Euphoria is one of the most beguiling shows that has ever aired. It involves a group of high school students who grapple with drugs, sex, love, social media and money as they come of age while trying to firmly establish their identities. The series’ main character, Rue Bennett, is portrayed by Zendaya. Rue is a recovering teenage drug-addict who endeavors to find her place in the world as part of a group of high school students. She helps them find their own identities while wrestling with her own. Rue’s experiences with drug abuse, anxiety and the passing of her father arguably makes her the most heartwarming and relatable character. Through the lens of Karen Horney’s theory of neurosis and Alfred Adler’s domain of individual psychology, I hope to answer the question: Is Rue Bennett deeply wounded or irreparably broken?
Katherine Horney’s Theory of Neurosis
Horney’s theory postulates that neurosis originates from “basic anxiety” that stems from “disturbed interpersonal relationships during childhood.” The demonstration of genuine affection and warmth towards a child results in them undergoing normal development, but the demonstration of indifference towards a child results in neurosis.
Basic evil occurs when parenting behavior that undermines a child’s security. In the pilot of Euphoria, Rue is diagnosed with bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder and generalized anxiety disorder. Her parents were neither hostile nor vitriolic towards her, but it can be argued that later they began to show indifference towards her. Rue grew up in a middle-class, suburban family and her mental health struggles were taking a toll on her family’s finances. This, coupled with her father being terminally ill from cancer, was too much for Rue’s mother Leslie both from an emotional and financial perspective. Leslie was Rue’s primary caretaker, and was exhausted from being the backbone of the family. Rue’s mental health spiraled out of control and led to the development of her neurotic needs.
Neurotic needs, according to Horney, are needs that almost everyone has that can lead to the development of intense anxiety if not met. Rue exhibits neurotic needs for affection and approval as well as the neurotic need for personal admiration. This is obvious as she is in deep anguish that her father died under her care and supervision. She blames herself for his death but when he died she did the best that she could, given that the nurse who oversaw him would “play Candy Crush on her phone for two hours.” She desires for people to comfort her, admire her and approve her efforts because she deeply resents herself for not being able to save her father from cancer.
In addition, Karen Horney’s theory also elaborates on specific mechanisms and behaviors that neurotic individuals engage in, to continue spinning a “vicious cycle.” In terms of neurotic adjustment to others, Rue is a hostile type. Hostile types move against people and seek expansive solutions. They are narcissistic, perfectionist and arrogantly vindictive. Those with this neurotic adjustment type desire mastery, not love. They abhor helplessness, are ashamed of suffering and need to achieve success, prestige or recognition. They have a need for power, exploitation, prestige and personal achievement and can be seen as hypercompetitive.
Rue clearly demonstrates behavior which is indicative of this personality type. In the episode “Stand Still Like a Hummingbird”, we see a heartbreaking, intense and poignant interaction between Rue and Leslie. Rue is a drug addict who has struggled many times with sobriety. She is also a very meticulous planner and beat a drug test using niacin, synthetic urine and another friend’s urine.
For a long time, she believed that she would never be caught using drugs. This is behavior that is indicative of her arrogance and vindictiveness. She is infuriated at herself for not being able to save her father and punishing herself by slowly taking her own life and testing her body’s limits and terrorizing her family with violence. Rue’s unwillingness to introspect and externalize her rage is behavior which is quintessential of neurotic individuals. She has no control over her hostility and doesn’t try to address it head on.
This is made apparent in the episode titled, “The Trials and Tribulations of Trying to Pee While Depressed.” Rather than actively attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and working on her sobriety, Rue watches Love Island to drown out her feelings. This is an avoidance coping strategy: rather than confronting her inability to maintain her sobriety, she just pushes it out of her realm of awareness. However, because her history with drug abuse has become such an integral part of her, she then turns her anger towards her family. She is vexed by not being strong enough to confront her darkness but directs that blame to her family.
Rue also employs what Horney terms “auxiliary approaches to artificial harmony.” These are tools that neurotics employ to deal with the inevitable conflicts in an illusionary life. A specific approach that Rue employs is cynicism. She takes pleasure in pointing out the meaninglessness of the beliefs of others. In the special episode titled, “Trouble Don’t Last Always,” Rue is told that “You don’t believe there is anything greater than Rue.” Rue responds by stating, “I just don’t plan on being here that long.” This is a devastating revelation, yet it’s understandable from an outside perspective. Rue had a childhood filled with turmoil from the beginning: she wasn’t born into wealth, witnessed her father losing his life to cancer, and even admits that drugs are the only reason she hasn’t committed suicide. She doesn’t believe in anything.
Alfred Adler’s Domain of Individual Psychology
Rue’s personality can also be scrutinized through the lens of Alfred Adler’s theory of individual psychology. Adler believed that individuals seek companionship and harmony, and that the mind is an integrated whole which works to help attain the future goals of the person. He focused on the idea that individuals are unique and not selfish; they are characterized by inner harmony and a desire to cooperate with others. Rue does, to a certain extent, demonstrate a desire to seek companionship and isn’t entirely selfish. In “The Next Episode”, we see Rue mercilessly grill one of the twin brothers who was smoking marijuana with her younger sister. In a mercilessly stern and icy voice she says, “My friends will strip you naked and go to work on you with a pair of pliers and a blowtorch. Do you hear me?” This is one of the moments where Rue’s protectiveness, empathy and tenderness emerges. She doesn’t wish for her younger sister to struggle with addiction like she does and threatens her sisters’ friend that there will be consequences if she finds out that Gia was coerced into smoking marijuana.
Rue’s need to seek out companionship is also evident when she socializes with Fezco and Ashtray, her drug dealers in “Pilot.” When Ashtray tells Rue, “I thought you were dead,” Rue counters, “I thought you had Asperger’s but then I realized you are a prick.” The light sarcasm makes it clear that she enjoys their company but still uses them for drugs.
Adler also elaborates on the importance of birth order and parental influence on personality development. Adler believed that a parent is instrumental to the mental wellbeing of a child. When Rue had to take care of her father while he was suffering from cancer, she was putting his needs before her own. Because Rue lost her father, her core was shaken and she had trouble with her romantic relationships because she fears abandonment. This is made clear when she sabotages her romantic relationship with her partner, Jules, by not staying sober. Jules’ mother was an alcoholic and suffered deeply from addiction and Jules doesn’t want to be responsible for Rue. Rue isn’t willing to compromise and continues to drink. This behavior is evident of the ruling- dominant type: Rue wants to reign supreme in everyone’s life. Jules even at one-point states to her therapist, “I feel like her sobriety is entirely dependent on how available I am to her.” Rue has constructed her life in such a way that she is the most instrumental piece on the chess board.
Rue’s behavior is a glaring cry for help. She continues to use accusations as a safeguarding strategy: blaming everything bad in her life on her mother, her sister and the passing of her father. She takes drugs to get revenge on those who have limited her. Karen Horney’s theory of neurosis and Alfred Adler’s theory of individual psychology reveal not only the manipulative, vindictive and aggressive nature of Rue Bennett but also how critical factors and traumatic life experiences can shape one’s personality development. Parental influences, innate human drives, needs and overreliance on defense mechanisms play a pivotal role in the emergence of maladaptive traits, behaviors and interpersonal dynamics. These can all pave the way for neurosis and/or a mistaken lifestyle as posited by Horney and Adler respectively.
So, while I believe that Rue Bennett was born deeply wounded with profound developmental challenges, the loss of her father and her reliance on drugs to numb her emotional pain led to her and her loved ones’ irreparable brokenness.