Marilyn Monroe: Did She Have Borderline Personality Disorder?

In this article, we will discuss whether Marilyn Monroe had a personality disorder, and if so what was the nature and intensity of the mental illness the iconic starlet suffered from. This article will also explore the life of the blond bombshell, and particularly focus on the life events, circumstances and trauma that lead to the deterioration of her mental health, and ultimately her death.

Did Marilyn Monroe have a personality disorder?

Yes, Marilyn did have a personality disorder. Modern psychiatrists believe that she had borderline personality disorder. 

It is common knowledge that Marilyn suffered from severe psychological issues. She was also diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia but more on that later.

Norma Jean Mortenson: Her childhood trauma

Marilyn was born Norma Jeane Mortenson on June 1st, 1926. Marilyn was an illegitimate child. She never got to meet her father and the identity of her father remains shrouded in mystery.

Marilyn’s mother Gladys Baker had trauma of her own, she was born in a poor family and was married at the age of 15 to a man who was nine years her senior and was abusive.

Marilyn’s mother Gladys was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia after she had a mental breakdown while living with her daughter.

She was institutionalized, and the rest of her life was spent in and out of hospitals, she had little to no contact with Marilyn. 

Marilyn moved from foster home to foster home, and she had 12 sets of foster parents. She was also sexually abused while being fostered. 

Marilyn also had dyslexia and struggled with a severe stutter. She had nightmares which were responsible for her constant insomnia.

About her childhood she is quoted to have said:

“I didn’t like the world around me because it was kind of grim… When I heard that this was acting, I said that’s what I want to be… Some of my foster families used to send me to the movies to get me out of the house and there I’d sit all day and way into the night. Up in front, there with the screen so big, a little kid all alone, and I loved it.”

She married James Dougherty, to escape her abusive foster home, just after she turned sixteen, and also dropped out of school to become a housewife. However, the couple divorced in September 1946 because James was against her modeling career.

Marilyn Monroe: Her Persona

In June 1946 Norma Jeane signed a contract with an acting agency and selected the stage name ‘Marilyn Monroe’. Marilyn rose to fame in the 50s and starred in a number of hit films. By 1953, Monroe had become one of Hollywood’s most marketable stars. The blonde bombshell was offered many leading roles in films, her most popular film was Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953)

Marriages: 

After rising to stardom Marilyn married twice and both her marriages met tragic ends.

Her first marriage was with Joe DiMaggio, former baseball star and the two were said to be inseparable however their marriage started getting tumultuous. 

DiMaggio was known to have a temper and he would lash out at Monroe and also get physically abusive with her. He also hated Marilyn’s sex symbol status and they ended up getting divorced.

Monroe’s final marriage was with playwright Arthur Miller and they were seen as a very unusual  couple. Their marriage ended when Marilyn came across a secret letter written by Miller which stated that he was ‘ashamed’ and ‘embarrassed’ to be married to her.

She was also rumored to be in a relationship with John F. Kennedy, the 35th President of the United States, during his presidency.

Her Mental Illness: Borderline Personality Disorder Symptoms

Marilyn suffered severe abandonment trauma as a child and this left her insecure to the point that she felt unlovable and unwanted. 

In her orphanage, she used to tell other kids odd tales about how she had loving parents who had just left for a trip. 

She also had self image issues, which stemmed from her childhood trauma and to overcome them, Norma Jean decided to create the character of ‘Marilyn Monroe’. For that sake, she changed her name, her hair color and her personality.

After using her newfound persona to rise to fame and success she was still unable to find happiness and satiate her hunger for love. It must have felt like a scam. 

Mental illness also ran in her family (particularly in females) and coupled with her childhood trauma it was the perfect recipe for a psychological disorder.

Schizophrenia

Dr. Ralph Greenson, Marilyn’s psychiatrist also suggested that she had schizophrenia. It seemed as if she had two people inside her. If Marilyn had a personality disorder, and had two personalities, there is a possibility that one of the personalities triggered the suicide, in order to kill the other personality. This idea is seriously haunting!

Did Norma Jean kill Marilyn Monroe? It might as well be the case.

In 1961 Marilyn underwent surgery for her endometriosis and a cholecystectomy. After these procedures she was hospitalized for four weeks because of crippling depression.

Borderline Personality Disorder

Marilyn is said to have textbook characteristics of borderline personality disorder. She had more than five of the nine symptoms required for a BPD diagnosis.

Mentioned below are the characteristics of BPD and how they manifested for Marilyn:

  • Frantic efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment
  • A pattern of unstable and intense interpersonal relationships characterized by extremes between idealization and devaluation (also known as “splitting“)

Marilyn bounced from relationship to relationship and had three marriages which ended in divorce.

  • Identity disturbance: Markedly or persistently unstable self-image or sense of self

Norma Jean reinvented herself as Marilyn Monroe because she thought it might help her get all the love and attention which she craved so deeply and from which she had remained deprived all her childhood.

  • Impulsive behavior in at least two areas that are potentially self-damaging (e.g., spending, sex, substance abuse, reckless driving, binge eating)

Sex and substance abuse are significant themes in her life.

  • Recurrent suicidal behavior, gestures, or threats, or self-harming behavior

Marilyn made numerous suicide attempts.

  • Emotional instability in reaction to day-to-day events (e.g., intense episodic sadness, irritability, or anxiety usually lasting a few hours and only rarely more than a few days)

After she was fired from her last movie and sued by Fox, the studio started smearing Marilyn and spread negative propaganda about her, especially related to her mental illness. This must have affected her in the worst possible way and even served as a final blow.

  • Chronic feelings of emptiness

From the portions of Marilyn’s diary which were recovered, emptiness was a constant and repeated theme.

  • Inappropriate, intense anger or difficulty controlling anger (e.g., frequent displays of temper, constant anger, recurrent physical fights)
  • Transient, stress-related paranoid ideation or severe dissociative symptoms”

Symptoms sourced from  NIMH.nih.org (National Institute of Mental Health)

Her Death

In the days leading up to her death, the starlet’s health had also declined. Marilyn Monroe ended up taking her life on the night of August 4, 1962, at the age of 36.

She had developed an addiction for the painkillers (barbiturates) which she took for endometriosis and ended up overdosing on them (40 pills).

She was also known to consume sleeping pills and alcohol together which is all in all a deadly combination.

If you take away the stardom and look at her life, Marilyn had nothing but unhappiness, drugs, broken marriages and babies lost to miscarriages. It is indeed tragic, that in those days the topic of mental illness was seldom broached and often frowned upon. Sadly, Marilyn had little to no support and died a helpless death.

Despite all her fame and success, she died having no one to turn to and no one to convince her to not take her life. It is only natural to wonder, what could have been different if Marilyn lived today. She might have had better support and mental healthcare options.

However, there is a lesson to be learnt from the life of the iconic actress and that is to destigmatize mental illness so people can get help without being denounced and maligned.

Conclusion

In this article, we discussed whether the iconic starlet Marilyn Monroe had a personality disorder, and if so what was the nature and intensity of the mental illness she suffered from. This article also explored the life of the blond bombshell, and particularly focused on the life events, circumstances and trauma that lead to the deterioration of her mental health, and ultimately her death.

Frequently Asked Questions: Marilyn Monoroe Personality Disorder

Did Marilyn Monroe really talk like that?

Marilyn’s breathy voice that we know from movies was actually a trick the actress came up with to cover her childhood stutter.

What was Marilyn Monroe’s favorite food?

Marilyn’s favorite food was hot fudge sundae. She was a big fan of dessert, and even though she didn’t eat dessert on a daily basis she treated herself very often. 

What personality type was Marilyn Monroe?

Marilyn was an ESFP

Was Marilyn schizophrenic?

Marilyn Monroe was diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic by two psychiatrists in February 1961. She was forced to go to an institution in New York City however, Marilyn was released shortly

Was Marilyn bipolar?

Marilyn often dissociated from reality and was bipolar.

Why was Marilyn depressed?

Marilyn suffered from mental health issues earlier, however, she is known to have fallen into deep depression after her talent agent Johnny Hyde (who developed her career) died. Marilyn could not get herself to acknowledge her mental health issues, which caused her mental health to worsen, and eventually lead to her death.

References

How Marilyn Died

GOODBYE NORMA JEAN | DID MARILYN MONROE HAVE BORDERLINE PERSONALITY DISORDER?

Borderline Personality Disorder

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