Healthy people making safe, sensible choices that minimize conflict make for pretty dull TV, and so it’s just as well that most fictional characters have all kinds of flaws and foibles. But might some of them also have a genuine undiagnosed mental health issue? In a recent video, YouTuber Kati Morton, a licensed marriage and family therapist (LMFT), turned her professional eye onto one of the more idiosyncratic television characters of the 21st century; Michael Scott, the boss in NBC sitcom The Office, played by Steve Carell.
Morton starts by addressing the character’s “elevated sense of self”; his belief that he is better than other people, and constant attempts to prove it. “I know Michael’s egotistical behavior is really just overcompensation for how badly he feels about himself,” she says. “But I feel like this personality trait had to be mentioned.”
Michael also exhibits an “excessive need for attention and to be liked,” a trait he displays over and over again throughout the show’s run, often overstating his own misfortunes and resenting when other people have the spotlight. “You can see how I could initially believe that Michael has narcissistic personality disorder,” says Morton. “He thinks very highly of himself, he needs attention, he can’t handle any threat to his ego.”
Other key behaviors that Michael demonstrates throughout The Office include making highly inappropriate comments to his coworkers, a tendency to over-dramatize situations, being highly suggestible, and believing that his relationships with people are more intimate than they actually are, especially when it comes to his romantic interactions with women.
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“Based on what I believe to be his main traits, I would have to diagnose him with histrionic personality disorder,” she says. “A pervasive pattern of excessive emotionality and attention-seeking, beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts.”
Somebody with histrionic personality disorder may exhibit traits such as a sense of discomfort when not the center of attention (check), inappropriate sexually suggestive or provocative behavior (check), rapidly shifting and shallow displays of emotion (check), using physical appearance to get attention (check), exaggerated expression of emotion (check), being easily influenced (check), and considering relationships to be more intimate than they are (check, check, check).
“I believe Michael Scott has five or more of those characteristics,” says Morton. “I would have to see him for six months, ideally a year, to rule out other diagnoses and ensure that histrionic personality disorder is the appropriate diagnosis for him.”
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