Diagnosis of Norman Bates: Bates Motel and Psycho

Updated on July 2, 2018
Zoya Dawar Agha profile image

Zoya is a fresh graduate from Forman Christian College/University and has been a student of psychology for six years.


Norman Bates from Bates Motel (a prequel TV series of the movie ‘Psycho’) is a kind-hearted, polite and caring person who unknowingly suffers from dissociative identity disorder.

Throughout the show, there are many instances where depictions of dissociative identity disorder’s symptoms have been made. Before developing another personality, there were alterations in his behaviour linking him to the likelihood of developing a dissociative state. His stare used to turn emotionless and his posture would turn stiff showing signs of flat-effect. In another instance, he says that he feels powerless to his own actions and words. This shows depersonalization.

Another criterion for DID is amnesia and there were countless instances where Norman Bates had no recollection of his own doings when the other personality took control. He calls these periods ‘blackouts’ and these blackouts usually take place in an individual during stressful or traumatic events. Norman Bates experiences these when he is about to experience events like, about to have sexual intercourse or when he is confronted with the murders he committed.

Third criterion is disruption of persons normal functioning and life. This was evident in Norman’s social and emotional relationships. His other personality always talked him out of getting close to anyone else other than his mother. He became socially awkward and there were instances where he felt attracted to a few women but whenever they tried to be close to him, his protective personality would take over and kill them. Emotionally, he overreacted to situations and people became confused as to why he was being irrational about them. In another instance, he tried to assault his brother over a minor argument.

Fourth criterion states that individuals with MPD usually have a comorbid diagnosis. Norman Bates suffered from depression, anxiety and there was an instance where he had a non-epileptic seizure. These were faced as consequences of suffering from MPD.

Fifth criterion states that patients with MPD should not be having these symptoms due to drug use. Norman Bates has never been under the influence of drugs according to the show.

Lastly, the criterion states that the disturbance should not be a part of a religious or cultural practice. In Norman’s case, there was no such occurrence that would cause dissociation in his personality. It was merely due to his inability to cope with traumatic events, such as, killing his own father.

Hence, Norman Bates fully meets all the criteria to be diagnosed with Multiple Personality Disorder.


In the TV show, the only person Norman seeks attention of is his own mother. He goes to great lengths to keep their bond strong as ever. At an instance, Norman’s brother points out how co-sleeping of Norman and his mother is weird and even though Norman is in his 20s; he fights his brother over it. In addition, after his mother’s demise, he takes her body out and keeps it in his house to symbolize that he deserves her attention the most under any circumstances. Furthermore, after his mother remarries, he fights her over being ‘the person she cared about the most’ and prolongs these fights for days until she divorces him.

Psychodynamic theory holds great importance in explaining Multiple Personality Disorder. It states that these personalities offer protections as defense mechanisms from actual traumas that take place. These personalities become coping defense mechanisms from repressed thoughts that could go to any extremes. It also talks about repressed sexual thoughts in the unconscious.

What is strikingly important is the way Bates Motel depicted this theory. Norman bates in oddly attached to his mother, hence, he even feels attracted to her at times. He tries to repress these thoughts as much as he can. He, also, hates his abusive father but at the same time is afraid of him, which depicts Castration Anxiety. He also falls in love with a woman only because she looks like his mother, which shows fixation at Oedipus complex.


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Freudian Explanation

The psychodynamic theory states that Dissociative Identity Disorder results from repeated occurrences of traumas. These are usually sexual abuses of incestuous nature. At middle childhood, the repetitive traumas are likely to develop a defense mechanism, which is another protective personality that takes over when the individual has to face a stressful situation. The splitting of personality occurs early on (2.5 to 8 years of age). Furthermore, the dissociative states appear because they facilitate (a) escape from the reality, (b) secrecy of traumatic memories, (c) depersonalization and (d) analgesia. Also, it occurs when an individual’s super ego is not exactly specifying what is good and bad. For example, a parent might love the child but also physically abuse him in anger.

In Norman’s case, there were no ‘repetitive’ occurrences of traumas and no sexual abuse as a child or incest took place. There was only one trauma that took place in which he sees his mother about to be raped by his father and he kills him before he can make that attempt. That is the first occurrence where the personality takes over and kills the father. All this time, Norman believes that his mother (Norma) killed him; however, it was his alter personality who took that initiative. Norman is seen to be 7 years old when he attacks his father hence, the age group is the same as this theory. The disassociation was an escape from reality as Norman had no recollection of his actions and whenever he woke up, everything seemed okay. His alter personality of his mother protected him from all of the secrets like killing his own mother and father and when he got to know that it was his doing, the personality disappeared. He also stated that he faced depersonalization sometimes. Analgesia was also shown as whenever someone tried to attack Norman of which he is completely unaware, his personality took over and attacked the attacker. In addition, he suffers blackouts only when he is in sexual contact with a person, where his alter personality takes over and kills the women saying that these were ‘bad people’ showing that his concept of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ in the super ego were ambiguous to him.

In terms of behavioural theory, it is important to recognize that the origins of persecutor personalities is portrayed as protectors that have internally reinforced the warnings of persecutors in an attempt to avoid threatening consequences. Over time, these protector personalities may take control over in terms of the environment. That is, they may choose to overtake the person’s body for several years as long as the person should be avoiding the environment. The persecutor personality believes that it is its responsibility to protect the individual from stress and traumas, hence, if the events keeps happening and the personality’s protected behaviour is positively reinforced and it may keep happening for years.

This is evident in Bates Motel when Norman turns himself in to the police after realizing that he has killed many people. The protective personality of his mother Norma Bates takes over and stays there consistently until it helps him escape prison


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    • Zoya Dawar Agha profile imageAUTHOR

      Zoya Dawar 

      3 months ago from Pakistan

      thank you!

    • Zoya Dawar Agha profile imageAUTHOR

      Zoya Dawar 

      4 months ago from Pakistan

      Thank you for the correction and appreciation!

    • profile image

      Zach Heathis 

      6 months ago

      Very interesting analysis of this intriguing character, however Norman was 17 when his father was murdered, not 7.

    • Peter Senkarcin profile image

      Peter Senkarcin 

      10 months ago

      Very insightful psychoanalysis.


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