Adrian Monk

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Kathryn Wyckoff


Adrian Monk, played by Tony Shalhoub, stars in what was the hit television show, Monk, on the USA Network, before the season finale last year. His colleagues know Monk as a psychologically ill, crime scene genius. He pays extreme attention to everything and his greatest gift is his photographic memory. The plot begins before the first episode when audience learns that Monk's wife, Trudy, was murdered by a car bomb, leaving her friends and family in complete shock and without answers as to why she was killed or who killed her. This traumatic event leaves Monk almost functionless, only adding to the many anxieties and phobias he already experiences. Monk hires a personal nurse to take care of every aspect that controls his life; Sharona is his support and continues to be when the show begins.
Years go by and Monk has made some progress, with the help of his psychiatrist, Dr. Krooger, who becomes a very important figure in Monk's life. In the first few episodes, Monk is in a functioning mental state, yet he is as obsessive compulsive as ever and still exhibiting many anxieties that are too great in number to name. He dresses in the same beige suite and white oxford everyday with everything pressed and fitted flawlessly. His entire life revolves around his anal traits and need for perfection, which seems neurotic to most everyone he knows. It becomes clear from watching the show that Monk was not the most popular kid in school growing up. He is an introvert, both shy and timid and wanting no one to know his inner thoughts, along with many other qualities that are seen as negative regarding personality. In fact, there are often flashbacks shown during certain episodes depicting Monk's college life, his first encounters with Trudy, and how appalling their relationship was for many to fathom, as she was beautiful, outgoing and strong-willed, everything that Monk was not.
Mental illness runs in Monk's family, which is apparent when his brother Ambrose is introduce. Ambrose suffers from sever agoraphobia (fear of leaving one's own home), and the two brothers have a very odd and somewhat distant relationship. Monk hires a new personal nurse, Nathalie, to take care of him when Sherona leaves to go live with her ex-husband. This change is quite difficult for Monk to endure, yet he slowly allows Nathalie and her daughter, Julie, into his life.
Although a bit neurotic, Monk was a well known, and well respected homicide detective for the San Francisco Police Department before he went into his catatonic state, and although his job has not been reinstated, he works alongside Captain Stottlemyer and fellow homicide detective, Randy, to solve numerous murder mysteries that seem impossible to everyone else. He is called in to solve the cases that no one else can wrap their heads around casing his peers to envy him, because he is simply the best, nothing gets past Monk. The show is quirky and humorous, because of Monk's outrageous practices, gestures, and superstitions, which makes it different from every other serious, murder-mystery based television show out there.

Psychoanalytic Perspective
Adrian Monk seems to be stuck in what Freud would call the "anal stage" of his theory of psychosexual development. By definition this stage leaves a person fixated on extreme needs to be neat and organized, which explains how the term "anal-retentive" got its name. Monk is highly obsessive compulsive, to the point that everything must be in order, including placement of objects, or the grouping foods by color on a single plate, or the precise measurements of how a picture frame will hang on a wall, or touching as many side walk squares that are present between point A and point B. He is carefully accurate in everything that he does or touches and demands cleansing wipes after every handshake he encounters. One of Monk’s downfalls though, which is a side effect of being fixated in this stage, is his passive aggressiveness. He allows people take advantage of his passiveness which appears as naivety to some, making him an easy target for other’s jokes.

This anal psychosexual development is established from the toilet-training years of one to one and a half years of age. At this time, the child decides either to abide by the parents demands regarding the excretion of bodily wastes, or to listen to their own desires and pleasures and gain control of their own abilities. At this point a child can either purposefully avoid excretion at the appropriate time, which in most cases is on the toilet, or a child can choose hold in their feces causing parents to become annoyed and the child to gain pleasure in the built up strain on their internal organs and their ability to control the timing of the result. In the first case, Freud believes that the child will grow into an anal expulsive character therefore displaying disorganization and carelessness. Contrary to this development is if the child chooses the second outcome, in which they will grow into an anal retentive character who shows orderly and meticulous behaviors, like Monk (Stevenson, 1992). This occurs when parents are too strict on children when encouraging the use of the toilet or begin potty training when a child is not ready. Freud believes that a child resulting from this style of parenting will grow up to have an obsessive and rigid personality (Cherry).
In an interview, actor Tony Shalhoub reveals that he prepared for playing the role of Adrian Monk by researching, and watching many videotapes of people who had obsessive compulsive disorder. Also, Shaloub admits, " I drew on various tendencies and impulses I have in my own life and, sort of, magnified them"( Grenada). It seems that though Monk is a fictional character, it seems his painstaking attention to detail and ritualistic behaviors stem from a clear anal-retentive development as a result of a fixation on the anal stage of Freud's psychosexual theory.

Trait Approach

Because Monk suffers from obsessive compulsive disorder he is at a high risk for a comorbidity of many other psychological illnesses. The Trait approach states that individual personalities are made up of a wide variety of character. Since Monk sensitive to situational changes and imperfections, he is subject to being grouped as having an abnormal personality because he is different when really it is our differences that make up our distinct nature. Being so impressionable is a downfall of Monks, but as Gordon Allport defines it, our personal dispositions describe those traits that are individually particular. Cardinal dispositions, according to Allport's trait approach, refer to the personal traits we have that reflect overwhelmingly in our behaviors. These specific traits could not better explain Monk's obsessive thoughts and his tendency to implement them into compulsive behaviors. It is very clear while watching the show that Monk has some kind of psychological illness, although some may not realize that it is severe OCD. Many factors play a role in the onset of obsessive compulsive disorder yet by this time in adulthood, the behaviors have become so very habitual that they have become independent from where they began, and are therefore unimportant, which explains Allport's trait theory of Functional Autonomy. Monk's Proprium, the core of one's personality, is complex simply because he is a complex individual, but can be defined in terms of his ratings on the Big Five dimensions of personality. For starters, Monk scores extremely low in extraversion. This trait can be characterized by the inclination to be talkative, or social, or outwardly express high levels of emotion and assertiveness, all of which oppose Monk's actual traits typifying him as an introvert. Next on the Big Five factor model of personality is agreeableness. This trait is commonly associated with sincere kindness, selflessness, trust and some other traits related to high social skills. Again, Monk shows minimal signs of an agreeable personality, like when he fails to deposit a check for not yet having solved a case when his nurse, Nathalie, has not been payed in a timely manner. Aside from this he does exude strong capability to be trusted. In the episode, "Mr. Monk and the Rapper" Monk takes a case in which the odds are against client, yet he takes the case and gives the rapper, Snoop dog, his word that he will solve the mystery. He respects his promise as he always does, and solves the case proving his client's innocence, and finding the true killer, as he always does. This also ties into another of the Big Five traits: conscientiousness, which defines a person who is dependable, cautious and organized. In terms of Conscientiousness, Monk scores extremely high, possessing most all of the traits in the category. He is cautious in every aspect of his life, like owning two levelers at the risk that one may be off balance, and having them checked each year to make sure they are not broken (hence his obsessive compulsive behaviors). As it can be well predicted, Monk scores extremely high on Neuroticism, meaning, he shows emotional volatility and anxiety, which is clear among many descriptions. Last on the Big Five evaluation of Monk is Openness. Assessing Monk in terms of this trait is difficult because he lies in both ends of the spectrum as far as defining characteristics. On one end, he is imaginative and awfully insightful, yet on the other end he is also simple and limited in his interests, which is present in the of of his daily routines that he does not stray away from if possible(Cherry). The Trait Theory approach makes what is a complicated personality to interpret, like Monk's, one that can be explained in terms that most people can relate to and can therefore compare the traits that are unique to them which is the ultimate premise of this theory.


Personality can never be explained in one word, and in Adrian Monk's case, it cannot even be explained in one hundred words. Through these approaches to personality it simplified the assessment process of his overall personality. On the outside it is clear that Monk was obsessive compulsive and a bit neurotic, but I had never understood magnitude by which these traits could be explained. As a character with such multidimensional facets it is not surprising the way in which Monk rated on the Big Five personality traits, neither was his strong association to anal-retentiveness. Unknowing much about Monk's childhood and the ways in which he was brought up, I would have to predict that his parents fell under Freud's category of those who strictly encouraged toilet training at a young age, which caused him to turn out as an overly organized, neat-freak, with obsessive mannerisms. Monk's actions can be quite silly at times, but they are what make his character unlike any other; they keep him the interesting being that he is. Not to mention, I find that i can relate to Monk in many ways in terms of what seem to others as unnecessary behaviors that can cause some type of anxiety at times, but we all have our own rituals that seem to make no sense from an outsider's perspective. It is essential to acknowledge Allport's concept individual traits that define each person's personality. This theory allows us to identity the uniqueness that no one shares, but also the aspects of character in which we do share in a broader sense, allowing us to narrow one's personality in terms that can be explained and related. Monk embodies many traits, yet at the same time he identified by these refined approaches to personality, which best suit him.

Monk episodes, seasons 1-8 Sevenson, B, David. (1992). Freud's psychosexual stages of development. Retrieved from Cherry, Kendra. (n.d.). Freud's stages of psychosexual development.Retrieved from Interview By: Liz Grenada Cherry, Kendra. (n.d.). The "big five" personality dimensions. Retrieved from v=ht9YN_BTOOk