Kakashi is the most interesting, mysterious Naruto character! His personality is often contradictory - ranging from acting like an idiot to being a deadly serious intelligent leader. This dichotomy may be attributed to an assumed persona, a façade to put the enemy off, or to suppress his true personality and repress his past. There is no flashback to a life defining moment in tne manga until the Kakashi Gaiden, just before the time jump.
This first article was written before his past was revealed.
Case Study of Hatake Kakashi
The subject is an adult male, 26 years of age.
Occupation: shinobi, jounin level, sensei of a genin team
Diagnosis: Suffering from survivor's guilt - manifesting in symptoms of passive aggression, and nonconformity; use of defensive coping mechanisms.
Not much is known about Kakashi's past or his family. He became a chuunin at 6 years old, and a genin at 5, which means he probably entered the academy (if it formally existed at that time) at 4. He started wearing a mask as a child, which has psychological implications on its own. One theory arises from the likelihood that Kakashi was in the academy with kids 4 years older than he was. Being a cherubic 4 year old, they probably liked to pinch his cheeks a lot. Wearing a mask would inhibit such behavior from others. He probably continued to keep the mask onto adulthood for reasons as described in FAQ (e.g. acts as gas filter, confuses the enemy).
He was considered a genius. Sasuke has been compared to Kakashi by Gai and Kakashi himself, not just because he has the sharingan, but also because of his extraordinary ability. To extrapolate from Sasuke's personality, it is likely that Kakashi was praised and worshipped for his genius, which lead to arrogance, selfishness and over confidence. Shikamaru's comment that geniuses tend to blaze and fizzle, is probably what happened to Kakashi. Others, like Gai, caught up to his talents after a few years, and arrogant-ambitious Kakashi coveted the sharingan to stay ahead of the pack. Once he obtained it, he used it at every opportunity and was able to copy over 1000 jutsus.
Kakashi's sensei was the Fourth Hokage, presumably from the time he was 5. His teammates include a girl with stripes on her cheeks, and a boy with goggles. When the Fourth Hokage died, Kakashi was 14 years old, an impressionable age, not yet a true adult but no longer a child.
During the Ninja wars which probably lasted until Thunder Country signed a peace treaty with Konoha (nine years from the current timeline, which makes Kakashi 17 years old), genin were sent to the frontlines. Tsunade's brother Nawari was only 12 at the time he was killed. Assuming Tsunade is 50 years old, and about 25 when this happened, the war was ongoing when Kakashi was born. His talents were needed in the war and it is likely he started killing at a very young age. Imagine a child, only a few years out of diapers, not only growing up during a time of war, but being an active participant, being constantly exposed to death. In order to cope, the child may become a hardened and bitter adult, or conversely adopt a nonchalant attitude about life and death.
Kakashi was a member of the ANBU, basically an assassination squad, but left for unknown reasons. Kakashi's staunch belief in teamwork probably arises from a past incident where he failed in teamwork and caused the death(s) of a teammate(s), possibly his best friend. Not much is known about Obito as of this writing except he's Kakashi's best friend and died in the line of duty. Some think he was the original owner of the sharingan. Some think it's because of his death that Kakashi's outlook on life changed. I would argue that the two events are mutually exclusive. If Kakashi had gotten the eye from his best friend, whose death affected him so much, would he have had the ambition to copy over 1000 jutsus? It would make more sense for Kakashi to have obtained the sharingan first, and because of his arrogance and ambition he caused the death of his friend, and then became the person he is now, a rather lazy laidback fellow.
Orochimaru says Kakashi has what he wanted, the sharingan, and he didn't have it when Orochimaru was around. Orochimaru has been gone "10 and a few" (about 12-15) years - probably soon after the Fourth's death (12 years ago) and not before, otherwise, the Fourth would have face Orochimaru rather than the Third. Another clue to when or how long Kakashi has had the sharingan is obscured by the inconsistency with Zabuza. Zabuza is supposed to be the same age as Kakashi, 26. He became a genin at 9. Yet while discussing the change in the Mist academy graduation exams, it was only 11 years ago when a "boy, not yet a shinobi," killed over 100 students. Zabuza was 15, no longer a boy, and had graduated already. In any case, while Zabuza was with the Mist assassination squad, Kakashi was already in his bingo book as having copied over 1000 jutsus. Zabuza picked up Haku about 8 years ago. Haku is 15 years old and was picked up as a "toddler" or young child probably about 6-8 years old. Kakashi and Zabuza would have been 18 years old. To have been exposed to and copied that many jutsus, Kakashi would have had the eye for at least 2 years. For him to have gotten the eye at 16 fits into the timeline. He was still with the Anbu at this time as he is seen in an illustration in ANBU gear with his sharingan scar at about this age. In genin team pictures where Kakashi was about 8 and 12 years old, he does not have the sharingan or the scar. In any case, Kakashi was most likely about 13-16 years old when he obtained the sharingan.
Kakashi probably didn't leave the Anbu to become a regular shinobi sensei until he was about 20. This is estimated on the number of students he failed in the bell test. If one team a year is given this test, then over 5 years there would have been five teams, or fifteen students (not including Naruto's team), a large enough number to be surprising to Iruka. As Iruka flips through the pages of Kakashi's student logbook, assuming 2 pages (one sheet) of data per student, he flipped through a number of pages, which would makes this estimate reasonable.
Observed personality aspects: chronically late, sarcastic, arrogant, over confident, intelligent, leader, straight man, buffoon, nonchalant, easy going, nonconformist, unconventional, passive-aggressive
A passive-aggressive person seeks to avoid confrontation. However, in order to express themselves without conflict, they are often chronically late, using that as a form of control and subtle revenge. Kakashi is always late to his appointments and often comes up with some flimsy excuse. He is not late by just minutes, but sometimes hours! Sarcasm is another aspect of passive-aggression. Kakashi's normal personality appears to be easygoing and nonchalant, but in his serious mode he is confident and arrogant; in either mode he often makes sardonic remarks. Which is the true persona? In Kakashi's case there is something else going on.
In episode 80, before the Hokages's funeral, Kakashi visits the shinobi memorial where the name of his best friend Obito is engraved. The ANBU girl asks him why he is late all the time and his answer explains his chronic lateness and the deep pain he still endures from his past. He visits the memorial often in the mornings. He thinks about the past and wants to stay there, living in his memories. He talks about how foolish he was and regrets the things he did. From this, it appears that Kakashi is suffering from survivor's guilt and it may be his fault that his friend died.
Gai rants that Kakashi is "hip" and "revolutionary." Other terms would include unconventional, rebellious, and nonconforming. His nonconformist, unconventional attitude is exemplified by his apparent lack of concern of what people think of him as he reads x-rated novels in public, in front of his students, and even during training and battle. This idiosyncrasy causes him to be a subject of ridicule. He also has a tendency to make inappropriate jokes during serious discussions as when Iruka protests the nomination of rookies for the chuunin exams and when Anko wants Sasuke to leave the exams because of his cursed seal. Although they respect his skills, people tend to see him as rather buffoonish and he gets called an idiot quite often despite his superior intelligence. These actions also have the effect of keeping people at bay, preventing him from forming any close relationships; especially woman - who would approach a guy who reads books like that in public? This is apparently part of his assumed persona, purposefully constructed to avoid any serious relationships. The reason for this avoidance stems from the loss of his loved ones in his past and is a manifestation of survivor's guilt.
Defensive coping mechanisms
Both passive aggression and nonconformity are forms of defensive coping mechanisms. In addition, Kakashi's nonchalance and carefree attitude, inappropriate jokes during serious situations, may come from coping with death from a young age by not coping, by not facing reality, by using inappropriate levity to laugh at death rather than face the trauma. It is likely that not until someone close to him died was he truly faced with the reality of death. Killing and having someone close to you be killed are different experiences. It is easy to be desensitized to the former, especially in times of war. The enemy is usually nameless and faceless. The reality of death only sinks in once someone close to you dies.
The death of loved ones often leave the survivor thinking, "Why was I spared? I should have died too." An immense amount of guilt is associated with surviving when all your loved ones are gone. Sufferers of survivor's guilt are often unable to form close personal relationships, fearing that feelings for anyone new is a betrayal to those who passed, or fearing that they too will die. The survivor may also feel he does not deserve to be happy and as punishment would avoid a relationship which would mitigate his feelings of guilt and pain.
This is apparently true of Kakashi. He is not seen hanging out with his students and taking them out the way Iruka and Asuma do. His advice to Sasuke is that strictly of a mentor not as a substitute father figure or friend, unlike the way Iruka is with Naruto. The genin are his soldiers, and soldiers die. If he becomes too close to them, and if they should die, then he would experience the past again. To avoid feeling the same past pain, it is then easier to keep relationships superficial.
Kakashi says little about himself, and only his comrades in arms, the few remaining, know his true nature. The closest he ever comes to revealing his feelings is talking to the ANBU girl as discussed previously. There he reveals the depths of his sorrow and guilt, preferring to live in the past rather than the present.