Marilyn Monroe: Did She Have Borderline Personality Disorder? - PsychReel (2022)

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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FAQs

Was Marilyn Monroe diagnosed with BPD? ›

“Her symptoms included a feeling of emptiness, a split or confused identity, extreme emotional volatility, unstable relationships, and an impulsivity that drove her to drug addiction and suicide - all textbook characteristics of a condition called borderline personality disorder," Kalb explains.

What causes Borderline Personality Disorder? ›

Environmental factors

being a victim of emotional, physical or sexual abuse. being exposed to long-term fear or distress as a child. being neglected by 1 or both parents. growing up with another family member who had a serious mental health condition, such as bipolar disorder or a drink or drug misuse problem.

What is the Marilyn Monroe effect? ›

It is the idea that despite appearances and measures of success, one feels inadequate and will be found to be less than they are presenting themselves. It is more than the proverbial “fake it 'til you make it.” It is “acting as if” they were as confident as they would like to feel they were.

Do people with BPD have empathy? ›

Lack of cognitive empathy, ToM, mentalizing, social cognition, or emotional intelligence was found to be a common feature among patients with BPD.

Does BPD shorten life expectancy? ›

BPD in young adulthood predicts a host of negative outcomes across the life span, including mood, anxiety, eating and substance use disorders, increased risk for physical illnesses and medical care, reduced quality of life, and reduced life expectancy [39, 42–45].

Can someone with BPD love? ›

Borderline personality disorder (BPD) isn't a personal choice. It's a mental health condition, and it can be managed. Can a person with borderline personality disorder feel love? Absolutely!

What does BPD look like in females? ›

Wide mood swings lasting from a few hours to a few days, which can include intense happiness, irritability, shame or anxiety. Ongoing feelings of emptiness. Inappropriate, intense anger, such as frequently losing your temper, being sarcastic or bitter, or having physical fights.

What is BPD favorite person? ›

A favorite person is the center of attention of an individual living with BPD. This means they consider this person as a trusted friend, confidant, and counselor all wrapped in one.

Did Marilyn Monroe have a learning disability? ›

Marilyn Monroe struggled with stuttering off and on throughout her whole life. Her famous breathy voice is actually a result of speech therapy in which she was taught deliberate breathing techniques to guide her fluency.

How do you carry yourself like Marilyn Monroe? ›

Rock a more casual Marilyn look.
  1. High waisted blue jeans paired with a white button-down shirt.
  2. A thick, woven oversized sweater.
  3. A jean jacket.
  4. A simple black turtleneck.
  5. A black-and-white striped turtleneck t-shirt.
  6. A simple red-and-white striped collared button-down shirt.
  7. A high-necked long-sleeved orange t-shirt.

Did Marilyn Monroe have children? ›

Did Marilyn Monroe have any children? Marilyn Monroe did not have any children. She never had any children with any of her three husbands, but did reportedly have three miscarriages. While married to Miller, Marilyn is thought to have experienced her first miscarriage in September 1956.

What celebrities have a personality disorder? ›

Here are ten celebrities who came forward with their struggles with mental illness.
  • Chrissy Teigen-postpartum depression. ...
  • Demi Lovato-bipolar disorder. ...
  • Steve Young-social anxiety disorder. ...
  • Donny Osmond-social anxiety disorder. ...
  • Michael Phelps-ADHD. ...
  • Dan Reynolds-clinical depression.
26 Apr 2017

Was Marilyn Monroe neurotic? ›

The personality traits that Monroe portrayed were based upon the facets of neuroticism, her lack of self esteem from events in her life, like sexual abuse, the absence of her father, depression, and lack of ability to express herself are also what may have led to her untimely death.

What happened between Marilyn Monroe and Arthur Miller? ›

Soon Miller and Monroe embarked upon an affair, despite the fact that he remained a married man. However, in the years since they'd first met, she'd become a star. This meant the press paid close attention to every move Monroe made, and their affair couldn't remain a secret.

How old would Marilyn Monroe be today? ›

The Hollywood icon passed away on August 4, 1962, aged 36, but if she were alive in 2022, she would be 96 years old, the same age as Queen Elizabeth II.

What is a person with borderline personality disorder like? ›

People with borderline personality disorder may experience intense mood swings and feel uncertainty about how they see themselves. Their feelings for others can change quickly, and swing from extreme closeness to extreme dislike. These changing feelings can lead to unstable relationships and emotional pain.

Can someone with BPD love? ›

Borderline personality disorder (BPD) isn't a personal choice. It's a mental health condition, and it can be managed. Can a person with borderline personality disorder feel love? Absolutely!

How do borderlines think? ›

People with BPD also have a tendency to think in extremes, a phenomenon called "dichotomous" or “black-or-white” thinking. 2 People with BPD often struggle to see the complexity in people and situations and are unable to recognize that things are often not either perfect or horrible, but are something in between.

Did Marilyn Monroe have children? ›

Did Marilyn Monroe have any children? Marilyn Monroe did not have any children. She never had any children with any of her three husbands, but did reportedly have three miscarriages. While married to Miller, Marilyn is thought to have experienced her first miscarriage in September 1956.

How old was Marilyn Monroe when she died? ›

On August 5, 1962, Monroe was found dead from an overdose of barbiturates in her home in Brentwood, California. She was 36 years old.

What was Marilyn Monroe's childhood like? ›

What was Marilyn Monroe's childhood like? Marilyn Monroe was born Norma Jeane Mortenson in Los Angeles and later took her mother's surname, Baker. Her mother was frequently confined in an asylum, and Norma Jeane was reared by 12 successive sets of foster parents and, for a time, in an orphanage.

Did Colin Clark sleep with Marilyn Monroe? ›

Colin Clark, a television director whose memoir “My Week With Marilyn” described his close but never consummated love affair with Marilyn Monroe, died of cancer Tuesday in his London home.

What did Arthur Miller say about Marilyn? ›

But in fact, Miller said, Monroe was the innocent one, particularly as she moved into the role of wife and step-mother. But at the end of the day, "she wanted to be a star," Miller told Wallace, and that's ultimately what killed her.

Did Arthur Miller attend Marilyn's funeral? ›

Why didn't Arthur Miller attend Marilyn Monroe's funeral? Eventually, after divorcing their spouses, Miller and Monroe got married. They split years later, but still remained friends. Yet when she tragically died in 1962, the playwright refused to attend her funeral.

Who inherited Marilyn Monroe's wealth? ›

Paula Strasberg died of cancer in 1966, and, in 1967, Lee Strasberg wed a 28-year-old actor named Anna Mizrahi. When the acting coach died in 1982, Mizrahi inherited 75% of Monroe's estate, giving her total control of the Hollywood icon's likeness. It also enabled her to make money from the estate.

What made Marilyn Monroe so special? ›

Some like her because she was sexy and beautiful; others because she was a funny comedienne. There are people who adore her sensitivity and others who love the way she never stopped trying to make her life more fulfilling.

Did Marilyn Monroe workout? ›

I never used to bother with exercises. Now I spend at least 10 minutes each morning working out with small weights. I have evolved my own exercises, for the muscles I wish to keep firm, and I know they are right for me because I can feel them putting the proper muscles into play as I exercise.”

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