The Dobby Effect

As an eternal Potterhead, every time I re-read the part when Dobby the house-elf dies, I feel that loss all over again. He was an interesting character, wasn’t he? I mean, he started off pretty annoying but then grew on me, the same way Harry grew fond of him. Now, you must be wondering why I’m talking about Harry Potter on a psychology related blog, but the amount of psychology and mental health related parallels in the series is eye opening. This is probably the same thought process researchers had, and the phenomenon of The Dobby Effect came into existence.

The Dobby Effect

A follower of ours on Instagram, is an incredible artist, and I just had to include her sketch of Dobby in this post!

Those of us that are familiar with Dobby’s background, know that he was the house elf of the Malfoys, a racist, purist and elitist pure blood family of the wizarding world. They were at the top of the social pyramid, and hence treated their house elf like filth. Dobby being someone that felt like it was his duty to protect Harry Potter found himself in a conflict. In order to protect him, he had to defy his masters and this created guilt. When Dobby would deal with this guilt by hitting himself or burning his fingers, we found it comical at the time. But unknowingly, or knowingly, JKR had touched upon the mental health issue of self-punishment.


The feeling of guilt can work in two ways. The first being that the guilt we feel will put us in line and make us feel remorseful for our actions, preventing us from acting that way again, or mending our ways. The second being that the guilt will act as a factor that makes one want to punish himself for all the wrong that he has done. Think about it, when we feel guilty about something, don’t we, in a way, punish ourselves through berating self talk?

This self-punishment can very quickly take a dark turn and further progress into self-harm or self-mutilation, often seen in cases of depression. Many researchers prove that the level of guilt experienced is significantly lowered after some type of self-injury, the same way the guilt is reduced after one does a good deed in order to compensate. Freud had attempted to explain this through his psychoanalytical theory as well. He theorised that guilt is a result of clashes between the ego (reality principle) and superego (moral principle), which makes the latter retaliate through self-punishment.

Deal With Guilt In A Healthy Way

  1. First of all, stop for a moment and analyse your guilt. Is the intensity of it proportional to the actual situation? Does the amount of guilt that you’re feeling actually serve any rational purpose?
  2. Aim for self-improvement rather than self-destruction. Both these terms include the word ‘self’ right? But one enhances shame, low self-esteem and low self-confidence, whereas the other promotes positive self-regard, self-growth and a positive self-image.
  3. Accept that no one is perfect. Human beings make mistakes, it’s not uncommon. The best thing to do is to accept your mistake, introspect and make a positive change. This includes self-forgiveness as well. You may have had a wrong judgement call, but this doesn’t make you a bad person.

You remember how Harry tricked Malfoy into freeing Dobby by giving him a sock? Give yourself that metaphorical sock, and be the free elf..I mean human, that you deserve to be!

Until next time,


(M.A. Clinical Psychology, PGD Counselling)

Note: If you are experiencing thoughts of self-harm or self-injury, please reach out to your nearest mental health professional.

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