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Winona Ryder

by: Stephanie Finer


Winona Laura Horowitz, better known as Winona Ryder was born on October 29th, 1971 in Winona, Minnesota. She grew up on a “hippie commune” with her mother, Cynthia Palmer, and her father, Michael Horowitz. At age 12 she skipped school to go to beach with some friends. While swimming she got caught up in the undertow and nearly drowned. In an interview Winona recalled that “[she] was under for a long time. Luckily a lifeguard pulled [her] out. [She] didn’t have a pulse and he had to pump the water out of [her] lifeless body” (Goodall, 1998). In junior high school she was bullied for looking like a “scrawny effeminate boy”, during which a group of girls called her a “faggot”, and then preceded to slam her head into a locker and “kick the st” out of her. Afterwards she had to receive stitches and was kicked out of school. Years later when one of the women who had beaten her up, asked for her autograph when she encountered her at a coffee shop. Winona asked her if she had remembered her an “how, in seventh grade, [she] beat up that kid?” when the woman replied “kind of” Winona told her “That was me. Go f* yourself’” and refused to give her an autograph (actressarchives.com, 2006).

Winona has starred in many films, such as, “Beetlejuice”, “Girl, Interrupted”, “Edward Scissorhands”, and more recently “Black Swan”. But at times her lifestyle can interfere with her health, when she was 20 she checked herself into a mental hospital, suffering from anxiety attacks, exhaustion and depression as a result from constantly working on films. During the filming of the Godfather Part 3 she had to drop out, because she found herself unable to get out of bed, and was ordered by her doctor to return home and get some rest. Winona is also said to suffer from insomnia. In 2001 she was arrested in Beverly Hills for shoplifting and carrying prescription drugs (i.e. Oxycodone) without a prescription (fullmoviereview.com).

Humanist Perspective

The Humanistic Perspective emphasizes the “personal worth of the individual and the centrality of human values”(Friedman et. Al, pg. 296). For a humanist recognizing our inner potential is essential to leading a fulfilling life. But societal forces often prevent us and as a result, when our core values of existence are threatened we experience feelings of powerlessness and anxiety. Yet these struggles are seen as an essential aspect of being human, andovercoming them can be our deepest accomplishment. The humanist Erich Fromm believed that love was the answer to the unavoidable question of human existence. He believed that a person could rise above and transcend biological drives, and social pressures and learn to become a creative, spontaneous and loving human being. Another humanist by the name of Carl Rogers believed that people have the potential to exercise free will, and control their actions, but each person must learn to take responsibility for themselves, in order to mature and grow as a person. In Winona’s case this means that she must learn to take responsibility for her actions, specifically her shoplifting incident.
Though Winona admits having shoplifted, she still does not believe that she actually harmed anyone in the act. This type of neutralization technique was used to justify her lack of guilt after having shoplifted. But this justification is only possible in a society like ours where close tight nit social interactions are scarce. Though our quality and ease of living have improved, rates of depression and divorce have increased. As society grows in population and as technology becomes more advanced we encounter less and less face-to-face contact on a daily basis, leading to a greater feeling of disconnectedness among individuals. This diffusion led Winona to believe she wasn’t harming anyone by committing the crime, but when in fact, by stealing the clothing she was also stealin
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g money that would potentially have gone to the employees in the company. Had she shoplifted from a small family owned business I doubt that she would’ve been able to use the same justification and wouldn’t have viewed the crime as “victimless”.

Our lifestyles today are much easier and more comfortable than in the past, which should make us happier, but that isn’t the case. Instead as technology has advanced and society has become diffused across longer distances, humanity as a whole has grown more and more depressed. Winona’s
depression is not just due to her lifestyle and stressful career choice, rather it is due in part because we no longer put the same value on personal interaction that we once did. We are a society concerned only with the here an now, often overlooking the journey it took to get there, acting on impulse instead of rationale. Her celebrity status only adds to this disconnectedness in society. She cannot enjoy the same privacy that a normal person takes for granted; rather she has to make conscious and extensive efforts in order to keep her personal life private. This need for privacy may only further separate her from the true reality of society and may help explain why she and so many other celebrities often resort to illicit drug use. According to Erich Fromm love is the central focus and goal of life, without love we our lives remain unfulfilled. Since age 19 when she was prescribed Klonapin to cure her depression a year later she switched to Xanax. Since then Winona has resorted to abusing prescription drugs to self-medicate her depression and anxiety, and according to a medical board investigation in 2002, she had been taking “a half-dozen painkillers and sedatives”, to alleviate her pain (Schneider, 2002, pg.68). But instead of helping her it only caused her to become dependent on prescription pills. If she really wishes to alleviate her depression and anxiety she must learn to open up and become a truly loving person. A humanist would suggest that instead of telling the woman who had previously bullied her to “go f*** herself”, that Winona would benefit more from being able accept and forgive the actions of others in the past and to learn to love others, rather than perpetuate hate. By forgiving her bully she would be able to finally move on, overcoming one of the many obstacles preventing her from becoming a loving human being. Until she can learn to do so her she will not be able to become self-actualized or grow from her past experiences.

Being a celebrity requires you to remain constantly in view of the public, resulting in the need to constantly monitor one’s self. Instead of being able to focus on matters of true importance such as love and self-actualization, she is stuck having to constantly be on guard defending her right to privacy and attempting to display a positive public image. Thus celebrities are at a disadvantage when it comes to fulfilling their inner potential, and perhaps is the reason why so many celebrities often wind up with failed marriages, drug problems and mental health issues more prevalently than the vast majority. To improve her chances of becoming self-actualized Rogerian psychotherapy may be of use, specifically because of the unconditional positive regard that the therapist portrays to their client. For a celebrity like Winona, a non-critical, supportive, non-directive and empathetic therapist may be the best way in order for her to communicate her inner feelings and gain insight on them so that she may reach her full potential and learn to truly love one another.

Behaviorist Perspective

John B. Watson is considered to be the founding father of a perspective of psychology known as behaviorism, which emphasizes the influence of learning and connectionism on the shaping of future behaviors. Influential behaviorists like B.F. Skinner, Ivan Pavlov and Edward Thorndike all emphasized the role of conditioning on the law of effect on future behavioral responses.

Winona’s near-drowning experience at age 12 was so traumatic for her that even though she was still able to enter a pool, she was never able to force herself to “stick her head under”(Goodall, 1998). But when she signed on to the movie “Alien Resurrection” she was required to film a scene underwater. Initially she wanted to use aexternal image Winona-Ryder-Alien-Resurrection.3.jpgbody double, but found that due to her short haircut; it would be too obvious and was left with no choice but to shoot the scene herself. On the first day of shooting theshe suffered an anxiety attack, exemplifying her conditioned fear response upon presentation of the feared stimulus. Her fear of the water is similar to the conditioned response that was elicited in little Albert upon the sight of a White Rat. Her traumatic experience conditioned to her to associate complete submersion in the water with her previous near-drowning experience, leading to a conditioned response of an overwhelming feeling of fear and anxiety associated with the conditioned stimulus of the water. If she wished to eradicate this phobia, flooding techniques would prove to be useful. Ironically by filming the underwater scene, she found that she was able to overcome her fear, and later was able to dive into a friend’s swimming pool headfirst. It seems that filming the scene acted as an impromptu form of behavioral therapy in which she was literally flooded by her worst fears and through systematic desensitization was able to take on her fear step by step, until eventually her fear response was extinguished.

Her addiction to prescription pills, specifically Oxycodone is also of interest, and can be explained in terms of operant and classical conditioning. Since age 19 Winona had been using prescription drugs as treatment for her anxiety and depression. The pills acted as a form of positive reinforcement by alleviating her symptoms, until overtime she began to associate the feeling of relief with the use of prescription pills, further reinforcing her drug-taking behavior. Eventually after she became addicted to them, the withdrawal symptoms associated with disuse acted as a punishment, only further reinforcing her drug-taking behavior. From a classical conditioning standpoint, her feelings of depression and anxiety along with situational/social cues acted as conditioned stimulus leading to a conditioned response of drug taking behavior. She learned to associate the relief of her symptoms with continued drug use. In order to help her overcome her addiction, she must be taught more effective and less destructive coping mechanisms. Through the process of extinction she can be reprogrammed to no longer associate the use of pills with symptomatic relief. In this way, Naltrexone may be of use in Winona’s case due to its ability to block the effects of opiates at their respective neurotransmitter sites. Naltrexone is often used as a form of therapy for individuals with opiate addiction by preventing the blocking the effects of opiates, so that even if an opiate is taken, its effects will be blocked. Thus extinction would occur, because even if she continued to abuse Oxycodone she would be unable to experience it’s desired effects. Eventually she would no longer associate Oxycodone use with the relief of her anxiety and depressive symptoms, thus losing the motivation to continue her drug use. Cognitive behavioral therapy would be beneficial to her so that she could be taught healthy ways of dealing with her anxiety and depression.


Though many would consider fame and wealth to be a blessing, it can often carry negative consequences affecting the individual’s methods of coping and mental health. For Winona Ryder her career can be seen as having a positive as well as negative influence on her life. At times her career has helped her like with the extinction of her phobia, but at other times her stressful lifestyle affected her mental health. Taking into account multiple psychological perspectives can be beneficial in fullyexternal image 47.-Winona-Ryder.jpg understanding and encompassing the complexity of human behavior and personality. The combination of both humanistic and behavioral approaches can be especially useful in analyses due to their very distinct views of personality. Behaviorism tends to deny the existence of true “free will”, believing that our behavior is only a result of the environment and past experiences. Often behaviorism tends to dehumanize individuals and ignoring social influences on personality. In contrast Humanism tends to emphasize our ability to make our own choices, and believes that we are all capable of realizing our inner potential and becoming loving, creative adults. Together these two perspectives make up for what the other lacks, and allows for a more complete picture of an individuals personality.


Friedman, H., & Schustack, M. (2009). Personality: Classic Theories and Modern Research. Jefferson City: Pearson.

Goodall, N. (2010). Goodbye to Being Good. Winona Ryder. Luton: Andrews UK Limited.

Ryder's revenge on school bully. ActressArchives.com. Retrieved April 18, 2011, from http://www.actressarchives.com/news/ryders-revenge-on-school-bully

Schneider, K. S. (2002, December 23). Ryder's New Pains. People. Retrieved April 22, 2011, from http://www.people.com/people/archive/article/0,,20138816,00.html

Winona Ryder. Full Movie Review. Retrieved April 18, 2011, from http://winona-ryder.fullmoviereview.com/