Jenny from Forrest Gump Personality Trait Analysis

1 January 2017

We first meet Jenny when she altruistically offers Forrest the seat next to her on the bus when all the other children said “this seat’s taken. ” After that Jenny and Forrest became best friends with her teaching Forrest to read and stood up to his bullies, while Forrest stayed with her and prayed when Jenny’s father would yell at her in his drunken stupor. Jenny’s father physically and sexually abused her sisters and her throughout their childhood which has a lasting effect on Jenny. The development of a sense of self is thought to be one of the earliest developmental tasks of the infant and young child, typically unfolding in the context of early relationships. How a child is treated (or maltreated) early in life influences his or her growing self-awareness. As a result, severe child maltreatment – including early and sustained sexual abuse – may interfere with the child’s development of a sense of self” (Briere & Elliott, 1994, p. 58).

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As well as being kind and altruistic to Forrest, Jenny is also averagely intelligent – she teaches Forrest to read, courageous and supportive – she stands by Forrest when the other boys bully him and because she tell him to “run Forrest, run! ” he breaks out of his leg braces and finds a talent in running, extremely fast that gets him a football scholarship to the University of Alabama. As they get older, Jenny becomes more flighty and untamed. She cannot stay committed to something and develops a high level of promiscuity. Sexual arousal and positive sexual attention can temporarily mask or dispel chronic abuse-related emotional pain by providing more pleasurable or distress-incompatible experiences” (Briere & Elliott, 1994, p. 61). She is determined to get out of Alabama and make something of herself by any means necessary and risque behavior is the easiest way for her to do it. “Hedonic and eudemonic happiness reflect two distinct psychological states. By trying to maximize pleasures and avoiding displeasures, the hedonic approach induces a fluctuation happiness in which phases of pleasure and displeasure alternated repeatedly.

The experience of pleasure is by nature fleeting and dependent up circumstances” (Dambrun & Ricard, 2011, p. 139). In college Forrest finds her kissing another boy in his car and mistakes it for a physical attack resulting in the boy getting hit. After yelling at Forrest she sneaks him into her dorm for the night. Later she gets kicked out of the all-girls’ college for posing in Playboy magazine. When Forrest is in the army and visit’s Jenny to hear her sing (she wanted to be a folk singer like Joan Baez), he finds her singing and playing guitar naked with some male patrons harassing her.

Again, Forrest steps in and hits the men to protect Jenny. She gets mad at Forrest at first but then laments on how dire her life is how depressed she is, and has thought about ending it. Through all the emotions, Jenny still cares deeply for Forrest and tells him to “not to be brave and run” when he tells her he is going to Vietnam. While Forrest is over in Vietnam fighting, Jenny has become a hippie and travels the country with ‘friends. ’ The two are reunited during a war rally and Jenny takes Forrest to a Black Panthers party where her boyfriend Wesley is and ends up hitting Jenny with Forrest witnessing this.

Forrest comes to Jenny’s defense and punches Wesley and she leaves with Forrest. They end up talking all night but in the morning when they are saying goodbye, Jenny goes back to Wesley. The next time we see Jenny is when she is high on some kind of drug (most likely cocaine). “It is possible that the use of certain drugs occasionally generates what we call selflessness. Such experiences are temporary, as they depend on the psychopharmacological actions of the substances” (Dambrun & Ricard, 2011, p. 151). There is a man sleeping in the bed and she goes out onto the balcony, climbs up on the railing and prepares to jump.

She changes her mind but is obviously distraught and has a mental breakdown, crying. Sometime afterwards, she goes back to Greenbow, Alabama and Forrest. They are happy for a short time; Jenny even confronting the house she was born in and lived with her father but one night Forrest asks her to marry him and she rejects him saying she is not the kind of girl he wants to marry. “Researchers found those with a history of abuse experienced greater symptomatic distress, poorer interpersonal functioning, and lower self-esteem compared with a clinical sample with no abuse history” (Price, et al. 2004, p. 379). Hurt and angry, Forrest walks away but later that night Jenny comes to him, tells him she does love him and they have sex. The instinct to flee rears its head and by the time Forrest wakes up in the morning, Jenny has left. “Individuals who experience emotionally abusive attachment relationships in childhood are at a distinct disadvantage in interpersonal contexts because they develop a distorted understanding of what loving and caring relationships involve” (Riggs, Cusimano & Benson, 2011, p 126).

A few years and a lot of running later, Forrest goes to visit Jenny at her request. Upon arriving at her apartment, she tells Forrest how she kept up with all the articles about his running escapades and they catch up. During the visit, Jenny’s son is dropped off by the sitter and Forrest finds out that he is the child’s father and given the same name. Jenny tells Forrest she is sick and dying so Forrest takes her and little Forrest back to Greenbow with him. Shortly after settling in, Jenny asks Forrest to marry her and he agrees.

They are a happy family for a few months before Jenny passes away, leaving Forrest to take care of Forrest Jr. “Traits contribute substantially to many important outcomes such as academic performance, occupational attainment, divorce, life satisfaction, subjective well-being, physical illness, and longevity” (Kotov, et al. , 2010, p. 770). Applying Jenny’s personality with the more tangibly measurable trait theory and the different factor models of Eysenck, Cattell, and McCrae & Costa we see that she is an extrovert (i. . outgoing and sociable). She has no problem engaging in conversations with new people – allowing Forrest to sit with her, meeting and greeting his friends at their wedding, and as a waitress you interact with customers; she is not afraid to be in large crowds – the public speech in Washington, D. C. , the Black Panthers party, getting on the bus full of hippies; and she has no qualms being in the spotlight – singing and playing guitar naked on stage and jumping into the reflection pool at the political rally in D.

C. She is not truly emotionally stable but not neurotic, has little impulse control, is very open and agreeable, and not all conscientious. “At the trait level, Negative Affect (NA) is a broad and pervasive predisposition to experience negative emotions that has further influences on cognition, self-concept, and world view. In contrast, Positive Affect (PA) is a dimension reflecting one’s level of pleasurable engagement with the environment” (Watson & Clark, 1988, p. 347). The list of traits that describe her are: ociable, lively, active, sensation seeking, venturesome, depressed, feelings of guilt, low self-esteem, impulsive, creative, sometimes submissive with men other than Forrest, low in super ego, self-reliant (but semi-dependent on men at the same time), group dependent, prefers to join and follow others, uncontrolled, outgoing, warm-hearted, bold, adventurous, liberal, experimenting, resourceful, independent, insecure, fun loving, affectionate (physically at least), daring, good-natured, soft-hearted, trusting, courteous. Neuroticism and extraversion, both traits have strong and systematic links to emotional experience. Specifically, neuroticism is strongly and broadly correlated with individual differences in negative affectivity, whereas extraversion is strongly associated with positive emotionality” (Watson, Gamez & Simms, 2005, p. 48).

The psychodynamic perspective finds Jenny with a med-high life instinct, high libido, and high death instinct because of her drive to do whatever it takes to provide food and water (alcohol) for herself, her constant need for intimacy and relationships as well as alcohol and drugs to bring herself pleasure, and because of these actions she is slowly decaying and destroying her body and mind (Shultz & Shutlz, 2009, p. 55). With Jenny her Id is in charges and is more prominent that her ego and superego. Or rather her ego does an extremely poor job of maintaining balance between the other two.

She is always involved in something that provides instant gratification and breaks societal rules and norms of the time; posing for playboy, stripping, becoming a hippie, drug and alcohol use, premarital sex, child out of wedlock, and cohabitation (Shultz & Shutlz, 2009, p. 57). “It seems likely that sustained drug or alcohol abuse allows the abuse survivor to separate psychologically from the environment, anesthetize painful internal states, and blur distressing memories” (Briere & Elliott, 1994, p. 60).

The different defense mechanisms she exhibits are repression, reaction formation, rationalization, and displacement. Everything Jenny does is to hide/replace/ make up for all the abuse she suffered at the hands of her father. The sex, drugs, and alcohol use is a show of blatant disregard for societal norms and her way of trying to be a different person than that weak child she was. “In all societies, training of children occurs, and social controls are in place to ensure that children are socialized – that is, brought up in such a way that each new generation acquires the prescribed atterns of beliefs and behaviors” (Maccoby, 2000, p. 2). Jenny’s father’s actions were counterproductive with “training” her to respect societal dictations, causing Jenny to socialize in a way that disobeyed society. She sometimes takes her frustrations out on Forrest, but not in an aggressive way but more of an unintentional manipulative way. Jenny can be said to be stuck in the anal stage because she is resistant to submitting to society’s dictates, doing things to act out against society.

Like a toddler who “defecates when and where the parents disapprove, thus defying their attempts at regulation” (Shultz & Shutlz, 2009, p. 66). Jenny is the toddler and society is the disapproving parent. Jenny’s scene in Forrest Gump are sporadic but when we do see her we notice the progression from innocent child, seemingly happy to adult who is destructive and masking the pain of her inner demons. Retrospective evidence indicates that memories of childhood emotional abuse are significantly related to poor interpersonal skills, insecure attachment style, and relationship dysfunctional in adulthood” (Riggs, Cusimano & Benson, 2011, p. 127). She makes many mistakes and bad choices but eventually ends up becoming a good mother and wife who learns responsibility and to let true love in. Psychodynamic theory was chosen because Jenny’s father affected her so much with his sexual and physical abuse. Physiological changes could be the effect of sexualization or, alternatively, one of its sources, it suggests how profound and pervasive the impact of sexual abuse can be” (Kendall-Takett, Williams & Finkelhor, 1993, p. 173). Psychodynamic theory is about the inner conflict a person has; their thoughts and feelings that have been repressed bubbles to the top and creates undesirable manifestations of behaviors. This theory thrives on “the importance of childhood experience in shaping adult behavior” (Shultz & Shultz, 2009, p. 91).

Even though as a child she seemed nothing like her father, once she was older she subconsciously behaved very similar to him with her alcohol and drug use – methods she used to cover her pain from the abuse. If her childhood was just a little different (i. e. her father was not abusive or her mother was still alive) then she might have been a better well-adjusted as an adult and not turned to the toxic coping methods she did. “A child is unable to resolve fear and reduce anxiety, leading to chronic activation of the fight – or – flight mechanism and a dysregulation of arousal. As a result, children do ot learn how to manage their emotional states effectively and develop negative views of the self as inept, damaged, and contemptible, as well as negative views of others as hurtful, betraying, and cruel” (Riggs, Cusimano & Benson, 2011, p. 127). Even though we are shown snippets of Jenny’s life, they are ones of very obvious behavior that is easily measured which is why the trait theories are chosen. Many different and sometimes contradicting traits make Jenny a complex person but her behavior patterns can be readily categorized and identified according to the trait theory.

Twin studies show up to fifty percent of personality is inherited. We do not know what Jenny’s father was like before her mother died but we can speculate that her death attributed significantly to many of the father’s coping methods (alcohol and pedophilia/incest) Personality does not change much over time though we see Jenny go from self destructive and self indulgent young adult to responsible mother, had she not been dying and needing someone she could trust to look after little Forrest, she probably would never have contacted Forrest informing him he had a son.

She married Forrest to ensure he would not lose custody of little Forrest, not because she changed he mind about marriage. She did not necessarily want to change her lifestyle; she had to change her lifestyle because there was someone else in it. If she had not gotten pregnant Jenny might have ended up actually taking her own life in a drug-induced high, thus showing her to still have selfish tendencies to her personality. As Jenny’s father suffers from alcoholism so too does Jenny becomes dependent on alcohol as well as other drugs.

Additionally, her father has a problem with sex – he likes to be intimate with his daughters. When Jenny becomes an adult, she is seen numerous times in intimate situation with men, including Forrest. Until she decides to be with Forrest shortly before her death the men she is with are very similar to her father, which supports Freud’s concept of the Oedipal complex (kill the mother to marry the father), though obviously not literally.

We see Jenny jump from many dangerous and questionable experiences throughout the movie, such as performing naked in a bar, traveling the country in a hippie bus, and going to a Black Panther party, sleeping with many men, and even attempting to end her life by jumping off a hotel balcony. Jenny is also not afraid to interact with new people or stand up for Forrest throughout their lives. She cannot stay focused on one experience for too long and works hard at keeping Forrest (the only person she shows she truly cares about) at a distance.

For one, she does not think she is good enough for him, feeling she is damaged goods from her father’s abuse and also because she’s afraid if she lets him close she will let those internal demons ruin the only good and pure thing she has in her life (before little Forrest comes along) hurting her even more than her past has. “Childhood maltreatment in general has been associated with adult relationship instability (Coleman & Widom, 2004), problems with intimacy, sexuality, and conflict resolution (DiLillo, et al. 2007); and intimate partner violence (Whitfield, et al. , 2003) (as cited in Riggs, Cusimano & Benson, 2011, p. 127). These sensation seeking – drug and alcohol use, attempting suicide, hippie activities, sneaking Forrest into her dorm, and performing naked on a stage; sociable – being a waitress, traveling with other hippies, meeting and greeting at her wedding; venturesome – performing naked on stage, traveling with hippies, jumping into the reflection pool in D. C. impulsive – how she comes and goes in and out of Forrest’s life, traveling with hippies (by nature they “go where the wind takes them” and will change course at the drop of a hat), even allowing Forrest to sit with her on the bus. “Disinhibition (or impulsivity, novelty/sensation seeking, low conscientiousness/constraint): one or more of the indicators for this trait are related to multiple measures of substances use including drug dependence severity, polydrug use, recency of use, earlier age of onset, family history of addiction, and poor treatment response.

Disinhibitory traits are also related to various indicators of personality-related problems, including current and lifetime depression and anxiety symptoms and diagnoses, global psychiatric severity, childhood abuse, HIV risk, suicidality, attention-concentration problems, violence, and criminality” (Ball, 2004, p. 91); tough-minded: how she is willing to do what it takes to escape her childhood – though her ways are not positive – and experience the life outside of Greenbow Alabama, depressed – the ways she tries to escape the pain of her childhood.

She admits to Forrest how hopeless about her life she feels and how sad she is. She gets heavily involved in drugs and alcohol and almost jumps off a hotel balcony. “Escape from extreme psychic pain – that is, depression, anxiety, or extreme hopelessness – is a commonly expressed motivation for suicide” (Briere & Elliott, 1994, p. 0); feelings of guilt (how she resists a real meaningful and loving relationship with Forrest for the majority of her life because she does not feel she is good enough for him and instead we see her with one man who obviously just wants her sexually, a man who hits her and another man who does drugs with her; and low self-esteem – all of the previously mentioned actions are partly because she feels she is damaged and does not deserve true ‘normal’ happiness. Her father destroyed her self-esteem and self-worth when he put his hands on her. It is the damaged self-image, not the sexual abuse per se, that leads to other difficulties” (Kendall-Takett, Williams & Finkelhor, 1993, p. 174), are all examples of why she scores high in the trait theorist’s categories of extrovert, low impulse control, low emotional stability, high in openness, high in agreeableness, and low/non-existent in conscientiousness. Jenny’s societal and cultural influences are intertwined and overlap. She comes from a poor family but has been educated in public school systems and a private college (though she did not finish because she was expelled for posing in Playboy magazine).

Forrest and Jenny’s young adult and adult years were spent during the 1960’s and 1970’s when sex and drugs were indulged by many including Jenny herself. “We have very little control over pleasant and unpleasant sensations, even though we try hard to achieve the first and avoid the latter. We strive for pleasure, experiencing it temporarily or not at all. We try to avoid all unpleasant experiences and yet are confronted with them repeatedly” (Dambrun & Ricard, 2011, p. 139).

Civil rights movement, hippies protesting the Vietnam war, and the sexual revolution – all countercultural events – occurred during an impressionable stage of development for the youth of America and with Jenny trying to escape her past, fit right in with the other lost souls of this time. Jenny knows right from wrong, even if she does not always abide by societal standards. She maintains her basic kindness and caring all the while acting flighty and selfish. Forrest is a big external influence throughout her life. He is her link to the ‘good’ in the world and helps remind her that real love exists if she only lets him past her internal wall.

Jenny did not have an easy childhood. Actions of her father caused major repercussions that reverberate throughout the rest of her life. Because of these horrendous actions Jenny was unable to become a well-adjusted adult for constant feelings of depression and unworthiness. She spent her entire adult life trying to fill the void with pleasant feelings and suppress the painful memories of her youth. By the end of her short life she redeemed herself by taking care of her child and allowing Forrest his ultimate happiness of being a family. References Ball, S. A. (2005).

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