"When I get sad I stop being sad and be AWESOME instead. True story!" -Barney Stinson


By Jeff Mastrianni


“In my body, where the shame gland should be, there is a second awesome gland. True story.” -Barney Stinson

Barnaby “Barney” Stinson is a character played by Neil Patrick Harris on How I Met Your Mother, a show focused on five friends living in New York City in their late 20’s and early 30’s. Though the show is told from the perspective of Barney’s friend, Ted Mosby, Barney remains a central element of Ted’s storytelling and common source of some of the funnier and crazier antics that the characters go through. Born in 1976, Barney suffered early on from a broken family. In past seasons, the identity of Barney’s father was unknown – his mother, Loretta Stinson, convinced him when he was a child that his father was Bob Barker of The Price is Right fame. [1] Barney was raised by his mother from a young age after his father left; even while his father was around, Barney was convinced he was really his “Uncle Jerry” and models his own life in part around the escapades that his father tells him about. As Barney grew up, he met and began a relationship with Shannon, a girl he worked at a coffee shop with. They chose not to have sex before marriage and planned on going to the Peace Corps together, but when the day came to leave for Nicaragua, she lied to Barney, saying that her father wouldn’t let her go. She pleaded for him to go without her, but when he returned to try and persuade her, he found she was involved with a businessman wearing a suit, a culture which Barney despised at the time. Crushed, Barney transforms himself into the very thing that destroyed him: a suit-wearing, smart-talking womanizer. [2]
Once this transformation is complete, Barney’s character begins to emerge as it appears in the current context of the show. Barney meets Ted several years before the show starts; he meets Marshall, Ted’s best friend from college, and Lily, Marshall’s girlfriend, shortly after, and the four of them meet Robin, the fifth member of their group, during the show’s pilot. Barney works originally for a faceless conglomeration with intentions and investments that are implied to be less-than-honorable, but this company is later bought out by Goliath National Bank. Barney never reveals what he actually does at his job, but it becomes apparent that he makes plenty of money and that many people work beneath him. He retains his love for suits, frequently telling Ted to “suit up!” [3] alongside him, and adheres to “The Bro Code,” a personal doctrine by which he governs his life. The Code is filled with rules concerning how to pick up women and operate amongst one’s “bros,” or friends. As a result, Barney’s life is filled with one night stands and conquests rather than meaningful relationships. Overall, Barney’s character serves for much of the comedic relief on the show, but his personality is overshadowed by the constant doubts of his failed relationships with his father and Shannon, his extreme fear of attachment, and a sense of self-doubt that occasionally paralyzes his self-proclaimed awesomeness.


“Step one, you start running. There is no step two.” -Barney Stinson

In the Jungian approach to the psychology of personality, there exist a number of archetypes that serve to characterize commonalities in human personalities. One example of this is the anima, or the female element in a man; in Barney, we see this in his metrosexuality as expressed through his love of fashion and suits. To counterbalance this, however, he indulges himself in distinctly masculine pleasures – smoking fine cigars, frequently attending strip clubs, picking up women, and (in his mind) playing laser tag. At the same time, Jung’s persona-shadow dichotomy is represented by the turmoil Barney faces related to his practice of picking up women. While he personally believes his behavior to be righteous and justified, his friends view this behavior as undesirable and sometimes even disgusting. Barney struggles to maintain this view of himself since his friends’ berating is supportive of the “shadow” aspect of his personality. A third archetype exists in the form of the hero-demon conflict, representing the clash between good and evil. Barney is only a part of this clash in the larger context of his group of friends – as an employee of Goliath National Bank, an organization frequently suggested to be involved with greedy, selfish, or even illegal corporate policies, Barney serves as a face for evil. On the other hand, his friend Marshall frequently expresses his wishes to be involved with the law department of the National Resource Defense Council, or NRDC, an environmentally-friendly organization. Marshall has aspired to this position since the beginning of his law education and thus represents a counterpoint to Barney’s evil corporate employment.
In terms of Alfred Adler’s theory of personality typology (adapted from Hippocrates’ bodily humors), four types of personalities exist: ruling-dominant, getting-leaning, avoiding, and socially useful. Ruling-dominant personalities are characterized by low social interest and high activity, and are analogous to having large amounts of yellow bile in Hippocrates’ model. Getting-Leaning personalities correspond to low social interest and low levels of activity, and are equivalent to high levels of phlegm. Those with avoidant personalities exhibit very low social interest and low activity levels and are considered to be similar to those with high levels of black bile. Finally, socially useful personalities are high in both social interest and activity, and are considered to have high levels of blood. Within these guidelines, Barney could most likely be characterized as having a sanguine or socially useful personality. His social interest is high, since he is always engaging new people (particularly women) and participating in conversations, and his activity levels are also extremely high, as he frequently encourages his friends to embark on unique and exciting adventures (such as licking the Liberty Bell or, as usual, playing laser tag). [4] In fitting this description, Barney often has the highest energy of the group; during the second half of season two, Ted and Robin are dating, and Marshall and Lily are engaged; this leaves Barney as the fifth wheel, always asking the others to accompany him to the activities he plans, whereas the others are more lethargic, preferring to stay indoors. Despite being the oldest of the group, Barney continues to party the most, sometimes accusing the others of aging too quickly. [5]
Finally, from the perspective of object relations theory, Barney’s function in his group of friends assumes a significant role from a psychoanalytic perspective. As psychologists such as Margaret Mahler and Heinz Kohut highlighted, this theory of psychoanalysis focused on the relationships between the subject and objects or people around them. Kohut’s work with narcissistic personality disorder is particularly salient when analyzing Barney, as he fits the mold perfectly – he “[feels] powerless and dependent yet [projects] bravado and self-aggrandizement.” [6] Though Barney rarely shows the vulnerable aspects of his personality, they certainly exist. He is particularly ashamed of his weaknesses – as evidenced when his friends learn the story of his breakup with Shannon – in part due to the strength of the façade that he erects in order to protect himself. His loud, outgoing personality serves as a shield to cover his vulnerabilities. Kohut believed this could be attributed to a “lack of acceptance on the part of their parents,” which Barney certainly suffers from as a result of his father leaving and his mother lying to him about his father.


“Every Halloween, I bring a spare costume, in case I strike out with the hottest girl at the party. That way, I have a second chance to make a first impression.” -Barney Stinson

As in neo-analytic theory above, Carl Jung’s theories overlap into the trait and skill approach to psychoanalysis. In particular, Hans Eysenck’s focus on the distinction between eight personality types – characterized by Jung’s terms of introversion and extraversion and a combination with one of four functions (sensing, thinking, feeling, and intuiting) – lends itself to a discussion of individual personality types through this perspective. As mentioned above, Barney is most certainly an extrovert, but it becomes difficult to classify him as leaning towards just one of the four functions above. Compared to the other characters of the show, Barney is far more grounded in realism and his surroundings. He tends to focus on material possessions, exhibits a considerable degree of hedonism, and values his high-paying job over one with a better moral grounding (for example, Marshall’s aspirations to work for the NRDC). In this sense, he is more oriented towards the sensing end of the sensation-intuition spectrum. At the same time, Barney portrays aspects of both thinking and feeling, adhering to logic but occasionally giving into his feelings, such as when he reluctantly admits to have feelings for Robin. [7] In this sense, Barney could fall into each of these categories; however, since his traits most aptly match the characteristics of sensation, it seems most appropriate to identify him as extroverted-sensing in this model.
The Big Five model of personality is an extremely pervasive and widely-used theory of psychoanalysis that analyzes personality through the lens of five major aspects of behavior: extroversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, neuroticism, and openness. Extroversion, as mentioned above, is characterized by enthusiasm, sociability, and talkativeness, all traits which Barney exhibits on a regular basis, giving him a high score on the extroversion scale. Agreeableness is comprised of friendliness, cooperativeness, and trust; Barney more or less exudes these qualities (with just a few exceptions). Conscientiousness involves cautiousness, dependability, and responsibility; Barney tends to throw caution to the wind on many occasions (particularly involving women and adventures), giving him a low conscientiousness score. Neuroticism or emotional instability is marked by a high-strung nature, tenseness, nervousness, and being fraught with worry; while Barney’s outward appearance is that of cool composition, his occasional outbursts in private (particularly to Lily) reveal that he is occasionally deeply concerned with his insecurities, especially his feelings for Robin. Overall, his neuroticism score is relatively low, but this aspect of his personality can certainly not be dismissed. Finally, openness to experience is related to imaginativeness, wit, and originality. Barney certainly fits these characteristics, showing great enthusiasm for unique ideas and endeavors and interjecting jokes into any conversation. Ultimately, Barney scores high on extroversion, agreeableness, and openness, while scoring low on conscientiousness and neuroticism.
Henry Murray’s model of needs (referred to as Murray’s needs) reflect an additional method of studying personality in the trait and skill model of psychoanalysis. This model is guided by motives, defined as “internal psychobiological forces that induce behavior or push for expression.” Murray defines four chief needs: achievement, affiliation, dominance, and exhibition. The need for achievement highlights an individual’s desire to succeed, suggesting persistence, motivation, and willpower. Barney exhibits near-ruthless conviction in achieving his goals, exemplified by his high position at his job. Affiliation is the need to be associated with and be respected and liked by others – Barney’s desire to be liked by his group of friends is obvious, given the many ways in which he draws attention to himself. On multiple occasions, he insists to Ted that he is his best friend, despite Ted asserting that Marshall is really his best friend. The need for power is concerned with the pursuit of “positions and offices that allow or invite them to assert control over others.” This is extremely obvious in his pursuits of success in his business, in which he frequently reacts callously to the failures of his fellow employees; at one point, he suggests Marshall fire an employee beneath him for several mistakes he has made. Finally, the need for exhibition is the desire to show off one’s achievements, displaying them for others to admire and respect. Barney is the embodiment of exhibition, continually behaving in a flashy or extreme manner to gain the attention of his peers. His trademark suits are just one example of his desire to appear more desirable to others.


“God, it’s me, Barney. What up? I know we don’t talk much, but I know a lot of girls call out your name because of me.” -Barney Stinson

On the whole, Barney is a complex character whose “awesome” and confident exterior masks his serious and vulnerable interior. His past, wracked with hurtful experiences, has taught him to erect this barrier in order to avoid being hurt – in more recent episodes, this threatens to endanger his newest relationship with Robin’s co-worker, Nora. In terms of a neo-analytic approach, Barney serves as a fine example of several Jungian archetypes, as well as fitting into the sanguine aspect of the Hippocratic humor theory. His high energy and social engagement are important aspects of his personality, particularly of the aspects he chooses to convey to others. As part of Kohut’s object relations theory, Barney obviously suffers from neglectful parents and a disappointingly lonely past, marked by rejection from those who he has allowed himself to be most attached to. In the trait and skill school of thought, Barney can be considered extroverted-sensing in Eysenck’s interpretations of Jungian characteristics, but this is a less solid distinction than many others due to his exhibition of several behaviors that suggest other traits (such as feeling and thinking). On the Big Five, Barney falls distinctly into high or low categories for each of the five main aspects of personality; none of these are in doubt. Finally, Murray’s needs are all strong in Barney, communicating the strength of his desires for achievement, affiliation, power, and exhibition. All of these are important parts of Barney’s personality, and they combine to form an eclectic and hilarious character capable of many of the show’s more interesting episodes. It remains to be seen whether Barney will ever settle down and learn to trust someone on a deep level, but at least two seasons remain in the show, giving Barney’s fans plenty of hope.

[1] Gloria Calderon Kellett (Writer) & Pamela Fryman (Diretor). (2007). Showdown [Television series episode], In Carter Bays and Pamela Fryman (Executive Producers), How I Met Your Mother. Los Angeles, California: Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS).
[2] Chris Harris (Writer) & Pamela Fryman (Director). (2006). Game Night [Television series episode], In Carter Bays and Pamela Fryman (Executive Producers), How I Met Your Mother. Los Angeles, California: Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS).
[3] Carter Bays, Craig Thomas (Writers) & Pamela Fryman (Director). (2005). Pilot [Television series episode], In Carter Bays, Pamela Fryman, Rob Greenberg, and Craig Thomas (Executive Producers), How I Met Your Mother. Los Angeles, California: Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS).
[4] Phil Lord & Chris Miller (Writers) & Pamela Fryman (Director). (2005). The Sweet Taste of Liberty [Television series episode], In Carter Bays, Pamela Fryman, Eileen Heisler, DeAnn Heline, and Craig Thomas (Executive Producers), How I Met Your Mother. Los Angeles, California: Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS).
[5] Carter Bays & Craig Thomas (Writers) & Pamela Fryman (Director). (2008). No Tomorrow [Television series episode], In Carter Bays, Pamela Fryman, and Craig Thomas (Executive Producers), How I Met Your Mother. Los Angeles, California: Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS).
[6] Friedman, H. S. & Schustack, M. W. (2009). Personality: Classic theories and modern research (4th ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson.
[7] Carter Bays & Craig Thomas (Writers) & Pamela Fryman (Director). (2009). The Leap [Television series episode], In Carter Bays, Pamela Fryman, Greg Malins, and Craig Thomas (Executive Producers), How I Met Your Mother. Los Angeles, California: Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS).