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If you've read the book "Gone Girl" or seen the new movie, we're willing to bet there was at least one moment that made you think, "Whoa, what a psycho!" But was that person truly, clinically speaking, a psychopath? We asked a psychiatrist to break it down for us.

Jeannie Kim
October 06, 2014

Warning: This post contains spoilers for Gone Girl, both the book and the movie. Read on at your own risk!

If you've read the book Gone Girl or seen the new movie, we're willing to bet there was at least one moment (and probably a lot more than one) that made you go, "Whoa, what a psycho!" But was that person truly, clinically speaking, a psychopath? We asked Andrew Pierce, MD, a psychiatrist and resident physician at the University of Florida, to break it down for us.

Is Amy Elliott Dunne a psychopath? Short answer: Hell yes.

Doctors don't actually use the term "psychopath" as a diagnostic term these days, Dr. Pierce cautions; instead, most classic "psycho" types would fit under the umbrella of what are known as personality disorders. "Amy clearly falls under the diagnosis of antisocial personality disorder, which is the one that we would most associate with what we think of as a 'psychopath,'" he says. "It's characterized by a pervasive disregard for the rights of other people."

Dr. Pierce notes that Amy fits all seven criteria for the condition: violation of the law, deceitfulness, impulsiveness, irritability and aggressiveness, disregard for the safety of self and others, consistent irresponsibility, and lack of remorse. (Check, check, checkity-check-check!) "She's easily diagnosed from a mile away," he says.

Amy also has elements of borderline personality disorder, he observes. "The thing you see with these individuals is impulsivity and an unstable self-image. There's a hollowness and emptiness to their inner lives that causes their outer affect to be unstable," he says.

Borderline personality often comes with anger, suicide attempts or self injurious behaviors, and a lot of intense, short-lived relationships. "We see this with Amy," Dr. Pierce points out. "Both her friendships and her romantic relationships are intense, then the person insults or is negative toward her and she shuts them out—or worse."

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Amy's thirst for revenge isn't necessarily part of her disorder, but the way she goes all in is. "Having some of these personality traits may make a person more likely to act on ideas that any of us might have," he says. "Her reaction is just way out of context for what’s culturally appropriate. If your husband cheats on you, you might get mad and divorce him, you might even go after him physically, but you don’t try to destroy his life. She’s willing to take it to such an extreme."

And we hate to say it, Mr. and Mrs. Elliott, but this is at least partly your fault. "There's probably a biological element to Amy's personality—she might have had the tendency to be a perfectionist, for example, no matter what kind of family she grew up in," Dr. Pierce says. But her parents' perfect love, perfect marriage (as seen in the book), and most importantly their perfect fictional daughter, Amazing Amy, set an example that Amy feels she can never live up to.

"The common question is, are psychopaths born or created, and the answer is, a little of both," Dr. Pierce says. "Part of it is her disposition, and part is her parents not correcting and even worsening these tendencies. Her parents could have, if not tempered, at least not exacerbated what's going on with her."

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Of course, we as readers and viewers have access to Amy's real thoughts and feelings. Would a therapist—say, if Amy and Nick had ever ended up in couples therapy—be able to spot what's really going on with her, given what a master she is at presenting a flawless image to the world?

"There would be certain signs, if she was really pressed and pressured," Dr. Pierce says. "A skilled psychologist or psychiatrist, given enough time, would be able to pick up that there’s a problem. But would they be able to discover the depths of what she’s capable of? It’s hard to say."

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