Personality Traits of “Girl Interrupted”


Susanna Kaysen highlights personal experiences in her early adulthood as she struggles to heal in the face of uncertainty of the borderline personality disorder. In the film, Girl Interrupted, Kaysen tells her story as she grapples with the oppression of confinement and challenges of a changing world. Kaysen’s ambiguity and the uncertainty of her condition lead her to a psychiatric facility in Mclean Hospital, where she spends two years in a female psychiatric ward.

Kaysen’s experiences encompass self-conflicts while giving vivid images of her fellow patients and caregivers. Girl Interrupted is a brilliant evocation of the ever-changing world with limited opportunities available for women. In addition, it gives the viewers a platform to understand sanity, insanity, mental illness, and the complicated way to recovery. The purpose of this paper is to evaluate the film’s motifs by challenging conventional thinking about what people perceive as normal and deviant behavior.

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Themes and characters

A number of themes are presented in this film. The confusion of acceptable behavior for women with insanity, social confinement as opposed to freedom, and norm versus deviant form the central themes in this film. Kaysen examines fellow patients whilst evaluating her condition and wonders if she is truly ill. Her ambiguity exposes her to two-year confinement in a psychiatric facility. The film leaves the audience with the question of how society views certain forms of women’s behavior.

How does society relate nonconformity to those suffering from borderline personality disorders? Do the patients need to be assisted in recovering, or does the society need to be cured first? This film answers such questions by suggesting that society has to change in the way it socializes with girls as they advance to adulthood. Kaysen’s level of socialization and ease of relating to people depict signs of mental stability. This aspect implies that the professionals in this psychiatric facility are looking for social conformity rather than mental health.

The film portrays Lisa as a patient who has reached a point of despair, and she seems aware that no one understands her situation. Lisa seems happy when acting against what is perceived as normal behavior for women. She is rebellious, and she encourages other patients to escape and frustrate the authorities. Georgina is Kaysen’s fellow patient and roommate, and even though she is very depressed, she shows hope and calmness.

Key traits

The majority of the traits depicted in the film describe isolated girls and trying to respond by demonstrating what is perceived of them. Fortunately, Kaysen is strong enough to accept that she is mentally ill. She agrees that she is rebellious, but not to the extent to be confused as crazy. Even for the most desperate situations of mental cases, the doctors do not show adequate efforts to support the girls. Lisa is arrogant as well as disrespectful and based on her traits. She is classified as a sociopath.

Her reactions are a response to what she is made to believe she is. Lisa has no sense of remorse, as she steals and lies, but she never shows signs of guilty. Partly, this behavior is attributable to Erikson’s theories of development.

Mental disability can arise when one is deprived of the essential experiences needed to defeat several psychological crises, coupled with transiting from one stage to another (Bateman & Fonagy, 2006). The society in Kaysen’s time fails to realize that everyone has a unique mechanism for conflict resolution, and failure to understand the girls’ needs can lead to desperation.

Perceived needs

During the girls’ transition to early adulthood, a delicate engagement is required from parents and society. The two entities must not decide for the child, but guide him/her with the essence of building independence and secure personal ability to cope with life. Kaysen lacks such guidance, as she is criticized for failing to pursue the career that her parents want for her. Her feeling of inability to survive generates self-conflict, which leads to depression.

Doubtfulness and the lack of self-initiative dupe Kaysen into thinking that something is wrong with her. Pressure from the community and parents is highly maddening, and she responds by being rebellious, coupled with establishing a negative identity (Kaysen, 1994). At this point, counselling would have served better than confinement in a psychiatric hospital.

For Lisa, psychotherapy would have helped her to relieve depression and generate a sense of self-worth. The hospital isolates patients from mainstream society. The film suggests that society highly differentiates itself from the mentally ill. Families fail to show the virtue of care by helping their loved ones to recover, which makes them feel guilty about their past, thus increasing depression.

Views and correlations

At the age of 18, the reality hits Kaysen, and like any other teenager, she is experiencing uncertainty and a sense of isolation. By avoiding intimacy with her family and escaping commitment, she ends up isolated, alone, and depressed. According to Bateman and Fonagy (2006), failure to establish oneself when transitioning to adulthood, or pressuring someone into a certain lifestyle, can lead to a feeling of unhappiness. Conventionally, Kaysen portrays these traits when she attempts suicide.

She feels a sense of detachment, and the same happens to other patients, as she later establishes whilst in the psychiatric facility. Kaysen believes that her parents confuse her into thinking that she is mentally disturbed by the youth culture upon the rejection of their school choice and career proposals. In addition, she feels that her doctor is trying to help her from drowning to the youth universe by admitting her to the Mclean hospital. On the contrary, Kaysen does not believe that she is mentally ill.

According to her, the major conflict is the struggles that she is going through and the lack of direction from her parents. The lack of intimacy and role identity leads her to the confusion of social nonconformity with insanity. To her, the line between sanity and insanity is blurred, and all individuals in the psychiatric ward need compassion, quality care, and concern to rediscover themselves (Kaysen, 1994).

During this time, society highly discriminates against women. Roles are predetermined, and the family setting is more of confinement, thus causing depression to many young girls. Even though every teenage girl is expected to conform to certain set standards, the instability of self-image at adolescence cannot be termed sufficient to diagnose one as having a borderline disorder (Lundberg-Love, Nadal & Paludi, 2011). This movie is a source of comfort and encouragement to those diagnosed with borderline disorders.

Kaysen is at one time sane and gifted despite this awful moment of her life when she is confined as a patient in a psychiatric hospital. Her parents fail to understand her situation. Her doctor acts fast, hoping to save Kaysen from drifting to the ills of the youth disconnect. Her story brings a highly humane dimension to what is often confused as insanity. Kaysen goes through a long undeserved way to realizing herself, develops compassion, and understanding for others as she interacts with fellow patients.

Despite the limited opportunities in place for women, Kaysen shows that there is still hope. She is an example of how young women can assist each other through tough situations. The deep-running inhumanity and ignorance are shown to these girls by both mainstream society and the hospital, highlight how deep society is confused. Kaysen’s situation shows that failure to depict acceptable female behavior is sufficient evidence to declare girls mentally ill.


The film, Girl Interrupted, represents a statement of fact regarding how girls undergo unfair experiences. They are compelled to take life from the perspective of society rather than what they believe is good for them. Kaysen’s difficult and often-confused life from a normal girl in need of guidance to a patient at a mental facility and later to a relatively recovered woman is largely an informative encounter.

This film does not imply that borderline personality disorder is not a valid mental disorder, but it endeavors to show that at times, the disorder can be exaggerated, particularly against women. This film is very honest with experiences that many people can relate to in contemporary society. It compels society to show some justice to young women by helping them to solve different psychosocial challenges successfully.


Bateman, A., & Fonagy, P. (2006). Mentalization-based treatment for borderline personality disorder: A practical guide. Oxford, UK. Oxford University Press.

Kaysen, S. (1994). Girl, Interrupted. New York, NY: Vintage Books.

Lundberg-Love, K., Nadal, L., & Paludi, M. (2011). Women and mental disorders. Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger.

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