“The Psychology of Dexter’ – Book Review

About a week ago I’ve been invited to read and review a book whose theme caught my attention immediately: “The Psychology of Dexter“, edited by Bella DePaulo (Ph.D.). Although other editors and publishing houses invited me in the past years to review their books, this is the first time I actually accepted and I am really glad I did so.

Here, on Psychology Corner, I’ve covered the “Dexter” subject in the article entitled 10 (Psychological) Reasons why we like Dexter Morgan, and now, when we are getting ready for the show’s 8th and final season, I really welcomed the opportunity of reading new perspectives on this topic and also refreshing my memory regarding key-concepts and dynamics of Dexter’s world.

The Psychology of Dexter” is a collection of 17 essays on different topics generated by Showtime’s  “Dexter” series. The book was published in 2010 by BenBella Books, in the context of their Smart Pop & Popular Culture Imprint. The editor, Bella De Paulo, Ph.D., is a social psychologist and book author. The contributors of this book are either psychologists (different branches), psychology (or related domains) teachers, or graduate students (in psychology).

I found the book to be an interesting read. The essays address gripping subjects like Harry’s role in the becoming of Dexter, Dexter’s inner world and dynamics, specific aspects of the serial killer’s modus operandi, signature and victim profile, Dexter’s lies, the darkness or shadow in all of us and many more.

For a “Dexter” fan, this book provides so many perspectives on different aspects of his life, internal and external, and it also brings into focus main characteristics of those surrounding Dexter, either being his enablers, “angels” or victims.

Most of the essays are really captivating and point out valid psychological perspectives upon the world of Dexter: nature and nurture in Dexter’s life (Joshua L. Gowin, Segment: Naughty by Nature, Dexter by Design), analysis of modus operandi, signature and victimology (Marisa Mauro, Segment: The Psychology of Dexter’s Kills), lies in our daily lives and the lies of Dexter (Bella DePaulo, Segment: Deception: It’s What Dexter Does Best (Well, Second Best)), a study in the work-life balance (Morrie Mullins, Segment: The Scientist and the Serial Killer), the influence people like Camilla, Debra and Rita had on Dexter (Jeremy Clyman, Segment: The Angels on His Shoulder), the light and dark sides of the self by relating the Dexter context to the Freudian and Jungian psychology (Melissa Burkley and Edward Burkley, Segment: The Dark Passenger in All of Us), Freudian defense mechanisms in the context of Miami Metro ( Wind Goodfriend and Chase Barrick, Segment: The Dark Defenders), Dexter’s (allegedly) narcissic family (Marisa Mauro segment: It’s all about Harry), Rita’s abusive relationship pattern and the psychological abuse Dexter inflicts on her (David Barber-Callaghan and Nigel Barber, Segment: Rita’s Rocky Relationships), Rita’s resemblence to Dexter and her denial towards his and hers true nature (Tamara McClintock Greenberg, Segment: Denial and Rita) and the reasons why the viewer is attracted to rooting for a serial killer (Matthew E. Jacovina, Matthew A. Bezdek, Jeffrey E. Foy, William G. Wenzel, and Richard J. Gerrig, Segment: Faster, Dexter! Kill! Kill!).

Other segments provide an analysis of Dexter’s morning routine (as presented in the intro of the show) – Christopher Ryan, Segment: Being Dexter Morgan-, and a closer look at the traits of a serial killer, with application on Dexter’s case – Adi Jaffe, Segment: The Killer Within, Stephen D. Livingston, Segment: On Becoming a Real Boy and Jared DeFife, Segment: Predator on the Prowl.

Two essays, however, failed to impress me.

One of them was well written, but it seemed to me as being just remotely about Dexter and more about former Khmer Rouge communist leader Kaing Guek Eav – although contrasting Dexter’s actions and those of genocide inflicters was interesting, the piece, in my perspective, does not belong in a book for Dexter fans that is focused on the phenomenon in the context of pop culture (Paul Wilson, Segment: Why Psychopaths Like Dexter Aren’t Really All That Bad).

The other one is the one essay that I found to be most biased, although ambitious in its goal. So, Lisa Firestone, in the segment entitled Rethinking Dexter, states the fact that she thinks Dexter’s diagnosis of psychopathy is wrong and that the one we should actually consider is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). From my perspective, the premises Firestone considers in building her conclusion are clinically invalid. Why would we consider PTSD and Antisocial Personality Disorder (psychopathy) disjunctive, excluding each other? Both diagnoses can pertain to the same individual. In what regards DSM IV-R diagnosis axis, PTSD is a part of the anxious disorders (on Axis I) and the Antisocial Personality Disorder is a part of Personality Disorders, on Axis II. The only thing that we can actually argue is which of these (and other diagnoses for which the individual meets the criteria) is the main diagnosis. And given the fact that Dexter’s behavior is so extreme – he commits murders- I tend to place APD as the main one. In one paragraph, Firestone writes: „I propose that the show’s implication that Dexter is a psychopath is a misdiagnosis and that, in fact, Dexter is a victim of childhood post-traumatic stress.”. Now, although I do agree with some things stated by her – like the importance of providing psychological help to children with conduct disorder rather than considering them lost causes and therefore perhaps set them on a downward spiral path, the PTSD diagnosis in childhood and, that of conduct disorder because -among other things- he was killing animals as a child, the idea that PTSD causing dissociation in his personality (and hello, Dark Passenger) should be enough to make us put a stop on the diagnosis process and not consider the APD diagnosis for the adult, is just clinical non-sense. PTSD can lead to dissociation and Dexter’s Dark Passenger is the result of that, okay. But the APD belongs to the adult, as a “continuation” of the conduct disorder of the child, given the fact that he now meets the APD criteria.

Going back to the features of the “Psychology of Dexter“, I think it can be enjoyed by both Dexter fans and psychology and mental health professionals. Even though some topics seem to overlap, certain premises are necessary in order for the authors to make their point in their respective essays. This also permits a selective reading of the individual segments.

Professionals may not be engaged in the same way as the other readers, but I believe there is content for everybody in the book. A key would be to read the essays while not considering your own take on the respective subject and let the authors guide you through their own rational process.

In conclusion, I find it amazing that a TV series cand generate such debates, opinions, and interactions. “The Psychology of Dexter” reaches its goal of shedding a psychological light upon segments of popular culture and can be a real treat for Dexter fans all over the world!


P.S. This is not a commercial endorsement deal.

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