Thursday, 19 February 2015

PTSD: Personal Torments of Sam and Dean

- by spnmom

Here's another guest article, this time from spnmom! She's got thinky thoughts about how the boys' lives may have screwed them up, and whether they are suffering from any specific disorders (or 5)!

Let her know your thoughts in the comments.

PTSD: or in this case Personal Torments of Sam and Dean

Disclaimer: I am not a mental health expert, English major or writer. I am just a Supernatural fan who has a tendency to over analyse things!

That being said, I recently saw a headline in my local newspaper, “Split­ second call takes its toll for years”. The article discussed police officers shooting or killing a suspect and the lasting effects on them.

Of course PTSD was also brought up in that discussion. It got me thinking of the Winchesters. The show does that to me sometimes. Totally unrelated events will initiate random thoughts in my head related to Supernatural! (Please tell me I’m not the only one this happens to!) Then there was also Dean’s recent comment to Sam while he was reading Charlie’s psych evaluation and how their evaluation might have read to an outsider at that age. Wouldn’t we love to read it though?

Since there have been numerous comments by fans over the years about Sam and Dean suffering from PTSD I got to thinking. Which can be dangerous. What if it’s more than just PTSD. It reminded me of a training I went to last year on Dissociative Disorders. No, I didn’t just out of the blue decide to attend that conference. I was working with Domestic Violence victims at the time and their traumas have lasting effects, which obviously lead me to think of Sam and Dean’s traumas and how they have coped. Or not coped!

What began as a short online search of Dissociative Disorders and how they could possibly relate to the Winchesters ended up being a bit of a personal journey as well. Which you will be relieved to know I won’t elaborate on.

I found information regarding a link between PTSD and Dissociative Disorders. Which henceforth, I will refer to as DD. (Not to be confused with Demon Dean. Which I will address later.) One definition of DD read ‘causes a change in consciousness, memory, identity or how one views their surroundings, occurring slowly or abruptly and may not happen all the time.” That definition felt totally descriptive of Sam and Dean’s coping mechanisms at different times over the past 10 years. (Maybe even explain some of the canon issues people have sometimes. The boys simply forgot! Oh, I’m so not opening that can of worms!) I mean if one kill can traumatise a police officer with training for years, what must Sam and Dean be going through after years and years of killing, since they were teenagers? And not just monsters, but a few humans as well. Not to mention all the other traumatic experiences they have had!

From that conference I knew that DD ran the spectrum from mild out of body experiences to Multiple Personality Disorders. In my amateur research I found different types of DD. I felt like Sam and Dean have probably experienced most of them at one time or another and maybe still do.

In Dissociative Amnesia a person might simply be unable to remember. Both boys have shown examples of this, albeit admittedly sometimes with some outside influence, such as, demons, angels, head trauma or Death himself. Both of them initially had a lack of or difficulty with Hell memories. Or Sam not remembering everything Soulless Sam did. Maybe it wasn’t just a ‘wall’ protecting his psyche, but a normal human coping mechanism. Of course as brothers they could use this to their advantage as well, so good thing they’ve probably never heard of it. What sibling hasn’t taken a liberty or two of some kind and denied it profusely?

In Dissociative Fugue one can suddenly forget about their past and travel away from home, or what they know as home in the Winchesters’ case. Could this help explain Sam’s year off from hunting, not looking for Dean and his propensity to run off in earlier seasons? Or Dean’s year off with Lisa after Sam jumped in the pit? The description went on to say that a person may even take on a new identity and/or be confused about their identity. I think we all can agree that the boys have questioned who they are, their purpose, and where they belong, several times over the years. Insert Demon Dean here.

Another form, called Dissociative Depersonalised Disorder is a transient form experienced through out of body experiences, a sense of detachment from thoughts or body. A feeling of it all being unreal, or maybe a sense of emotional or physical numbness to the world around them, (can you say Dean Winchester?) and questioning if their memories are even real, (Sam when he was having demon vision dreams.) Then of course there were times where they actually were out of their body physically or figuratively, such as, Sam hallucinating, Dean in the veil, both in heaven or Bobby’s dream. The examples from the Winchester world are too numerous to count in this area.

The most extreme form of DD is Dissociative Identity Disorder, what used to be called Multiple Personality Disorder, with two or more separate identities. Now I know this could be considered a stretch, but might one consider Soulless Sam or Demon Dean here? Obviously outside forces played a part in those, but it could be argued that the after affects would be the same. And then the Body Memories would still occur.

I read it is hypothesised that Body Memory is involuntary and happens when the body itself is capable of storing memories at the cellular level, as opposed to the brain. Basically the memories can be repressed or viewed in a distorted way. Which made me think of Dean’s memory of trying to get Cas out of Purgatory, and his possible PTSD after he got out. I realise there were different thoughts on whether Dean had PTSD because he seemed to enjoy the purity of it all.

A Body Memory can also create phantom pain. Which then got me to thinking of the Mark of Cain now and in the future. Could some of the humming and inflamed redness of the mark be from a body memory? And if and when he does get rid of it what kind of body memory will he be left with? Does Cain suffer from them? Maybe that’s why he asked Dean to kill him.

Where does that lead?

If we think back to the episode with Charlie and how many times they referenced Good Charlie and Bad Charlie as two separate entities and how we all need to find balance it would be easy to say the same of the boys don’t you think? Maybe they both really do have a split personality and certain things trigger each to appear.

We all know Dean is deeply loving, caring, protective and of course a bit of a kid at heart, (okay, maybe more than a bit, but don’t we love that about him?) But at the same time he has a dark side. Can he meld the two and finally except all that he is? Is that what has to happen for him to live with the MOC? Forgiving himself is probably part of the healing that has to take place for him to become one. Maybe the MOC was meant to do that to/for him? Sometimes for healing to take place all the dark stuff needs to come to the surface so we deal with it and stop the denial. Dean is now definitely faced with all he did as a demon. Sometimes it’s easier to give in than to fight. Suppose that is why Dean chose demon after Crowley told him to choose? What did he have to lose? He felt he’d already lost Sam in S9. He let himself totally flip personalities again.

So what about Sam in S9? Why did he get so angry? Was it more than just being possessed? His body was violated and how could that not trigger a strong reaction. John made decisions for him before he left for Stanford that ultimately caused him to run from the family business and try to become someone else. Dean making the decision about angel possession could have triggered a similar response. Although he didn’t physically run, (who could catch him with those long legs anyway!) Sorry I digress. He did run emotionally, and as often happens with feeling betrayed by a loved one he struck out at Dean by attacking Dean the person, instead of the behaviours. (Don’t we all need to learn that lesson?) Hitting him where he knew it would hurt. Mentioning Dean’s fear of abandonment. Hmmm, another trigger? Dean took on the MoC right after that and ergo another Dean personality began to emerge.

And how about Sam’s memories while possessed. Of course he would want to repress them. Who wouldn’t? But when faced with them he talked about seeing ‘his hands’ kill Kevin. Asking himself if that was a real memory and was he responsible. I mean how do these guys differentiate reality anymore? My head is spinning right now just thinking of all the personality switches I’ve mentioned so far.

As S9 progressed Sam was trying to meld it all inside (keep thinking I’m talking about Spock here!­oops digressed again) but instantly switched to his other personality when Dean died and disappeared. Who hasn’t ever been furious with a sibling or loved one, but if someone else does something to them we go to bat for them. So, another trigger. These two are trigger happy in more ways than one it appears. (Not trying to start something there)
So it seems a miracle that after years of trauma the Winchester boys are still fighting and coping. Or are they? They seem to switch personalities more than Sybil. (An old movie you can Google!) They must have deep dark places they’ve locked away their traumatic experiences to survive. But each has their own triggers to switch when needed.

Maybe it’s one of the reasons some fans love the show. Many of us have experienced a deep trauma. Maybe it’s been repressed for years by accident or design. Maybe deep down we began to recognise our past trauma through watching Sam and Dean cope with theirs.

Maybe while we wanted to repress that memory we also recognised our need for healing and we unknowingly latched onto Sam and Dean and this show. Of course these are fictional characters, but they can also reflect our own reality. We’ve all heard fan stories relating how this show got them through a dark time. What a wonderful legacy for the show, cast and crew.

I never dreamt that headline nor my initial enquiry would lead me to all of this. Thank you for reading to the end and taking this journey with me.



  1. Thank you spnmom for the thoughtful article. It reminded me of a scene from season8 where Dean and Cas are discussing what actually happened between them in Purgatory. Then I thought that the given explanation was kinda farfetched, but since Dean's false memory might be a sign of DD ... And yes, when one has to deal with supernatural on the daily basis he just can't be sure of himself and his true identity anymore. I think when Dean back in season7 tells Sam squeesing his hand, "This is real" he insists that the brothers should learn to distinguish between this world (as real) and all supernatural realms where pain and even death can't be considered as such. The idea that the brothers' epic fight could be interpreted as the one against mental diseases and disorders, metaphorically of course!

  2. Thinking about Multiple Personalities,a thought came to me. (They do, occasionally.Some even rational.) What if there is only ONE Winchester, and Sam and Dean are two people within the one. But which is the actual, living Winchester? Is Sam one personality of Dean? Or is Dean one of Sam's personalities?

    1. Now THAT is a very interesting twist. And would create a lot of different options to end the show. (OMG, sorry to even say those words). And obviously TV shows have done some odd endings over the years. I always remember the St. Elsewhere finale and I hated the thought that all of those characters I had grown to love on that show were just illusions in the boys' head.

      I realize that sounds insane because ALL TV characters are fictional. But I'm sure you know what I mean. SPN characters are so REAL to us and we are invested in their lives. So although I think that is definitely a cool thought and could so be true if writers wanted to go that way, I hope they don't. I forever want Sam and Dean to be two real guys.

      Thanks for your thoughts.

  3. I am glad the brothers live in a tv series and not in the real world because both would be a pile of goo right know because all they have gone through. It is only so much that human body and psyche can take. I have actually talked a lot with my inner circle how messed up the boys would be after everything and we all agree that pretty messed up.

    All the people they have lost and died and the about 40-50 years in hell that I think would break anyone 100 times over. Glad you made this article and hope that you will write some more.

    - Lilah

  4. Savvy discussion ! Speaking of which , if anyone needs to fill out a IRS 1099-PATR , my assistant encountered a fillable version here