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Thread: Diagnosing Heathcliff & Cathy

  1. #1

    Diagnosing Heathcliff & Cathy

    I'm doing a speech on Wuthering Heights in a few weeks & I thought the topic of my speech would be the modern diagnosis of Heathcliff & Cathy. I'm a literature fan but also am an Abnormal Psychology Major, so of course, I come up with a topic like this.

    I want to know what your guys' opinions on my diagnosis is.

    I believe that Cathy has Histrionic Personality Disorder.

    Here is the Diagnostic Criteria:

    Histrionic personality disorder (HPD) is defined by the American Psychiatric Association as a personality disorder characterized by a pattern of excessive emotionality and attention-seeking, including an excessive need for approval and inappropriate seductiveness, usually beginning in early adulthood. These individuals are lively, dramatic, enthusiastic, and flirtatious.
    They may be inappropriately sexually provocative, express strong emotions with an impressionistic style, and be easily influenced by others. Associated features may include egocentrism, self-indulgence, continuous longing for appreciation, and persistent manipulative behavior to achieve their own needs.

    I believe that Heathcliff has Narcissistic Personality Disorder:

    Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is a personality disorder.[1]
    The narcissist is described as being excessively preoccupied with issues of personal adequacy, power, prestige and vanity.[2] Narcissistic personality disorder is closely linked to self-centeredness.

    Specifically, a Malignant Narcissist:

    Malignant narcissism has been described as "an extreme form of antisocial personality disorder that is manifest in a person who is pathologically grandiose, lacking in conscience and behavioral regulation, and with characteristic demonstrations of joyful cruelty and sadism".[1]

    I'm quite intrigued by this topic I picked. What do you guys' think?
    Ignore it.

  2. #2
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    Mar 2009
    It's been awhile since I read Wuthering Heights I don't think Cathy and Heathcliff have those personality disorders at all!

    I actually think they are two very healthy minded individuals... the way you can tell is that they both have very firm grasps on reality. If you were going to diagnose any characters as having personality disorders, I'm more inclined to pick Edgar and Isabella Linton. And perhaps Lindley.. who may have behavioural problems.

    I don't know much about histrionic personality disorder but I know a few people with Narcissistic personality disorder and definitely would never have placed Heathcliff into that category. I think his behaviour is quite reasonable in reaction to his circumstances.

    I find it very interesting of you to try and categorise characters into psychology types, I am happy to reread Wuthering Heights again in the next few days to better discuss the characters and examples for and against their fitting into your personality disorder profiles.

  3. #3
    Registered User kiki1982's Avatar
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    Jun 2007
    Saarburg, Germany
    I tend to agree with Emmy here.

    Heathcliff certainly is not a narcissist, he is foremost disappointed in Catherine and thought she would choose him because she loved him. He sees it as a betrayal from her side that she takes Edgar Linton on the sole basis that she and Heathcliff would be destitute if they got married. Actually she is right, in her era, to do this and it wasn't the first woman, no doubt, who did that, but from a purely emotional side it can't be called nice for her nor of her. You could do something, I guess, with Heathcliff's thirst for revenge, but that could also be put down to Romanticism (recalling The Count of Monte Cristo here which Wuthering Heights seems to carry a lot from).
    I gather that narcism also has something to do with insecurity, possibly down to feeling rejected by one's loved ones or parents, and over-compensation for it. Needless to say that Heathcliff no-where displays any tendencies of insecurity, even at the point where he is still treated well. Even though he was rejected by Hindley and Catherine, he does not feel insecure where he is sleeping in the stable. Quite the opposite really. He is brooding. That is not a narcissist.

    Hindley could be termed a narcissist. The way he treats Heathcliff because his place as 'the son' was menaced, says more about insecurity than Heathcliff's behaviour ever does. The way he enjoys control over him is also something suspicious. There is no reason to take revenge on Heathcliff, unlike Heathcliff's reason for the same later, he never threatened Hindley, he never did anything that was really off. Still Hindley seems bent on making life difficult for him from the start and gradually banns him from life.

    I don't think Catherine has a particularly flirtatious nature, nor is she attention-seeking. At the point where she and Heathcliff tend to challenge Hindley's authority, they are teenagers, don't forget, and that is what teenagers do. I also have the impression she is somewhat a tomboy, not a needle-working, knitting and flower arranging Victorian spouse-in-waiting, but a woman who likes to go out and do stuff. Quite inappropriate for a girl then, but still nothing to base a personality disorder on. I think she does somewhat wallow in self-pity, so you could do something with that.
    One has to laugh before being happy, because otherwise one risks to die before having laughed.

    "Je crains [...] que l'âme ne se vide à ces passe-temps vains, et que le fin du fin ne soit la fin des fins." (Edmond Rostand, Cyrano de Bergerac, Acte III, Scène VII)

  4. #4
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    May 2011
    Heathcliff - RAT - romantic arrogance trauma

    Cathy - GAS- gothic anxiety syndrome

  5. #5
    Thanks for your input. It's making me re-think my thoughts here...

    I do see insecurity however in Heathcliff with his disturbance with being a gypsy. When he went away & improved himself & his standing trying to become a wealthy gentlemen, I think he was trying to get away from that gypsy heritage. He was also probably traumatized when he overhead Cathy saying that she couldn't marry such a person. (I always get heartbroken in that scene because he doesn't hear that she loves him)
    Ignore it.

  6. #6
    Registered User startrails's Avatar
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    Jun 2011
    St. Louis


    I'm new here but I was looking around the forums and thought I would put my two cents in.

    I think we should also take into account the ages in the book. During the first half of the book they are children to young teenagers. Most the time it just seems that they are acting their ages. They didn't have very good role models especially after Catherine's father died. Catherine was only 15 (I believe) when Heathcliff ran off.

    I think they were just acting immature because they were young and immature.

    That is how I see it anyway.

    P.S. The age issue is also why I can't get into any film adaptions because Catherine and Heathcliff are always played by actors who look like they are in their mid twenties to early thirties. It just seems unbelievable that grown adults would act that way.

  7. #7
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    It's funny I just found this site because I did a Google search for "wuthering heights cathy is histrionic". So yes I totally agree that there is something histrionic about Cathy and also that there is something narcisissistic about Heathcliff. I think this is a fascinating perspective to explore. I just started reading the book and I'm not done so I can't draw conclusions yet, but it's neat to see that someone else has a similar interpretation. Actually I attempted to read Wuthering Heights 16 years ago but I quit 2/3 of the way through because I didn't care about any of the characters. I think I was naively hoping for some kind of moral romantic drama, and from that point of view all the characters, Cathy and Heathcliff included, just seemed petty and selfish and vindictive.

    As I reread the book, this time I am viewing it as an intensely psychological romantic drama, almost a psychological thriller, and it is making far more sense to me now. When Lockwood enters Wuthering Heights, he is basically walking into a complete psychological train wreck. He is startled to find that all of the inhabitants are uniformly bitter and angry and sad and antisocial. Lockwood seems partly to want to ignore what he is seeing and not be bothered by it. But the main narrative device of the book seems to be that Lockwood's curiosity gets the better of him and he seeks to unravel the history of tragedies that led to such terrible psychological devastation.

    Here are a few thoughts on personality disorders in this book. I am no expert, but I am interested in this stuff.
    - Personality disorders exist on a continuum between adaptive and maladaptive behavior patterns. Personality disorders are not absolute all or nothing things. Does Cathy have some histrionic personality traits? Absolutely, I am convinced of that. Does she have full blown histrionic personality disorder. I don't know, I need to finish the book! The same goes for Heathcliff's narcissism.
    - My understanding of narcissism is that it is all about building up a mental barrier that completely buries every hint of insecurity. The narcissist never allows himself to feel insecure and certainly never expresses any insecurity. It is Heathcliff's strange stoicism and lack of expressed insecurity that make me think he has narcissistic tendencies.
    - I think the character's behaviors are very much reactions to their circumstances, but in some ways that's what personality disorders are; they are reactions to a traumatic childhood. Personality disorders can be interpreted as patterns of behavior established in childhood to cope with traumatic situations. A behavior pattern that was adaptive to survive childhood, becomes maladaptive as an adult, and then you have a full-blown personality disorder. The characters all seem to have pretty miserable childhoods with a lot of unresolved tension, and this plants the seeds for personality disorders. Will these seeds grow into full-blown personality disorders? I don't know. I need to finish the book!

  8. #8
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    SPOILERS AHEAD......... !!! Don't read this if you didn't finish the novel "Wuthering Heights" or have a mind about reading it.

    I see its a little late reply to the thread, but I just wanted to express what I think. I think that its not much suitable to diagnose a fictional character. Because they behave just like how their author wishes. We can analyze the characters and come to a deduction about the author's state of mind and soul. But fictional characters are... just fictional. In one scene they are the hardest narcissist, in the following ones they behave just normal. And needless to say, you can't ask questions to a fictional character to diagnose him or her. So I see it as a useless effort.

    Especially about a character like Heathcliff, which has some chance about not being a normal human. I mean he can be a vampire or another damned or cursed being of that sort. We don't know where he came from. We don't know how he managed to effect Mr. Earnshaw so much that he even risked death to take him along. He's inhumanly cruel, maybe seeing humans inferior to himself and his behaviors near the end of the novel is very strange. He wants to eat but he can't, just like a newly turned vampire. And in a strange way, there is a Linton genocide going on throughout the novel and Heathcliff may have a hand on this.

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