Psychoanalysis of Perks of Being a Wallflower


Trauma-Perks of Being a Wallflower



Charlie was hospitalized the summer after his best friend dies by suicide

Charlie suffers from symptoms of PTSD and is about to embark on his first year of high school.

Charlie is bright and comes from and middle-class family. Most individuals with PTSD have issues with academic performance. However, Charlie uses his intelligence and love of reading as an escape.


Charlie’s anxiety goes back to the first traumatic event in his life, the death of his Aunt Helen.

His aunt was killed in a car accident when he was a young boy. She was on her way to get him a surprise and he believed it was his fault.

He idolized his Aunt and wished she were there to comfort him as he struggles with starting high school.



Fortunately, Charlie was able to develop friendships. It is when his support group is the strongest, that his symptoms subside. 

As we discussed, PTSD is a chronic and debilitating disorder which may be associated with substance use disorders.  Throughout the movie, we see Charlie experiment with a variety of drugs.



Charlie develops a crush on his friend Sam and experiences his *first* kiss with her.



The amygdala receives sensory information from the five senses, via the thalamus, attaches emotional significance to the input, and then passes along this emotional "evaluation" to the hippocampus.

In accordance with the amygdala’s “evaluation" of importance, the hippocampus is activated to a greater or lesser degree, and functions to organize the new input, and to integrate it with already existing information about similar sensory events.


Under a normal range of conditions, this system works efficiently to consolidate memories according to their emotional priority.

However, at the extreme upper end of hormonal stimulation, as in traumatic situations, a breakdown occurs.

Overwhelming emotional significance registered by the amygdala actually leads to a decrease in hippocampal activation, such that some of the traumatic input is not usefully organized by the hippocampus or integrated with other memories.


“Later in the individual's life, in situations that are vaguely similar to the trauma—perhaps merely because they are startling, anxiety provoking, or emotionally arousing—amygdala-mediated memory traces are accessed more readily than are the more complete, less shrill memories that have been integrated and modified by the hippocampus and the cerebral cortex.”


Charlie experienced alterations in cognition and mood, including an inability to remember aspects of the trauma

Reminders in the environment bring back intrusive memories of his trauma

Drugs can bring on the flashbacks



Charlie was not able to tell Sam how he really feels. He started to get angry because he was not able to reveal his feelings for Sam.

Charlie could not effectively deal with the situation.


1:11:30 1:12

Charlie ends up hitting someone and doesn’t remember the action.

What is this called?



Charlie is lost and doesn’t really know what he wants

He does not understand why he cannot connect with Sam, to whom he is attracted.

Memories are brought back by situations similar to the trauma



The flashbacks become overwhelming for Charlie

Charlie feels guilty, believing that it was his fault that his aunt died

1:31:00 2:30

Charlie blacks out

He projects his feelings of emptiness on to others

He makes excuses for his aunt-*she* had a terrible life

He suffers from disturbed sleep and intrusive flashbacks


Portrayal of Therapy

This movie provides a positive image of therapy and a psychiatric hospital, which is rare in Hollywood.  

This type of film can help eliminate the stigmas toward mental health.

The therapist does not over-step boundaries and helps Charlie deal with his feelings while he re-experiences the trauma.

He is not “cured” after a short stay in the hospital.