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The Role of Trauma in Netflix Series 'You' Season 3

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The popular Netflix series, “You,” recently released its third season. The series, which is based on Caroline Kepnes’ novels, “You” and “Hidden Bodies,” is largely focused on Joe, a murderous and obsessive man with numerous mental health struggles. In previous seasons, it was easy to see Joe as a psychopath due to his severe obsessions and violence with women, but there is more to Joe’s mental state than meets the eye. In the third season, we see more of Joe’s background as an abused child, which led to his development of antisocial personality disorder, narcissism and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Studies have shown a clear link between the development of post-traumatic stress disorder and personality disorders, particularly that of antisocial personality disorder, which is often the result of trauma in adolescence as well as negative or broken attachments. All of which Joe had experienced as a child. Even though he has been portrayed as an obsessive murderer in previous
seasons, he is actually also incredibly sensitive, and we see more of this side of
him throughout the season.

Growing up, Joe became parentless when his mother abandoned him, and he grew up in a group home where he was profoundly mistreated by the other boys in the house. From an early age, Joe didn’t learn how to develop a positive attachment style due to his abandonment and mistreatment, which led to the development of narcissism, antisocial personality disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder. Narcissism is often a protective mechanism that stems from abuse and feeling unimportant.

It can be inferred that because Joe was abandoned by his mother, but continued to hold her in high regard, he developed an unhealthy outlook on love and developed toxic codependency. Joe’s development of obsessions with different women often leads to violence due to his inability to create and maintain positive relationships, and he often resorts to violence when he feels as though he is being abandoned. He also tends to hold women hostage when he is interested in them,
because he doesn’t know how to form healthy relationships. It can also be seen that Joe’s fear of abandonment leads him to possess anyone he becomes infatuated with out of a fear of unreciprocated feelings.

Season three of “You” is unique in that Joe becomes a father, and we get to see more of his childhood and his insecurities in becoming a parent. After finding out that he is having a son, rather than a daughter like he had hoped, Joe becomes distraught. He fears that he won’t be able to protect his son, Henry, from what he himself was subjected to as a child, and he struggles to form a connection with him. Eventually, Joe finds purpose in keeping Henry safe, and this endeavor becomes a main focus of his.

Joe meets many relationship challenges in season three with his partner, Love
Quinn, his son and newfound friends, which shows us a different side of
him. He struggles with forming connections, which could be seen as a protective mechanism due to his childhood abuse with other children, but he discovers that he has more of an ability to create relationships than he previously thought. Unfortunately, Joe does become infatuated with numerous new women which leads to more violence and obsessions that take him away from his new family.

Trauma isn’t the primary cause of Joe’s antisocial and narcissistic tendencies, but it does play a big part in the development of such disorders and behaviors. It is time that we take trauma into account when addressing these disorders and see them for what they are: coping mechanisms. Love and connection are primary factors that we often seek, and they are Joe’s primary motivation as well.

Header image via Netflix’s Facebook

Originally published: October 21, 2021
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