What I Think Grey’s Anatomy Characters Teach Us About Life: A Psychological Analysis

I was first properly introduced to Grey’s Anatomy by one of my closest friends who I met at uni. I don’t know how I would have gotten through uni without her, honestly. Grey’s Anatomy is a nice mixture of a drama and romance show set in a hospital, revolving around the lives of doctors. I remember my friend recommending the show as it was one of her favourites and us watching the first episode together on a cosy day after making brownies. Best decision ever. Honestly, I can’t thank her enough for introducing me to it, despite me being an emotional wreck after many episodes.

I’ve always been deeply intrigued by the roles of doctors and healthcare staff in the hospital caring for other people and over time I began to develop a longing to work in one myself one day to help make an impact. I’m also a massive fan of romance fiction. I’ve always been some sort of idealist, a dreamer and also quite an emotional person. In many ways, this show felt inevitably part of my destiny as highly dramatic as that sounds. For me, everything about the show feels so artistic and evokes so much emotion with the perfectly positioned pathetic fallacies, thought-provoking quotes, trials, tribulations and dramatic music. In my opinion, it’s just a beautiful, romantic masterpiece and has easily become one of my favourites.

As I’ve now progressed through many seasons, as well as the amazing entertainment value I’ve enjoyed from the show, I also feel like I’ve extracted some deeper meanings from the show and lessons from many characters – especially as someone who loves psychology.

Before I proceed further, I’d like to issue a spoiler alert. This is written from my perspective and knowledge gained from watching 8 seasons of the show. I want to put a spoiler alert just in case I reveal anything to those who are watchers of the show or would like to watch the show in the future without spoilers.

 *Spoiler alert – Spoiler Alert- Spoiler Alert – This blog post is written with 8 Seasons worth of knowledge in mind*

Now, get your popcorn, here is my character analysis, my interpretations and what I feel I’ve learnt: – a magnifying glass into emotions, love, personality traits and more:

Meredith Grey

Strong-Headed. Blunt. Intellectual.

The Impact of Childhood Trauma & the Impact of Childhood Experiences on Adulthood

For me, Meredith is a very significant character and she portrays the important role that childhood has in shaping our being as adults. We see over time deep painful moments portrayed through flashbacks and storytelling that Meredith has endured during childhood. We see the irreparable damage done through the lack of affection given by her mother who appears to have been very unempathetic, allowing her career to take priority over a loving relationship with Meredith. I would say this emotional wound bleeds into Meredith’s adult life and contributes to moulding Meredith’s harsh personality. We also learn about and get to witness some of Meredith’s barely existent and hostile relationship with her father.

In terms of attachment styles, we can see that Meredith is somewhat insecurely attached and this manifests into her adult relationships as she struggles with trust, fear of commitment and the acceptance of love. I think Meredith perfectly embodies the quote, “We accept the love we think we deserve”. For example, in the earlier seasons, she appears to have a very pessimistic outlook on love and life which I think is a subconscious reflection of her childhood and the unfamiliarity of what love can look like, therefore, resulting in her rejecting warmth as she possibly feels undeserving.

Meredith paints a picture to me showing that the environment you are raised in and what you experience in it during childhood can shape your perspective and behaviour in many areas of your adulthood. Despite all the painful circumstances Meredith experienced, I feel that she shows us that although we cannot rewrite the past we can try and find it within us to step into healing as we see as she takes a leap of faith committing to love. I think Meredith also shows us how strong humans can be in prevailing despite experiencing extreme adversity.

Derek Shepherd

Heroic. Charming. Diligent.

Logic vs. Emotion & Irrationality vs. Rationality & the Battle of the Heart vs. The Head

Derek Shepherd or ‘McDreamy’ – apart from representing charm and handsomeness represents to me the fine line between ‘logic’ and ’emotion’ and between ‘irrationality’ and ‘rationality’. Is everything truly black and white or as black and white as he believes it to be?

Derek believes himself to be very precise, decisive and diligent. He believes himself to be highly rational and presents himself as carefully calculated in decision-making. Well, after all, he is a neurosurgeon. Yet, I think he challenges the existing stereotype of men vs women that argues that men predominantly think logically and that women predominantly think emotionally. I think he strongly embodies both, he’s logical and emotional, a bit of a juxtaposition, whether he realises or not. He shows us that men in society can be both and they don’t have to fit in one box. He shows us that men feel too and can also be vulnerable. Derek finds himself falling for his intern Meredith Grey even amid a sticky marriage situation with his wife Addison. I feel like this leads me into the ongoing debate of whether love is truly rational or irrational? Was falling in love with Meredith whilst entangled in his marriage a logical choice or a matter of emotion? Was his love a rational choice or merely an irrational emotion?

We interestingly see different layers of Derek’s life story be peeled back as the seasons progress and we get to see many sides to him including very vulnerable moments from him, for example, the awful moments when patients die. Death. In his mind, even if unconscious he feels pressure and believes his duty as a surgeon is to be a heroic figure for the people, hence the hopeful saying “it’s a beautiful day to save lives”. I think his fatal flaw is that despite knowing that things don’t always go to plan and knowing things are subject to error sometimes, he beats himself up for failing in some uncontrollable scenarios where nature takes its course.

The morbid, dark reality of his job is that sometimes, patients will die. If anything Derek really highlights to me the nature of humanness. What it means to be human. The fact that we aren’t invincible or perfect, yet many of us still beat ourselves up for that despite knowing this fact. He highlights the fact we all have flaws. But I think we can see this part of human nature in two ways – as our innate strength that we can keep going and growing despite the imperfections and that it brings out our resilience. Or as a weakness that we sometimes fail to recognise that we obviously can’t possibly do or achieve everything we would like to.

Izzie Stevens

Idealistic. A hopeless romantic. Empath. 

The Beauty of Empathy, Hope & Seeing Good in the World

The beauty about Izzie Stevens and maybe even sometimes her downfall too is her ability to see good in the world. She is a light in the darkness. Her ability to find hope is strong and there is something so beautiful and empowering about that. For her patients and even for herself, she holds on for dear life to hope. Even in the face of adversity, such as life-threatening illnesses, I’ve seen Izzie inject hope into the hearts of her patients. Izzie’s life in the past also unravels as the seasons progress & we start to see even the happiest of people go through hardships too. For example, Izzie escaping from a destitute trailer park neighbourhood, we can see Izzie worked for a better life for herself. I think she is such an empowering character. She simply teaches us if anything she teaches us not to let go of hope.

Her empathy is also unmatched. I think she teaches us how being kind and empathetic can go such a long way and touch so many hearts even without realising it. She also challenges stereotypes of what intelligent people look like. Letting us know clearly that being attractive and intelligent can exist.

Alex Karev

Sarcastic. Witty. Arrogant.  

Coping Mechanisms & the Duality of People

Alex Karev. For me, Alex Karev represents the duality of a person. He has somewhat of a hard exterior but this masks his seemingly non-existent vulnerable, softer internal parts of himself in which he hides cleverly and also masks the pain in his life that he has endured. For example, his mother being sick and having to grow up fast, fending for himself.

I can see through Karev in that he uses coping mechanisms such as alcohol, engaging in careless flings, and unleashing his sharp tongue as an avoidance technique to push his repressed emotions and stressors of life as far away as possible and to stop hurt from penetrating him.

He does appear to be rude, blunt and quite stand-offish. Someone you’d definitely call a “jerk” but this is clearly a front. A protective amour he has had to put on over the years merely to mentally survive. Karev is a character I would say to not “judge a book by its cover” and is the epitome of the saying “Hurt people, hurt people”. It’s hard to give something that you barely internally have there to give. But it’s amazing to see how nurturing and humorous he can be with kids in the paediatric unit. Sort of a juxtaposition. It is also surprising to see that he does have the capacity within him to love, as we see throughout the seasons, although not necessarily in the healthiest way and he seemingly rejects it out of fear or like a foreign pathogen that his body is unfamiliar with.

Lexie Grey

Awkward. People-pleaser. A hopeless romantic.

The Strength of Love & Forgiveness

Lexie Grey is like a breath of fresh air to me. So cute and truly a favourite of mine. Cheerful and sometimes jittery and socially awkward.

Lexie Grey springs into the show with an awkward arrival as a medical intern to the same hospital as her half-sister Meredith Grey who is far from pleased to meet her, reminding Meredith of all the joy she never had and the fulfilling life she never got to live with her father decorated with love. It was like a dirty slap in the face for Meredith, but also for Lexie who drowned in guilt and sadness of her sister resenting her.

Despite the hostility violently spat at her by Meredith upon her arrival, I think Lexie’s pure heart shines through as she still finds it in her to forgive and try to understand Meredith despite her harshness. She still does everything in her power to try to please her and eventually their relationship begins to heal, gradually growing. This arc between Meredith and Lexie emphasises to me that we as humans can decide to forgive. It may not be an easy thing but we can make choices to change our trajectory and life going forward.

Furthermore, Lexie portrays how powerful and beautiful love is to me, how far it can prevail and how we don’t choose who we fall in love with. As a relationship blossoms between her and Mark Sloan, a top senior plastic surgeon at her hospital it’s just beautiful to see. They also go through their trials and tribulations, reaching a point where they call it quits. Lexie later pursued a relationship with another fellow colleague. Despite this, her heart remains fondly in love with Sloan even amid Sloan being involved in another relationship. The love even prevailed in the typical petty phases of denial. This just makes me reflect and think about how powerful love is, how far-reaching it is and makes me wonder can true love really die once it is born?

I truly live for Lexie’s monologue “I love you” speech confessing her hidden (or not so hidden) undying love for Mark Sloan. 

Cristina Yang

A realist. Competitive (arguably overly competitive). Ambitious.

Power Struggles, Women in Society & the Power of Friendship

Cristina Yang highlights to me the struggles of women in modern society. What can we be and what can’t we be? Yang is a highly ambitious, competitive, hungry career-driven woman. Her drive to become a cardiothoracic surgeon consumes her and she seemingly worships the O.R and medical profession in all its entirety. We witness her power struggles career-wise to shine in the professional light as a competitive woman but also deeply battle in her relationships with surgeons Burke and Hunt.

A flaw that I think she doesn’t realise is that she thinks she doesn’t need anything else in her life to fulfil her or keep her balanced. Career is everything in her determined eyes and that’s final. But as the seasons unravel I feel like her tough exterior is emotionally cracked by love, romantic and platonic. I think in witnessing Cristina Yang in her storylines, I learn more and more that “no man is an island” and no matter how independent we are or think we are as humans we still need people and a sense of interdependence. As we hear the famous words uttered over and over “You are my person” from Cristina to Meredith and vice versa we experience the power of friendship in life. We rediscover how precious it is to have a friend, a person who understands you, a safe space and people who are there for you through it all.

It all has me thinking of when the layers of us are all peeled back, the materialistic things are gone and we go home at the end of a long day. What do we usually have left? The people in our lives.

I think Cristina Yang’s character also teaches us that women come in all varieties with varying personalities. Not all women have the same priorities or desires such as the desire to have children as Cristina clearly demonstrates to us. I think she instils in us that women are not defined by one way of being, whether that be career-wise, their ability to be nurturing or what they want in life and that’s totally okay.

I hope you enjoyed my passionate and thesis-like analysis of some of my favourite Grey’s Anatomy characters and what life lessons I think we can learn from them. I could honestly go on and on, especially with more characters but hopefully, you got a taste of the cinematic glory. 

– Tasnim

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