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7 Lessons in Psychology From The Wildly Popular Tiger King Documentary

If you haven’t yet heard of Netflix’s documentary, The Tiger King, chances are high that you’ll start hearing about it soon. The show has been credited with entertaining the masses as we shelter-in-place or quarantine.

Netflix has reported that over 64 million households watched it in the first 4 weeks since its release. It has spawned scores of viral posts, memes, and shares.

The people are on lockdown, and they have spoken: they are riveted by the Tiger King despite — or maybe partially because — he’s a convicted felon (don’t worry, that’s not a spoiler and there will be none in this blog).

The Tiger King follows the story of a tiger breeder who has his own zoo-like business in the woods of Oklahoma. A gay, gun-toting cowboy, he has a thirst for fame that drives him to make some very bad decisions.

If you have not yet seen the show, you should definitely read this article before you watch it because I think it will help you see some interesting things you may have otherwise missed. If you have already seen it, that’s great too. I hope this blog will help you think about it in some new ways.

The documentary is so popular because it’s wildly entertaining. But I think it offers an opportunity to learn some key things about human behavior that can benefit many, many people.

**First, an important caveat: I have no special inside knowledge of any of the individuals portrayed in the Tiger King documentary, nor have I ever met or clinically assessed them. All of the observations below are my own conclusions based on my own clinical experience with other individuals. Everything I say may or may not be fully accurate about the actual people in the show.

7 Psychology Lessons From the Tiger King

Lesson #1

Yes, there are people like that.

What I mean is, there are many, many tiger kings and queens walking among us. Some are colorful and entertaining and likable. Some are none of those. The one thing they all have in common is an intense need to be in the limelight combined with taking great joy from controlling other people and, in some cases, harming them.

Most of these folks never break a law or physically harm another. Far more common is a frequent breaking of the emotional laws that people generally follow, like respect, compassion, and genuine care and concern for others. So emotionally, tiger people do plenty of harm to others.

It’s very common for these folks to have a passion or interest that makes them appear especially loving, caring, or giving. The Tiger King’s is his apparent love and rapport with animals. For others, it may be a social cause, a religious belief, a charity, or a self-proclaimed love of family, for example.

Whatever the unique social cause, it serves as a cover to confuse. It gives them the appearance of being good people with good intentions. For example, how could someone who loves and cares for animals willfully harm people? It doesn’t add up.

Lesson #2

Some people are particularly vulnerable to tiger kings and queens.

In Tiger King, you will see a group of his associates who show great loyalty, only to be greatly harmed. Some seem to be very unaware of the true nature of what they are dealing with.

Almost anyone can fall under the spell of a limelight/control seeker, but some people are especially vulnerable to experiencing emotional harm at their hands. Why? There are several very important reasons, each of which, in itself, is a lesson in psychology. Keep reading.

Lesson #3

We all want to believe that the people around us have good intentions.

It makes us more comfortable. So we tend to look for the good in others, and when we look for it, we almost always find it. Of course, no human being is all bad. People are complex and have many layers. When we get caught up in searching for the good, it’s easy to overlook the bad that’s right in front of us, even when it harms us.

Lesson #4

When we interpret other people’s actions, we see it through our own lens.

In other words, we assume they do what they do for the same reason that we would be doing that same action. For example, we assume that a non-profit charity leader must be a good person because we know that if we were in that position we would be doing it out of a passion for caring for others. No one would suspect that someone’s charity work is actually a cover for their manipulations and harmful behaviors or a way to achieve a spot in the limelight.

Lesson #5

We assess people based on individual behaviors instead of the big picture.

I have noticed that most people judge a person by their most recent act or their most memorable act instead of integrating all of their behaviors into one picture to get a true window into the person’s complex character. This makes us easily mislead by anyone who might intentionally want to do so. All such a person needs to do is a kind act, and we will swing from feeling hurt and suspicion as a result of a recent hurt to viewing them as well-intentioned again.

Lesson #6

We stop at “What” instead of thinking more deeply into the “Why?”

It’s easy to see what a person does; their actions and behaviors. But, in reality, actions don’t necessarily tell us a lot of useful information about a person. What reveals true character is the true reason for that action. Since we usually stop at “what,” it’s easy to miss the full picture of a person.

Lesson #7

We ignore messages from our bodies telling us to protect ourselves.

When we encounter people who present themselves as different from who they really are, our bodies try to warn us. They send us messages in the form of feelings like anxiety, discomfort, insecurity, hurt, or anger.

But many people view their own feelings as inconvenient at best, or signs of weakness at worst — a product of Childhood Emotional Neglect or CEN. So they ignore these vital messages or override them. When you do this, you fail to protect yourself adequately and this leaves you vulnerable to those who may harm you.

What it All Means

People are complex beings with layers of good intentions, selfishness, needs, and wants. Some people tilt more in one direction than others, for sure. This can leave us wondering whether we can trust someone and making many errors that can harm us.

The key to a person’s true personality cannot be determined from a single act. The true story can only be found by looking at the big picture and the why and by consulting and trusting your natural feedback system, your feelings.

When you pay attention to your own feelings and trust them, you naturally harness your strength in the face of potential harm. If this is a significant challenge for you, consider the possibility that you have Childhood Emotional Neglect. Visit and sign up to Take the CEN Test. It’s free.

7 Lessons in Psychology From The Wildly Popular Tiger King Documentary

Jonice Webb PhD

Jonice Webb, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist who is recognized worldwide for her groundbreaking work in defining, describing, and calling attention to Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN). She writes, speaks, and trains therapists on the topic, and is the bestselling author of two books, Running On Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect and Running On Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships. She also created and runs the Fuel Up For Life Online CEN Recovery Program. Since CEN can be difficult to see and remember, Dr. Webb created the CEN Questionnaire and other free resources to help you figure out if you have it. Take the CEN Questionnaire and learn much more about CEN, how it happens, and how to heal it at her website

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APA Reference
Webb PhD, J. (2020). 7 Lessons in Psychology From The Wildly Popular Tiger King Documentary. Psych Central. Retrieved on June 1, 2020, from


Last updated: 26 Apr 2020
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