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Dexter Morgan is a fictional character that appears in five novels, a television show and an animated short. Jeff Lindsay created Dexter’s character. His name reflects his dexterity and his ability to use both hands effectively. Michael C. Hall plays the role of Dexter in the television crime series.
When Dexter was a child, a man used a chainsaw to kill his mother. Dexter was traumatized because he witnessed the murder. This event triggers his Antisocial Personality Disorder. This condition gives him and insatiable urge to kill.
Dexter was the son of Joseph Driscoll and Laura Moser. Dexter also had a brother named Brian Moser. His mother used to provide Officer Harry Morgan with information. Harry Morgan eventually became Dexter’s adopted father.
Harry Morgan later finds out that Dexter has an inert urge to kill small animals. He assumes that Dexter’s is a sociopath (Santrock, 2008). Harry feels responsible for Dexter’s trauma. He therefore teaches Dexter to control his urges. Harry uses his skills as a detective to train Dexter. He gives Dexter a code of conduct, which ensures that every crime is committed with meticulous precision.
Dexter’s adopted father teaches him to control his psychotic urges. He teaches Dexter to channel his urges towards character-building activities such as hunting wild animals. Dexter’s urges overwhelm him, prompting his father to offer a different approach to serving his needs. Dexter’s father teaches him to target vicious criminals.
Dexter Morgan can be defined as a very intelligent psychopath. He suffers from mild Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. This causes him to commit his murders with meticulous precision. No one suspects that he is a killer. He even pretends to feel remorseful whenever he is suspected of expressing apathy at a crime scene.
Dexter Morgan’s Character
As an adult, Dexter decides to murder serial killers and other criminals who would otherwise escape the clutches of justice (Santrock, 2008). He joins the Miami police department. He specializes in blood spatter analysis (Santrock, 2008). On most levels, Dexter is a vigilante.
As the story progresses, the audience learns to sympathize with him. Dexter Morgan is simply a broken man, learning to cope with his illness. His neuroses are defined by how he relates to his girlfriend, Rita, his sister, Julie and his colleagues. None of his friends suspects that he is a murderer. Dexter’s social skills are dwarfed by his remarkable intelligence.
Rita is a recently divorced mother of two. Her husband used to abuse her. Dexter asserts that his attraction to Rita is based on their similar traumatic experiences. Some scholars have argued that people who suffer from psychosis sometimes form codependent relationships with victims of trauma (Harder, 2002).
Dexter also suffers from Antisocial Personality Disorder. Antisocial Personality Disorder is defined by anxiety, restlessness and overall dissatisfaction (Harder, 2002). His murderous intent is a coping mechanism. Santrock (2008) argues that the disease only affects victims between the ages of 15 and 30. Research shows that the symptoms of Antisocial Personality Disorder diminish at the age of 30 (Santrock, 2008).
Antisocial Personality Disorder is also characterized by a limited capacity for intimacy (Harder, 2002). Most people who suffer from the disease are not aware that something is wrong with them. There is no treatment for Antisocial Personality Disorder. Dexter’s adopted father teaches him that his condition can be controlled. Dexter then embarks on a self-righteous killing spree.
Dexter appears to have a sunny disposition. He uses this to mask his frustration. As a result, no one suspects him of being a murderer. Detective Doakes eventually discovers Dexter’s secret. This leads to the detective’s eventual death.
In the novel, Dexter does not try to seek Rita’s validation. He secretly belittles her. He uses her to secure his social status. He eventually grows fond of her. He bonds with her children.
Dexter’s strict code of conduct keeps him from killing innocent people. He has thought about killing witnesses before. However, his moral code has never been broken. Women do not arouse Dexter. Killing is his first and only love. The sight of blood arouses him.
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Dexter has an older brother named Brian. Brian is also a serial killer. He works as a prosthetic surgeon in Miami. He spent most of his childhood in a mental institution. Brian also witnessed the death of his mother. He did not have the privileged life that Dexter had.
He likes to sever his victims’ limbs and encase them in ice. After a long and successful killing spree, Brian reveals himself to Dexter. Brian threatens to kill Debra and Dexter is forced to stop him. Dexter eventually kills Brian. He saves Debra without revealing his secret identity.
Dexter’s humanity is evident in various parts of the series. He mourns the loss of his brother. He feels guilty whenever he fails to please Rita. He protects Rita’s children from her abusive ex-husband. On one occasion, Rita suspects him of using narcotics. He confesses to using drugs in order to throw her off his trail. He even attends group therapy sessions to keep her from digging any further.
Dexter also claims to respect his adopted father. His biological father was a drug abuser. Harry Morgan showed him love and compassion. Dexter therefore feels responsible for Debra. He often helps her with her own investigations.
Batista and Masuka are Dexter’s colleagues. He sometimes socializes with them to keep up public appearances. Dexter marries Rita in the third season. This is yet another display of his humanity.
Rita often tolerates Dexter’s suspicious behavior. He often leaves her alone when he feels the need to stalk his victims. During the third season, a serial killer who skins his victims abducts Dexter. Dexter overpowers his captor. He breaks the man’s neck. These events derail him and he nearly misses his own wedding. Rita is forthcoming. She forgives him after he genuinely expresses remorse.
During the fourth season, Dexter stalks a serial killer who also has a family. The serial killer dabbles as a preacher at a local church. He is an abusive husband. His wife and children live in constant fear. The man kills Rita shortly before Dexter murders him.
Dexter later develops a particular fondness for his adopted sister. He feels encouraged to protect his sister because of his loyalty to his dead foster father (Santrock, 2008). Dexter also shows a particular fondness towards children. He compares their simplistic disposition to his own sense of righteous indignation. He bonds with Rita’s son on several occasions.
Elements of Dexter’s humanity are evident when he prolongs his relationship with Rita for the sake of the children. He often ponders about the children’s wellbeing.
Dexter has a dynamic personality. He often adjusts his personality to correspond to the people he interacts with.
Dexter’s first victim is a nurse called Mary. Mary kills her victims with morphine. Harry indirectly permits Dexter to kill Mary. Dexter’s Obsessive Compulsion becomes evident when he creates a systematic procedure in order to kill her. He straps Mary to a table. He wraps the floor and the walls in plastic. Dexter uses the same procedure on most of his victims.
When the first season begins, Dexter is a forensic blood spatter analyst who dabbles as a vindictive serial killer. He creates a persona to mislead his colleagues. He pretends to be a respectable member of society.
During a flashback in the series, Dexter’s foster mother wants him to see a psychologist. She assumes that Dexter’s childhood trauma is driving him mad. Dexter’s foster father dismisses her suspicions before later finding out that his son is psychologically disturbed. Kienlen (2007) states the following:
Unfortunately, there’s a great deal of stigma attached to counseling for psychological disorders — or psychological disorders in general! Mental illnesses are often embarrassing — few people are thrilled to tell their friends and family they’re seeing a “shrink”! It’s also painful to delve into the depths of your soul or apply cognitive behavioral theories to your life, even if the psychological disorder can be overcome this way.
Finally, counseling for psychological disorders can be expensive; not many insurance providers cover the cost easily. Overcoming the hurdles of seeing a psychologist or psychiatrist can be extremely valuable to your whole self – not just your mind and emotions, or the psychological disorder. Your physical health is intricately connected to your mind and soul, so dealing with one aspect of your self invariably boosts other parts.
Just like a physical disease like cancer, a psychological disorder can hit anyone at any time in their life, regardless of how wealthy, happy, or well-adjusted they are. It’s the luck of the draw – just like many things in life (Kienlen, 2007).
Dexter is exposed to a horrendous act of violence at the tender age of three. His psychological disorder stems from his childhood trauma. His foster father does not send him to a specialist. He, instead, teaches Dexter to hone his intellectual abilities. Harry Morgan teaches his son to prey on criminals.
Elements of Erikson’s Theory
Erick Erikson argues that human beings develop in psychosocial versus psychosexual (Santrock, 2008). According to Erikson, human behavior is based on the nature versus nurture approach to learning. The environment influences human beings. People are also influenced by their upbringing. A child raised in a harsh environment will most likely grow up to be violent.
A child raised in a gentle environment will most likely grow up to be compassionate. Likewise, violent parents breed violent children and vice versa. Dexter Morgan is no different. Drug dealers raised him. At the age of three, he witnessed the horrific murder of his biological mother. His adopted father teaches him to stalk and hunt criminals when he is only 16 years old. As a result, Dexter grows up to be a serial killer.
Erikson claims that the ego is a human being’s active sense of development (Friedman & Schustack, 2003). Erikson asserts that people’s behavior is directly influenced through social interaction (Santrock, 2008). Dexter Morgan is a child when he witnessed his mother’s brutal murder. The trauma makes him a socially awkward individual. He adapts to social situations by pretending to express emotions.
Erikson uses eight stages to describe human behavior. Each stage represents a gate, through which a person passes. As each gate is crossed, a person achieves a sense of psychological balance (Friedman & Schustack, 2003).
If a person’s progress is not successful, they lean towards a dominant psychological trait (Harder, 2002). The weight of a person’s psychosis is shifted towards a particular behavioral pattern. Dexter Morgan experienced this shift when he was only 3 years old. The experience made him a sociopath.
“There are eight stages that develop within the key elements of Erikson’s theory.
The elements are: Trust versus mistrust which represents the infant stage, autonomy versus shame and doubt which represents the toddler stage, initiative versus guilt which represents the preschool stage, industry versus inferiority which represents the schoolchild stage, identity versus role confusion which represents the adolescent stage, intimacy versus isolation which represents the young adult stage, generatively versus stagnation which represents the mid-adult stage, and integrity versus despair which represents the late adult stage” (Santrock, 2008).
Dexter Morgan fails to pass the first stage successfully. He is psychologically traumatized when he witnesses his mother’s murder.
Dexter’s failure to pass the first stage of development successfully causes a domino effect. All the other stages of development become flawed. His teenage years are filled with doubt and anxiety.
His adult life is filled with chaos and confusion. He is forced to kill his brother, who is also a victim of a similar traumatic experience. He has no social skills. He is therefore forced to adapt on his own. All his relationships are based on lies. His life is a house of cards.
Erikson argues that conflict can be resolved in its appropriate stage (Friedman & Schustack, 2003). This approach can permanently resolve the conflict. Harry Morgan addresses his son’s psychosis at an early age. He discovers Dexter’s neuroses and decides to deal with them immediately. He stops his son from becoming a mindless killer. Instead, he teaches Dexter to target violent criminals.
Harry Morgan manages to earn Dexter’s trust. He is the first officer to make it to the crime scene. During various flashbacks, Dexter compares Harry to a guardian angel. He learns to accept Harry as his father. Erikson’s model argues that a parent must win his child’s trust during the first stage of development (Friedman & Schustack, 2003).
Harry Morgan gives Dexter a sense of identity. He lets Dexter know that his condition can be controlled. He teaches his son to respect the sanctity of life while accepting the challenges of death. Santrock (2008) argues that a child asserts his independence between the ages of one and three.
It is therefore important for a parent to guide their children down the appropriate path. Harry Morgan does the best he can to raise Dexter. He accepts the fact that his son suffers from an incurable illness. He does what he can to control the psychosis.
The third stage of Erikson’s theory is ‘initiative versus guilt’ (Santrock, 2008). Dexter’s trauma manifests itself in the form of random acts of violence. He kills small animals to satisfy his sociopathic urges. Harry teaches him to kill with a little more discretion.
The fourth stage of Erikson’s development is Middle to late childhood (Santrock, 2008). The fourth stage is represented by middle to late childhood. Harry applies Erikson’s model by teaching Dexter to hunt wild animals. Harry teaches Dexter how to assert himself.
The fifth and final stage in Erikson’s model is adolescence (Friedman & Schustack, 2003). This is the ‘crisis versus identity’ phase. Dexter’s urges are more pronounced when he is a teenager. He learns how to weed out his victims from the rest of the populace. Dexter learns to cope with his condition.
Scholars have argued that Dexter’s character suffers from a common personality disorder (Harder, 2002). Dexter can be described as a dissociative sociopath (Friedman & Schustack, 2003). He is emotionally distant. During his monologues, Dexter sets himself apart from the rest of humanity. He distances himself from the people around him.
He pretends to be interested in social activities in order to keep up appearances. In the show, he has a codependent relationship with his girlfriend Rita. Her problems seem trivial compared to his. Nevertheless, Dexter pretends to support her. He does this by babysitting Rita’s two children on more than one occasion. He also abstains from having sex with her for fear that it may jeopardize their relationship.
A sociopath is a person who has a condition caused by physical or emotional trauma (Santrock, 2008). Dexter is not a psychopath. A psychopath is a person who is born with a particular mental illness that triggers abnormal behavior.
Dexter was traumatized when he was three years old. His trauma and his intellect contribute to his sociopathic behavior. Psychological disorders are generally based on the symptoms exhibited by a patient. Passer and Smith (2003) state the following:
Psychological disorders are so widespread that, even if you never experience one in your lifetime, you will almost certainly know someone who does. Ancient humans believed that abnormal behavior is caused by supernatural forces. Up until fairly recent history, people with psychological disorders were subjected to trephination to “release” the spirit, or branded as witches.
Early biological views, such as those of the Greek physician Hippocrates, suggested that psychological disorders are diseases just like physical disorders. Early psychological theories focused on the use of psychoanalytic, behavioral, cognitive, and humanistic theories to explain abnormality.
Today most clinical psychologists and counselors believe in the vulnerability-stress model, which suggests that we all have some susceptibility, given sufficient stress. Biological, psychological, and environmental and sociocultural factors all play a role in the development of psychological disorders.
Judgments about what an “abnormal” behavior is are often difficult to make, can vary from culture to culture, and can change as societies develop. A current working definition for abnormal behavior is “behavior that is personally distressful, personally dysfunctional, and/or so culturally deviant that other people judge it to be inappropriate or maladaptive.”
The most widely used diagnostic system for classifying mental disorders in the United States is called the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV).
DSM-IV uses five axes (primary diagnosis, personality/developmental disorders, relevant physical conditions, severity of psychosocial stressors, and global assessment of functioning) to help clinicians understand disorders. Criminal “insanity” defense standards have shifted since the 1980s; defendants must now prove that they were not sane when they committed the crime.
In anxiety disorders, the frequency and intensity of anxiety responses are out of proportion to the situations that trigger them, and the anxiety interferes with daily life. Anxiety disorders have subjective-emotional, cognitive, physiological, and behavioral components. Phobias are strong and irrational fears of certain objects or situations.
Generalized anxiety disorder is a chronic state of anxiety (called ‘free-floating’) that is not attached to specific situations or objects. Panic disorders involve sudden and unpredictable anxiety that is extremely intense. Obsessive-compulsive disorder involves repetitive and unwelcome thoughts, images, and impulses and repetitive behavioral responses.
People who have been exposed to traumatic live events may develop posttraumatic stress disorder, whose symptoms include anxiety, “flashbacks,” avoidance of reminders of the traumatic event, and “survivor guilt” in cases where others in the same situation did not survive (Passer and Smith, 2003).
Dexter has several flashbacks throughout the series. He often relates his morbid past to his ever-changing present. He thinks about his foster father. He also expresses regret when it is revealed that he is responsible for Harry Morgan’s suicide.
A trait is a relatively stable characteristic that causes a person to act in a certain way (Harder, 2002). According to Friedman & Schustack (2003), a trait is a group of correlated habits. Hans Eysenck asserts that a person’s behavior is either frequent or habitual. Dexter developed a coping mechanism in order to control his violent urges.
Hans Eysenck identified three types of psychological traits: extroversion, introversion and neuroticism (Friedman & Schustack, 2003). Dexter is intelligent and antisocial. He is a sociopath. He is unable to control some of his impulses.
He has to commit murder on a frequent basis. When the second season begins, Dexter is mourning the death of his brother. He thinks that he has lost his ability to kill without remorse. By the end of the first episode, Dexter has reverted to his old habits.
If Dexter’s mother had given him the love and support he needed a child, he may have been a better person. Dexter has a supportive father figure to guide him.
Harry Morgan encourages Dexter to commit murder. Dexter’s second victim is a pimp who escapes conviction because of a legal technicality. Harry asks Dexter to use his newfound skills to punish the pimp. Dexter’s personality is therefore flawed. His moral perception is blurred.
Eysenck model cites extroversion as one of humanities major traits. An extrovert is an outgoing individual. An extrovert is open-minded and adventurous. Such a person is excited by new experiences. Dexter is not an extrovert. He prefers his daily routine to a spontaneous change of pace. He is even bothered when Debra moves in with him.
An introvert is a reclusive individual. An introvert is not open to new ideas and experiences. Dexter possesses some elements of introversion. He is reclusive. He is emotionally distant. He also prefers his daily routine. Throughout the series, Dexter expresses frustration whenever things do not go according to plan.
External stimulation causes introverts to be more aroused than their extrovert counterparts.
Neuroticism is defined by the tendency to become frustrated over minor disturbances. A neurotic person is easily frustrated. Such a person lacks concern for others. A neurotic person is usually trivial and selfish. Dexter displays some neurotic behavior. He justifies his actions in his monologs. He thinks he is superior to the people around him. He thinks that he is more talented than his colleagues are.
Psychological disorders can be measured on a medical checklist. Robert D. Hare, a psychologist at the University of Columbia invented a checklist designed to measure psychotic traits (Harder, 2002). The checklist uses a scale of 0 to 40. The average person has a score of five on this test (Harder, 2002). The threshold for psychological disorders is a score of 30 (Friedman & Schustack, 2003).
Dexter is a pathological liar. He pretends to care about trivial things. Dexter’s emotional responses are in fact, lies. He also pretends to enjoy the company of his colleagues. Dexter prefers the thrill of delivering his own brand of justice.
Dexter has a strong desire for excitement. Most sociopaths are prone to boredom (Harder, 2002). Dexter often displays excitement when he stalks his victims. Sociopaths are also manipulative. Dexter uses his skills as a blood spatter scientist to tamper with forensic evidence.
He lies to cover his tracks. He dismisses his sister’s theories about the Bay Harbor Butcher in order to throw her off course. Dexter Morgan is in fact, the Bay Harbor Butcher. He manipulates his colleagues by toying with their emotions. He also lulls his victims into a false sense of security.
After a traumatic encounter with a serial killer, Debra moves in with Dexter. He feigns his concern for her by letting her stay. Dexter is in fact, disturbed by her presence. He prefers to be alone. Nevertheless, Dexter invites Debra into his home. Sociopaths are apathetic.
Dexter does not feel remorseful when he kills his victims. He is emotionally distant. He detaches himself from the rest of society. He is often encumbered by his inability to express certain emotions. During the second season, Dexter murders Rita’s ex-husband.
Rita assumes that her ex has gone missing. She also wonders why Dexter is unperturbed by this sudden change of events. Sociopaths are guided by a self-appropriated code of conduct. Dexter follows a set of strict guidelines, designed by his adopted father. These guidelines are designed to keep Dexter and the people around him safe. One of the rules forbids him from killing innocent bystanders.
According to Friedman & Schustack (2003) diagnosis, Dexter can be viewed as a person who suffers from schizoid behavior. Schizoid people are antisocial. Dexter prefers to spend time alone. He enjoys his privacy. He does not feel the need for compassion. Dexter has no friends. His colleagues are not really his friends. Rita serves him as a means to an end. He does not really love her.
His closest friend is a female serial killer who later dies by his hand. She shares a brief intimate relationship with him. She discovers that he is the Bay Harbor Butcher. She proves her loyalty to him by killing Detective Doakes. This is a violation of Dexter’s code. Dexter kills her in a fit of rage, thereby terminating their relationship.
Schizoid patients are emotionally detached. Dexter does not express any real affection towards Rita. He is guided by a completely logical sense of responsibility. He ensures the safety of her children. He also uses logic to feign emotional responses on several occasions.
Schizoid patients are apathetic. Dexter does not care about his colleagues’ opinion of him. He is a gifted pathologist yet he does not feel the need for validation. Detective Doakes despises him. Doakes likes to bully. Dexter, on the other hand, is unaffected by Doakes’ snide remarks.
Schizoid behavior is also defined by compliance (Friedman & Schustack, 2003). Dexter is not assertive. He listens to his superiors and follows orders without question. He always meets Debra’s needs, no matter how trivial. He conforms to some of society’s norms despite the fact that they annoy him.
Schizoid patients are self-sufficient. Dexter has a lot of disposable income. He does not rely on anyone else for financial support. He cooks for himself. He stays with Rita in order to conform to society’s norms. He does not really need her.
Schizoid patients are also neat. Dexter is neat and organized. He keeps his apartment clean. He also collects the blood of his victims. He stores the blood in well-labeled glass plates.
Dexter Morgan suffers from many kinds of psychological disorders. He is a fictional example of a sociopathic killer. His condition can be controlled. If he had received guidance and counseling at an early age, he may not have turned out the way he did.
This article has proven that psychological disorders stem from both environmental and physiological experiences. Dexter Morgan grew up in a hostile environment. As a result, he also became hostile. He is driven by the insatiable urge to compensate for the death of his mother. He uses his intellect to commit crimes with meticulous precision. This is proof that psychological disorders can stem from traumatic experiences.
Friedman, H. S. & Schustack, M. W. (2003). Personality. Classic Theories and Modern Research, 3 (27), 56.
Kienlen, L. P. (2007). Psychological Disorders: Symptoms, Treatments &Statistics of Psychological Problems. Psychological Disorders & Psychological Counseling. Web.
Harder, A. F. (2002). The Developmental Stages of Erick Erickson, 2 (29), 24-37.
Santrock, J. W. (2008). Children. Developmental Stages, 10 (1), 23-42. Passer, M. W. & Smith R. E. (). Psychology. Psychological Disorders. Web.