Essay: Psychological Disorders

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Psycho Disorder

Psychological Disorders Represented in Cinema: Norman Bates in Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho

Psycho is without a doubt one of Alfred Hitchcock's most well-known and well-loved (for lack of a better term) films. It tells the story of Norman Bates, the proprietor of the Bates Motel, and of the unfortunate female guests -- one in particular -- that have the ill-luck to stop there for the night. The movie's greatness largely stems from the level of suspense and mystery inherent to the film, and for which Hitchcock was famous. The audience is left in the dark throughout much of the film, led down the path of false explanations for the nefarious deeds being performed and only coming to realize the depth of Norman's problems and the goings-on at the Bates Motel at the very end of the film. This suspense, however, is not the only reason that the film has enjoyed such an enduring reputation.

Hitchcock was a master not only of creating and sustaining suspense, but of pushing the limits of believability by making the most improbable of situations appear as entirely possible and real. He was able to achieve this, in Psycho as well as in his other films, by providing a level of psychological realism at the heart of each of his characters. Seen through a psychological lens, it becomes perfectly clear -- if still difficult to come to terms with -- why certain characters behave in the ways they do, which often seem outlandish to other characters in the film and the audience members watching the action on the screen. Norman Bates provides a perfect example of this level of psychological realism, with deep-seated issues stemming from his upbringing and his life in general that directly influence his psychological development and the extreme behaviors he exhibits in the film.

Norman Bates' Psychology: Dissociative Identity Disorder and PTSD

Throughout much of the film, Norman Bates' mother, who is never clearly seen, is thought to be the true "psycho" at the Bates Motel, who stabs any of the unattached female guests that her son Norman might feel an attraction to. The fact that the killer remains basically unseen is one of the biggest creators of suspense in the film, and it becomes quite clear relatively early on that Norman and his mother do not enjoy a normal or healthy mother-son relationship in any conception of the dynamic. The movie's ultimate revelation regarding Norman's character and the truth behind the murders -- namely that Norman's mother has been dead for some time, that he has retrieved her body, and that he dresses in her clothes and wig and assumes her personality while conducting the murder (and possibly others) -- provides the true psychological underpinnings of the film.

According to Psychology in Everyday Life by David G. Myers, the type of personality shift that Norman bates undergoes used to be called multiple personality disorder, but is more accurately called Dissociative Identity Disorder (Myers 2009). Norman himself has no recollection of the events that transpire while he has assumed the appearance and personality of his mother, and in fact is horrified and dismayed when he sees the body of the first victim of the film, a young woman named Marion (Hitchcock 1960). There is a major break with reality that exists for Norman during the periods when he is acting as his mother, which is the defining feature of dissociative identity disorder (Myers 2009). This disorder almost invariably arises due to come traumatic experience.

In this instance, the traumatic experience was directly related to the additional personality that Norman developed, which is not always (or even often) the case (Myers 2009). As Marion's sister and lover learn following Norman's eventual capture by law enforcement, his mother and he had lived alone and in near-total isolation for many years following the death of Norman's father. The precise details of this relationship are never revealed -- there is no reasonable way to do so given the perspective of the film -- but it is hinted that the relationship was likely abusive and possibly incestuous, and without a doubt was not what would be considered psychologically healthy by any standard (Hitchcock 1960). When Norman's mother took another lover ten years prior to the action of the film, Norman apparently killed them both in a jealous rage, then through extreme feelings of guilt retrieved his mother's body and often assumed her personality (Hitchcock 1960).

Norman's subconscious attempts to bring his mother back to life can best be seen as a way to assuage his guilt; the trauma of having killed her is eliminated if she is not, in fact, dead. Dissociative identity disorders develop as a way of escaping traumatic memories, and eliminating the memory entirely by developing the personality of a murder victim -- especially one as intimately related to the murderer as Norman's mother was to him -- is certainly one way of achieving this (Myers 2009). The fact that he murders other women -- possible lovers for himself -- in the guise of his mother could be another way that his subconscious is attempting to eliminate the guilt he feels for his mother's murder; it is a form of revenge and retaliation that somehow seems to even the score.

Elements of post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, can also be seen in Norman Bates' development. Even in his own persona, he exhibits a great deal of anxiety, and is obviously troubled by what he remembers of the traumas he experienced early in life -- his upbringing in isolation with his mother at the very least, if not a vague recollection of the murders he committed and whatever abuse occurred between he and his mother. The possibility -- near certainty, in fact -- of some sort of psychological and/or physical/sexual abuse during Norman's childhood is one of the largest indicators that he is suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, as prolonged and frequent exposures to traumatic experiences such as abuse are one of the main factors in predicting long-term psychological issues from such traumas (Myers 2009). It is quite possible that the continued traumatic stress of living in an unhealthy and abusive relationship with his mother eventually caused Norman to snap / the development of a dissociative identity disorder, then, could be seen as an outgrowth of his post-traumatic stress disorder (Myers 2009).

Not Quite so Psycho: Shade of Bates in My Own Life

My own relationship with my mother is not, thankfully, as dysfunctional as Norman bates' was with his own mother. There are some general similarities that can be extrapolated from bates' life and applied to my own, however, including a slight antagonism with my mother regarding sexuality. While neither of us has any real desire to share the details of our sex lives with each other, my mother has quite obviously and openly disapproved of some of the people I have had relationships with, claiming they are not good enough for me.

This is a fairly typical -- almost cliche -- reaction for parents to have regarding their children's sexuality, and could stem from an inability or unwillingness to accept their children as sexual creatures. This certainly seems to be at work in Psycho, though to an extreme degree, and with some very interesting twists. It is impossible to know the exact extent of Norman Bates' relationship with his mother or her feelings regarding her won son's sexuality, but there is a definite antagonism between Norman's approximation of his mother's personality and objects of possible sexual interest. That is, the personality of Norman's mother that Norman takes on during his periods of dissociation shows an extreme disapproval not only of the individuals with whom he might have a sexual relationship, but even of the very notion of his sexuality. This is certainly… [END OF PREVIEW]

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