‘You’: Mental Health Experts Say Penn Badgley’s Joe Is Not a Psychopath

Penn Badgley, the actor who plays Joe Goldberg on You is putting a new spin on the term “bad boy.” For some reason, many women are attracted to dangerous, attractive men, and Joe certainly fits this role, but his behavior in You goes too far. Some are even referring to him as a psychopath. While this may seem like a fitting way to describe Joe, it’s not a technically accurate diagnosis. Here’s why. 

Who is Joe Goldberg from ‘You’?

Penn Badgley in front of repeating background for Netflix's "You"
Penn Badgley at “You” New York series premiere | Jenny Anderson/Getty Images

One of the most popular shows on Netflix, You tells the story of Joe Goldberg, a bookstore manager who has a habit of becoming obsessed with women. He stalks them, and manufacturers situations to win them over. Once in a relationship, he becomes their “protector,” taking revenge on anyone who he feels has wronged the woman, even if that revenge includes murder

In season one, Joe convinces himself that Guinevere Beck is the love of his life. Although, it’s hinted that he’s felt this way before about another woman, Candace, from his past, which ended in disaster.

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Joe learns everything he can about Beck by following her and stalking her social media accounts. He builds a vision of her as a person and what their future will look like together before setting up carefully planned circumstances to bring them together. 

Unknown to Beck, her new boyfriend continues to control her life through manipulation of her friends. Peach, Beck’s best friend, sees through Joe’s charming exterior and tries to warm Beck, but ends up dead. Another victim of Joe’s obsession is Benji, Beck’s ex, who also winds up dead. 

In season two, Joe moves on to another woman after a disastrous ending with Beck. This time, he falls for Love Quinn, a woman with just as many problems around obsession as Joe himself. 

Fans believe Joe Goldberg is a Psychopath

After watching the show, many have claimed that Joe is a psychopath, despite the fact that no diagnosis is given in the script. 

“Love is a crazy b***h it’s true but joe is just a plain old psychopath,” one fan tweeted

Even media articles were using the word psychopath in headlines to refer to Joe, reminding women to look past his pretty face and see the psychopath within. Elle included a survey with their post, asking readers what they thought of Joe.

The choices were between, “Kidnap me, Joe” and “He’s a psychopath, Period.” Luckily, at the time of this writing, 100 percent of readers had chosen the psychopath option, even if it is technically inaccurate. 

Mental health experts say Joe Goldberg is not a psychopath

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He isn’t mentally healthy, but according to experts, Joe isn’t actually a psychopath. In reality, Joe actually shows traits of multiple disorders.

Pamela Rutledge, a social scientist, told Insider that Joe “seems to be an amalgam of personality traits at abnormal levels that are constructed to make a good story and create a character that elicits a certain amount of empathy.”

We have to remember that You is a TV show, and it’s characters aren’t real.  According to Rutledge, Joe seems to exhibit symptoms of a person with both an antisocial personality disorder and narcissistic personality disorder, but very few people with mental disorders act like him in real life.

Another expert told the same news outlet that the backstory we see in season two reveals Joe may also have an attachment disorder related to his childhood trauma. After all, he was locked in a box by the man who was supposed to be his mentor. 

Regardless of the actual wording or diagnosis that viewers give Joe, it does seem to appear that most understand that his behavior isn’t sweet or cute in any way.  While it’s fun to watch these kinds of stories on TV, it’s never okay to behave this way in real life. No one should put up with this behavior from a partner, even if they are as attractive as Badgley.