Freud in Gossip Girl

by Shreya and Altea

Psychological Complexes. Defined as “a core pattern of emotions, memories, perceptions, and wishes centered around a particular theme”, some say that everyone has one. However, how can a few “cookie-cutter” complexes encompass the psychology of 7 billion humans? Well to show the application of what certain complexes might look in real life, we set out to apply them to the main characters of the ever-popular, acclaimed show: Gossip Girl. Gossip Girl seems to have somewhat made a comeback this past year, possibly due to the fashion featured on the show, or maybe boredom in quarantine. 2000s TV shows with a target audience of teenage girls are typically written-off as trashy and superficial, but oftentimes, there’s a lot more going on below the surface. This is certainly the case with these rich high schoolers on New York’s Upper East Side. Below are our findings of the complexes that each of Gossip Girl’s main characters possesses, sans Nate: who we deemed overall quite psychologically sound, unless you count his weird obsession with age gaps in relationships. 

Disclaimer: we are not licensed psychologists nor are we claiming to be, please take all below opinions and analyses with a grain of salt. 

*Spoiler Alert*

Blair: The Inferiority Complex

CREDIT: Gossip Girl Wiki

This first one may surprise you, as she’s known as the Queen B, but we’ve decided Blair has an inferiority complex. However, her complex is so bad that it loops around to come off as a superiority complex. Blair is so terrified of her own personal inadequacies that she overcompensates by creating her own kingdom of her wealthy classmates, maintaining complete control over the way they dress, where they eat, and who they date. A specific example of this is her obsession with going to Yale, where her father went. When she is rejected however, she translates her disappointment into anger towards Nelly – a girl who did get into Yale – and deems her unworthy. This complex most likely stems from her overcritical and ambitious mother, Eleanor Waldorf, who has her own fashion line, and who is constantly overcritical of her daughter’s shortcomings without celebrating her accomplishments. Her father, Harold Waldorf, came out as gay when she was fifteen, leaving her in New York with her mother and relocating to France. Since then, Blair has become obsessed with gaining her father’s approval, hating his new boyfriend and becoming very upset when he expresses any disappointment in her. Most of Blair’s inferiority complex stems from her parents, but there is a little bit of societal pressure involved as well. 

Serena: The Cinderella Complex

CREDIT: Gossip Girl Wiki

Not much of a surprise, Serena Van Der Woodsen constantly needs saving. Everything has been handed to her for her entire life, and she is always getting bailed out, whether this be by boyfriends or her mother. This is known as a Cinderella Complex, created by female author Colette Dowling, it is essentially a woman’s unconscious fear of independence. In turn, this pushes them into situations where they convince themselves that require help from others – particularly men who would act as the “prince”. This is especially prevalent in a woman’s romantic relationships, manifesting itself as a desire to be in a relationship with unequal power dynamics. Serena constantly finds herself in various entanglements with men, and as soon as one gets broken off, a replacement instantly appears. She feels deeply insecure with not being in a relationship, and cannot handle the idea of rejection. A theme throughout the show is that Serena always gets what she wants. This most likely stems from a mixture of her being in a privileged position; after all, she is cis, white, daughter of a billionare, stereotypically attractive. However a large factor to her dependent state is that her mother Lily Van Der Woodsen constantly solves all of her problems. When Serena sleeps with her best friend’s boyfriend, Lily sends her to boarding school, instead of letting her deal with the ramifications. When none of the private high schools in Manhattan would accept Serena as a student, Lily made up a lie that Serena had been in an inappropriate relationship with a teacher as a fifteen year old, even going to prison for it later on. While Lily is a deeply flawed character, doing anything to such extremes for her children, Serena is also ungrateful for this help from her mother, preferring to seek out male validation, most likely due to her absent father for most of her childhood. One physically absent parent, and one parent who may be emotionally unavailable but still hyper involved, as well as societal privilege mixed together have created Serena’s Cinderella complex.

Dan: The Individuality Complex

CREDIT: Gossip Girl Wiki

Dan Humphrey, Brooklynite turned anonymous gossip blogger, who always considers himself to be on the outside. This can be attributed to his Individuality Complex – an unconscious desire to remain on the outs of society and feeling that one’s identity is made up of the pieces that differentiate themselves from others. This can incline people with Individuality complexes to intensify said “outsider status” and personal differences, cementing people in a constant state of faux individuality. When Dan’s father sent him to an elite Manhattan private school, he had trouble making friends, due to the large gap in wealth between him and his classmates. Dan believed that the only way to solve this problem was to create an anonymous gossip blog, going to this extreme to continue to validate his individuality complex, creating a narrative that he was different, that he was unique, that he was an outsider. Even when his father and his Upper-East Side friends implied or even outright stated that this wasn’t true,he became angry and upset, admonishing that he was different, and he wasn’t like them. This behavior continued after Dan’s presence grew on the Upper East Side: he went on to publish a New York Times bestseller, and his dad married one of the richest women in the city. It’s possible that this individuality complex was created by his original exclusion from his rich friends, due to the fact that they were born into Upper East Side culture, and had experienced it for their entire lives, already knowing each other. He justified this to himself by creating a story in his head that he was only excluded because he wasn’t like them, and better, making himself a main character in the Gossip Girl narrative.

Chuck: The Phaeton Complex

CREDIT: Gossip Girl Wiki

Chuck’s father is one of the most prominent villains in the show, resurfacing after his alleged death in the second season. The third season is filled with a wild-goose-chase for the true identity of his mother, continuing on into the sixth season. It gets so complicated that hardly anyone can keep the story straight. Having watched the show three times, one cannot be entirely sure of the true identity of his mother. The villainous nature of his father, and the absent and unknown one of his mother affect Chuck in the form of a Phaeton Complex. Phaeton complexes are named after a greek demigod, Phaeton, son of Helios who had not been present throughout his childhood. Eventually when he met his father, Phaeton demanded to drive the sun chariot, despite Helios’ warnings that it was very dangerous and would likely kill him. Phaeton’s reckless wish was likely caused by a need to impress yet defy his father, to prove that he could do Helios’ job and to make his father regret abandoning him when he was a baby. Unfortunately, Phaeton did crash Helios’ chariot and perished in the flames. Phaeton’s namesake complex manifests itself as a ‘painful combination of thoughts and emotions caused by the absence, loss, coldness, or traumatizing behavior of one or both parents, resulting in frustration and aggression’ as described by Maryse Choisy, French philosophical journalist.

 During the first two seasons, while Chuck was still in high school, he attempted to capture the respect of his father, creating various business ventures, all of which his father decided were unworthy of his time. When his father dies, he feels a mixture of loss but also deep anger towards his father for never loving him, attributing this to what he believes to be his dead mother. When his mother eventually resurfaces, he wants absolutely nothing to do with her, trying to pay her off so that she’ll leave him alone. This continues to manifest in his relationship with Blair. It’s close to impossible for him to show vulnerability towards her, and it takes him two seasons for him to eventually admit that he loves her. Not knowing love and care as a child, he is afraid of it as an adult. Both emotional and physical absence of parents contribute towards his complex.

Jenny: The Icarus Complex

CREDIT: Gossip Girl Wiki

Jenny and Dan: both raised in the same household, yet turn out as very different people. While Dan is close to his father, and enjoys his company, Jenny creates complete familial upheaval multiple times in her quest for independence. A complex which fits her behavior would be the lesser-known, Icarus complex. Another complex with Greek origins, the Icarus complex is used to describe characters and people who are incredibly over-ambitious. In Greek mythology, Icarus was the son of the famous inventor Daedalus who perished during the escape with his father from the Labyrinth. Daedalus and Icarus escaped on mechanical bronze wings fastened with wax, but Icarus was too immature and could not resist the freedom and the feeling of flying so he flew too close to the sun, despite his father’s dire warnings, and died when the wax of his wings melted them off. People with Icarus complexes are typically very narcissistic, and have a continued sense of adolescence into their adult lives. This translates into them being unafraid to disrupt the lives of others, even their loved ones, in order to achieve their ambitions. 

Like Icarus, Jenny is overconfident about her own abilities. After receiving an internship with Eleanor Waldorf Designs at the age of fifteen, she continues to gain confidence as Eleanor takes a liking to her and her model friend Agnes urges her on. Tension continues to build as Jenny stops going to school, moves out, and eventually tries to file for emancipation. This culminates in her friend Agnes burning her dresses and kicking her out. Jenny has to sleep on her friend Eric’s couch. Jenny is naturally independent and confident, and this is exemplified by the validation she receives from her adult mentors and friends. 

We set out to use Gossip Girl as an “experiment” to test the claim that everyone has a psychological complex. While teen dramas like Gossip Girl tend to have characters who do extreme things when they’re upset, to add to the plot, looking into what could really be going on on a deeper level can give one a lot of insight onto the behaviours of similar people in our own lives. We did manage to assign each of the main characters, excluding Nate, with a psychological complex but showing that the incredibly dramatic, unrealistic, and yet altogether fantastic universe of Gossip Girl produces characters with some issues certainly does not come as a surprise. And whether this shows that EVERYONE has a complex? Sadly, that continues to remain a mystery. Maybe we all have psychological complexes, or maybe we’re all just complex.


Shreya and Altea

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