I took a two year college diploma for general counseling (psychology) and one of my courses was in abnormal psychology. While I’m not qualified to diagnose people (You need a PhD. and several consultations with a client to do that), I was asked to do a diagnosis of a fictional character for one of my paper assignments. I chose Normal Bates (I loved the TV show Bates Motel!) and I determined that his diagnosis wasn’t psychopathy but dissociative identity disorder. The thing with TV shows is that they give you more insight into a character’s life and how they think. They’re easier to diagnose than someone you might see from time to time as you’re not getting that in depth character viewpoint.
I thought it would be cool to share this paper on my blog. Writing and psychology go well together. I hope that you find this interesting! FYI: I got an A on the paper. 🙂
*Trigger warning: It gets dark. Norman’s dissociative identity disorder is portrayed as violent and it causes him and others great pain (including death). It’s not a happy ending. If this topic isn’t suitable for your personal journey, feel free to skip this one.*
Abnormal Psychology Paper
By Sara Kjeldsen
I have chosen to write this paper about Norman Bates, the main character in the TV Series Bates Motel and describe his personality disorder. His behaviour demonstrates a severe disorder that I believe is dissociative identity disorder. The symptoms of Norman’s disorder begins to show early in the series, and becomes progressively worse with each season.
He is seventeen years old in the first season. His usual personality is introverted, creative, thoughtful, and kind. He is also highly intelligent, but he has little interest in pursuing his studies past high school. The oddest thing about Norman is that he is very attached to his mother, Norma Bates – they are almost inseparable.
He begins to have sexual fantasies about his English Literature teacher, who takes a special interest in him due to his creative writing abilities. He only has one friend at school, Emma, and both of them are ostracized for being different in their own ways.
Norman’s mother plays a large role in preventing Norman from participating in extracurricular activities, and he feels obligated to spend time with her after all they have been through. He lost his father not long before the show begins, and his father physically abused his Norma. Though not physically abused, Norman witnessed the traumatic abuse of his mother, and was thus emotionally abused by her. She continues to manipulate him as a young man.
To further demonstrate the psychological control that Norma had over Norman, I will briefly point out that Norman ends up dating a girl in high school, and Norma is completely against it with no reasonable explanation. He later dates a girl after he graduates high school, and again Norma is completely against it.
Norman always chooses Norma over everyone else in the end, because he feels indebted to her for being his mother. We see how emotionally codependent the two are throughout the entire season.
We see in the show how Norman begins to take on another identity when his English Literature teacher invites him into her home. As she goes into her room to dress into something more comfortable with the door open, he looks inside and begins to hear Norma’s voice describing how terrible of woman she is to prey on a young boy like him. Norman listens to her voice, and then takes on his other identity – which is his mother.
Norman has no recollection of this identity switch, and he is completely distraught when he hears of the death of his beloved teacher. His grief is so severe that he visits her grave every day for weeks. He has no memory of doing anything with her – only that he visited for a short time and then went home after she went to her room to change.
It is clear that Norma’s voice and thoughts are very important to Norman, so it is interesting that his second personality identity is her. It seems as though his brain used her as a shield whenever he is in an emotionally stressful situation (Like being with an attractive female).
We see his next dissociative identity episode from the perspective of his older brother, Dylan. Dylan comes downstairs to what he thinks is Norman, but it is instead Norman dressed in Norma’s housecoat. He proceeds to make breakfast for Dylan, talking like Norma as though he is actually her. At first Dylan thinks it is a joke, but then he realizes Norman actually thinks he is his mother in the moment. After the dissociation, Norman sits still in a trance for several minutes, and no one is able to snap him out of it. Norma has apparently known about these episodes for a while.
Dylan begs Norma to get Norman the psychological help that he needs, but she continues to deny that Norman needs help. It is only when they discover that Norman has murdered multiple women that he learns of what he is capable of. Though not all of his dissociative episodes are violent, being alone with any attractive woman always seem to set him off.
When he is trapped in a very stressful situation, Norman has flashbacks of what he did to his high school teacher, and he is devastated. Realizing that he has no control over his violent second identity, he walks out into the woods with a gun, intent on killing himself, but Norma chases him and stops him. She tells Norman that he killed his father when switched to his other identity, which horrifies Norman again, because he has no recollection of it.
Later on in the show, Norma finally refers Norman to a psychiatrist, long after she saw the violence he inflicted on other women and helping him hide the evidence in some cases. The psychiatrist sees Norman’s second identity first hand during a counselling session. He suspects that it is Norman’s childhood trauma that caused this second identity to form, which protects him.
Norman was given medication (Presumably anti psychotic medication), but he eventually stopped taking it. The psychiatrist notes that this second identity is charming, and he sees that Norman “blacks out” briefly each time he switches back and forth between identities. Not wanting to be apart from Norma for any longer, Norman begs to be released from the mental hospital.
Norma takes Norman home, and he turns her against her new husband, thinking that the man is trying to keep them apart.
Norman later has delusions of Norma telling him that neither of them belong in the world anymore; he deliberately poisons them both with carbon monoxide so that they can escape the cruel world. Norman is rescued by his stepfather, but Norma cannot be resuscitated. Well after Norma’s funeral, Norman has psychotic episodes where he still sees Norma in physical form, while continuing to take on her personality as a second identity. He even begins to visit bars and other venues dressed up as her, and finds out later on that he had intimate encounters with people that he does not remember when they come up to him as if they know him.
Norma’s death brings on schizophrenia-like psychosis for Norman, possibly as a way of coping. The only way that he can cope with living is by having her there with him.
The portrayals of Norman’s disorder are quite accurate to the psychological symptoms of dissociative identity disorder. The symptoms demonstrated by Norman’s behaviour were:
A. Disruption of identity characterized by two or more distinct personality traits (Norman has a second identity that he “switches to”). Marked discontinuity in sense of self, accompanied by related alterations in affect, behaviour, consciousness, memory, perception, cognition, and/or sensory/motor functioning. (This is observed by others, but not by Norman in this case. Norman has no memory of switching to his second identity.)
B. Recurrent gaps in the recall of everyday events/personal information/traumatic events inconsistent with ordinary forgetting. (Norman did not recall any of the times that he became “Norma”, but he does have one flash back of when he murdered his teacher.)
C. Symptoms cause significant distress (Norman almost killed himself when he found out what he did while dissociating, and he grieved the fact that he murdered innocent women, and his father. He committed murder – all of his friends abandoned him upon knowing his actions while under the other identity).
D. The disturbance is not a normal part of broadly accepted culture. (Having a second, distinct identity is not something that would be accepted in most of North American culture, even if it remained nonviolent.)
E. Symptoms are not attributable to physiological effects of a substance. (Norman very rarely drank alcohol and he did not take drugs. Symptoms seemed to be triggered by a stressful situation with women.)
The portrayal of Norman’s second identity in his dissociative identity disorder is mainly negative in quality. Though his main identity is rather kind and unassuming, his second identity, of course, taints his character.
Even his best friend from high school, Emma, eventually rejects him after learning of his violent behaviour, though she does visit him when he is in prison and tells his second identity that she misses Norman.
His brother, Dylan, is loyal to him until the end, until Norman himself chooses to kill him. Dylan tells Norman that he must let Norma go, and that he will help him to receive the mental help that he needs. Norman is not under the influence of his other persona when he draws a knife on Dylan. He tells Dylan that he must kill him to keep his mother. Dylan then kills Norman in self-defence, and Norman imagines a reunion with Norma as he dies.
The show depicts that it was better for Norman’s tortured life to end at the hand of his brother – the last person on earth who cared for him. It also shows that dissociative identity disorder is something to be feared, because it might make the person violent.