.

Exploitation of Others

She kidnaps Rapunzel as an infant and raises her solely to exploit her magical hair. Gothel discourages Rapunzel from leaving not for safety but so she can’t lose access to the eternal youth Rapunzel’s hair provides.

Insecurity and Needing Control

Gothel is obsessed with aging and losing her beauty. Her control over Rapunzel seems tied to deeper fears of abandonment or irrelevance. Gothel belittles Rapunzel to undermine her confidence and make her dependent.

Entitlement and Privilege

Gothel feels entitled to Rapunzel’s hair and magical healing, leveraging guilt and gaslighting to coerce her into compliance. She does not care about Rapunzel’s dreams or autonomy.

The more the movie reveals about Mother Gothel’s backstory and motivations, the clearer it becomes that she exhibits typical narcissistic traits. Her narcissism manifests in both vulnerable and grandiose ways.

Does Rapunzel Display Codependent Behaviors?

If Gothel represents narcissism, Rapunzel embodies patterns of codependency. Codependency often accompanies narcissism in close relationships. Codependents may enable or seek to “fix” the narcissist, at the expense of their own needs.

As an abuse survivor conditioned to serve Gothel’s agenda, Rapunzel shows several codependent behaviors:

Lack of Autonomy and Personal Identity

Rapunzel has never made a choice for herself and internalized Gothel’s warnings that she can’t survive alone. She lacks a sense of self outside what Gothel has imposed.

Idealizing Gothel

Despite evidence of manipulation, Rapunzel continues putting Gothel on a pedestal and seeking her approval. She believes deep down Gothel cares for her well-being.

Self-Sacrifice and Neglecting Own Needs

Rapunzel complies with Gothel’s wishes at great personal cost. Her own interests and aspirations take a back seat to pleasing Gothel.

Difficulty Identifying Emotions

Rapunzel has limited emotional awareness after a lifetime of gaslighting. She struggles to confidently express anger or disagreement.

Conflict Avoidance

Rapunzel avoids direct conflict with Gothel, giving in or diffusing anger with affection. She fears emotionally “upsetting” Gothel.

Guilt and Shame

Gothel leverages guilt to keep Rapunzel in line. Rapunzel feels guilty and ashamed when she challenges Gothel’s rules, even in healthy ways.

Attachment Insecurity

Rapunzel is separation anxious when away from Gothel, the only caregiver she has ever known. This prevents her from developing autonomy.

Rapunzel exchanges an unhealthy but familiar relationship with Gothel for a healthy connection with Eugene. This new attachment begins her journey of discovering confidence, self-esteem, and personal power.

Does the Movie Resolve These Dynamics at its Conclusion?

At its core, Tangled depicts a narcissistic caregiver raising a codependent child. The narrative arc bends towards Rapunzel healing. By the end she is an agent of her own life.

The conclusion suggests some ways Rapunzel moves past codependency:

Developing Outside Attachments

Eugene becomes an external attachment who affirms her worth. This counterbalances Gothel’s narcissistic abuse.

Discovering Her True Self

Embarking on her journey allows Rapunzel to uncover her passions. She realizes she is the lost princess and reunites with her birth parents.

Recognizing Manipulation

Eugene helps Rapunzel see truths about her past. Rapunzel increasingly sees through Gothel’s deceit.

Expressing Autonomy and Assertiveness

Rapunzel learns to make choices and harness the courage to confront Gothel. She refuses to let Gothel separate her from Eugene.

Holding Gothel Accountable

In the climax, Rapunzel firmly tells Gothel she will never let her use her hair again. This breaks the narcissistic relationship hold.

Gothel remains narcissistic to the end. But Rapunzel evolves from codependent to displaying a healthy confidence and sense of empowerment. Her transformation speaks to true healing from narcissistic abuse.


While packaged as a whimsical fairy tale, Tangled depicts a surprisingly realistic portrait of narcissistic personality patterns. Through the lens of Gothel’s manipulation and Rapunzel’s growth, the story gives nuance to the ways narcissism and codependency interact and evolve.

Gothel perfectly encapsulates grandiose and vulnerable narcissism. Her aging insecurity clashes with a selfish fixation on power over Rapunzel. Meanwhile, Rapunzel’s journey models the possibility of overcoming lifelong codependency by moving beyond external validation and discovering one’s repressed self-worth.

Disney rarely depicts such dysfunctional relationship dynamics so transparently. While appropriate for all ages, the layered themes make Tangled rewarding viewing for adults as well. Beyond its fairy tale facade, Tangled offers an uplifting message about healing the wounds caused by narcissists and learning to set healthy boundaries. The ending suggests that with courage and self-understanding, those patterns can be overcome.

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