Jul 09

“Baby Reindeer”: Multiple Traumas and Themes

Baby Reindeer, a realistic and popular series on Netflix, tells the true-ish story of Scottish comedian/actor/writer Richard Gadd, the victim of a relentless stalker.

In order to address the various themes of Baby Reindeer, including another actual instance of severe trauma Gadd endured in his twenties, I am providing some spoilers. 

Victimization of a Male By a Female

Bartender (and aspiring comedian) Donny Dunn (played by Gadd) sympathizes with Martha (Jessica Gunning), a sullen and broke bar patron he’s just met. He cuts her a break, and it (the stalking) gets its origins.

Kaytee Gillis, LCSW-BACS, Psychology Today, points out a few things, these included:

    • The invasive stalking is misunderstood and/or mocked by many in his sphere.
    • Some wrongheadedly blame the victim.
    • The offender finds ways to skirt the authorities.

Nicholas Balaisis,PhD, RP, Psychology Today, theorizes that attachment theory can explain Donny’s vulnerability to “abuse and manipulation” as well as his traits of conflict-avoidance and people-pleasing that contribute to the ongoing dynamics involved.

Victimization of a Male by a Male

Before the stalking episode, Donny had fallen prey to an experienced writer, Darrien (Tom Goodman-Hill), who was ostensibly a potential writing mentor but was actually a groomer who on multiple occasions plied him with drugs and sexually assaulted him.

Effects of Sexual Trauma

Silva Neves, Psychology Today:

One of the most common questions that survivors are asked is why they kept going back to the abuser after they were raped. Often, survivors blame themselves for it: I must have liked it; I must have wanted it; Maybe I was the one who seduced him. But the reality is that it is none of those reasons. Sexual abuse most often happens within that tight web of deep psychological manipulation to disable the survivor from finding a way out of it…

Changes in sexual behaviors often occur after rape, often accompanied by additional self-blame and shame. Donny’s “changed in a way that may be perceived ‘out of control’ or ‘hypersexual’…”

Romantic Relationship with a Trans Woman

Teri (Nava Mau) also happens to be a therapist. She gets much of what he’s going through and makes helpful observations—but of course can’t fix him.

Silva Neves, Psychology Today: “It was refreshing to see a trans woman as a person who was authentic to herself, grounded, with a good job, living a ‘normal’ life, but without ignoring the discrimination that currently exists against trans people.”

Cyclical Nature of Abuse/Trauma

Hurt people hurt people, the saying goes. For example, Teri winds up getting hurt by Donny as well as by Martha.

An intergenerational example: Donny’s father was probably abused in childhood by at least one Catholic priest. Parents with their own unresolved childhood trauma often fail to teach sufficient boundaries to their offspring.

Martha’s Mental Illness

Chrissy Callahan, Today.com: Therapist Avigail Lev speculates that Martha has both borderline personality disorder and erotomania, a delusional disorder in which one’s attention becomes highly fixated on someone. Her borderline tendencies include wild love/hate swings and lack of emotional regulation.

By the way, a stuffed reindeer (hence, “baby reindeer”) was Martha’s object of comfort amidst her own childhood trauma.

Donny’s Mental Health Issues

Lev cites the possibilities of PTSD and Stockholm syndrome, the latter a “psychological response where hostages or abuse victims develop a bond with their captors or abusers.”

In addition, “Donny could also be trauma bonding with Martha, which occurs when a victim feels ‘increasingly worthless and ashamed due to the abuser’s actions’ and ‘becomes dependent on their abuser to alleviate the suffering they cause.'”