The Big Bang Theory’s Bernadette: What Made Her The Meanest *And* Nicest Character

The Big Bang Theory’s Bernadette (Melissa Rauch) might be tiny but she is far from meek – her tiny frame and high pitched voice might make her seem unthreatening at first, but one wrong move and you’ll quickly learn the truth.

“The tow truck didn’t scratch your car.” “How do you know?” “Because I did it!”

Though she started her time on the show as a minor character, once she was permanently added to the main cast, Bernadette got to let loose and share her entire personality… and it turned out that a big part of that personality was being pretty bossy.

“I know I can be tough, but that’s just because I’m surrounded by useless idiots.”

But, instead of making her hated, her willingness to stand up for herself and speak her mind actually made her beloved – both on the show and in real life. And while her attitude could occasionally cause some problems, it was also what allowed her to build her dream life and help out her friends. So let’s take a deeper look at where Bernadette’s attitude comes from and how she learned to use her mean girl powers for good.


Bernadette’s personality is a bit of a contradiction that the other characters don’t at first expect, and sometimes still get surprised by even once they do know her well: she is a very sweet and caring person, and a great friend, but she can also be harsh and loves being in control. She’s also kind of split between the worlds of the show: when we first meet her, she works at the Cheesecake Factory with Penny and seems to be more of a Penny-type, but we come to learn that she’s also a brainiac: she’s waitressing to pay for her graduate degree in microbiology. Because of this, she’s the one character on the show that really understands both social spheres on the show: how normal, everyday people interact and how the nerds think and process things. This gives her the ability to meet everyone where they’re at and connect with them on their level.

Bernadette is not afraid to go after what she wants – whether it’s something seemingly trivial or a major life milestone. After working her butt off to pay her way through university, she knows that she doesn’t want to have to worry about money ever again. So she gets a job that is, well, a little ethically questionable but definitely pulls in the big bucks.

“You don’t go into science for the money.” “Speak for yourself. Last month my company both invented and cured restless eye syndrome. Ka-ching, ya blinky chumps!”

She also thinks that she knows what’s best for everyone else, too – and, to be fair, she’s not always wrong. But her friends do often start to feel like she’s a bit intense when it comes to having things her way. While Bernadette is generally a great friend and girlfriend, there’s no denying that she has a bit of a mean streak. She can be passive-aggressive (and sometimes just straight up agressive-agressive) and isn’t afraid of confrontation, in fact sometimes even seeking it out. Her friends are even kind of afraid of her, because they know if they slip up, she’s going to rain down fire.

But Bernadette clearly isn’t a bad person or a true ‘mean girl’ – so what is it that drives the more abrasive side of her personality?
A big part of the more intense side of Bernadette’s personality comes from the fact that she’s got a pretty major case of ‘oldest child syndrome’. She’s the first born of six kids, and given that her parents were often gone, that meant that she was usually the one left dealing with the struggle of raising her five younger siblings. Having to essentially become a surrogate mother at such a young age was incredibly draining, and meant that Bernadette had to grow up quickly and develop an air of authority to keep everything in her life in order. Being the oldest child, especially if you’re left with the responsibility of caring for your younger siblings, can have long-lasting effects on your personality. As VeryWell Mind notes, “firstborn children are usually characterized as responsible, Type A personalities who are often drawn to leadership-type roles in the family and in their lives.” And when you spend your whole childhood having to manage and make decisions for those around you, it can be hard to shake that habit when you grow into an adult. VeryWell Mind explains, “The child may continue to view relationships as areas where they are an authority figure, which may create conflicts in future relationships during adulthood.” This is pretty much exactly what happened to Bernadette: she had to be the confident decision maker and responsible party for her siblings, and so now as an adult she attempts to do the same thing for her adult friends and her husband.


But Bernadette isn’t just a little controlling, she’s also not always so nice in how she goes about it – but that actually stems from her childhood as well. While her parents were often distant and detached, when they were around, they had a big impact on her. Her mother was incredibly overbearing. So on top of the stress of having to raise her siblings, Bernadette also had to deal with her mother trying to control her every move. Her mother also pushed her beauty pageants, where she had to learn to hide her displeasure behind a smile. Given all of that, it’s not surprising that in adulthood Bernadette really wanted to assert her agency and individuality and make sure that no one was going to tell her what to do or how to be anymore. The reason this can sometimes come out in a rather mean manner is likely due to her father’s bad temper. She had to live in fear of him blowing up at any moment about anything, and likely absorbed some of that behavior herself.

All of these facets of her childhood converged to create a pretty prickly side to her personality as a grown up. Because she spent so much of her childhood always having to be on and in charge, he can find it hard to tone down the intensity in adulthood.

“I’m nice to everyone!”

She’s always willing to put her foot down in any situation and make sure things go the way she wants.

“Well, it’s simple: This was my idea. I’m driving. I’m Cinderella. You bitches got a problem with that, we can stop the car right now!”

This pushiness also bleeds into how she can be prone to bossing other people around and telling them how they should live their lives. Sometimes this can actually be the helpful push her friends need (we’ll get to that in a moment!), but other times it can be a bit much.

Bernadette’s tendency to mother those around her is also a big part of her relationship with Howard. He’s got a pretty, uh, close relationship with his own mother and has a hard time getting free from her orbit. So it makes sense that he falls for Bernadette, who doesn’t admonish him for his more childish behavior but instead leans into it. She helps him make decisions, and pretty much all of the care work while he plays video games with his friends. She’s also the breadwinner in the relationship, which (in addition to her being the only one of the two with a PhD) can at times make Howard feel a bit emasculated, but is also what allows him to live the life he enjoys. But Bernadette is different from his mother in that she doesn’t just coddle him; she also pushes him to go after what he wants in life, whether that be finally moving out of his mother’s house or postponing their wedding to go to space. She’s also not afraid to call him out when he’s being a little too childish or trying to put off a big life goal out of fear.

Another major reason for Bernadette’s attitude towards life and those around her is just the reality of her being: she’s a teeny-tiny, adorable lady with a super high-pitched voice. If she wasn’t ultra-confident and ready to snap at anyone who gets in her way, no one would ever take her seriously. If she doesn’t want to get steam-rolled by society, she has to assert herself in a way that no one can second guess.

“Hey, I learned a long time ago, when you’re four feet eleven and eye level with every guy’s crotch, that’s where you punch.”

As the show goes on, she also has to deal with new stressors – in addition to her high-powered job and caring for her husband, she also ends up having two children. At first she’s not really interested in having kids, which makes sense given her upbringing. But she eventually is excited about it and happy to have them – but loving your children doesn’t change the fact that raising them can be exhausting at times.

Bernadette’s personality might have gotten turned up a bit over the seasons for laughs, but she also grew as a person with the help of her friends…
While Bernadette’s friends might be a little afraid of her, they also love her and are a big part of her ability to grow as a person. Penny, in particular, is a large part of this. She and Bernadette had been friends since before we met them on the show – they both worked together at the Cheesecake Factory – and so their long-term bond means that Penny is both able to put up with Bernadette’s ways and push back on them when she gets to be a little too much. When Penny realizes how mean Bernadette has been to her boss (and how afraid of her he is,) she’s open with Bernadette about how she comes across and that it’s not great. And instead of getting angry, Bernadette takes what Penny says to heart and apologizes.

“I just wanted you to know that I didn’t mean to be rude about your grandson.” “Oh, that’s okay.” “No, it’s not. Penny told me that everyone’s scared of me.”


And this goes both ways – Bernadette uses her skills to help her friends, too. She’s always there for them and to remind them that they deserve it to stand up for themselves.

“What if they don’t listen to me?” “Then you be really mean to them, have I taught you nothing?”

At her core she’s a kind, loyal, and outgoing person, and the fact that she’s multidimensional means that she’s able to be there in different ways for different people, even if she can be a little scary when she does it. While the rest of the group might knock Penny for not being as book smart as them or for not having her life ‘together’, Bernadette is always there to push her to believe in herself and fight for what she deserves. Bernadette and Amy have a bit more of a competitive friendship… But they bond over their shared love of science and general similarities and develop a closeness that’s able to overcome any tiff.

Amy Bernadette has a particularly special friendship with Sheldon. As we talked about in our video on him, Sheldon often finds it hard to really connect with others or to figure out what the best course of action is in social situations. But because Bernadette is so used to dealing with other people’s quirks, she has no problem understanding him and standing up for him.

“Sheldon doesn’t know when he’s being mean because the part of his brain that should know is getting a wedgie from the rest of his brain.”

From helping him overcome his fear of birds to just making sure he takes care of himself, Bernadette uses her ability to understand both the nerdy and social worlds to assist him… and also sometimes to just make him do the right thing when he’s being extra stubborn.

While her relationship with Howard hits a few snags over the seasons, they clearly care for one another and provide a level of understanding to one another that they don’t get anywhere else. She helps him grow into a more independent adult and finally move out of his mother’s house, and lets him know that while she will take care of him, she won’t let him turn her into just another mother or forget that she’s a real catch.

“The past is the past, but he should know, I’m the kind of girl who could get all the giant missiles she wants.”

They aren’t always great with communication, but he does learn over time to consider her needs and to be willing to put her first, too, which helps them develop a loving and equal relationship.

In the end, while she might occasionally get a little scary, Bernadette was an important addition to the group. She brought a level of confidence that no one (except Sheldon) had, and used her lack of fear to help push everyone towards their goals. She was also always there to stand up for people when they were at their lowest and didn’t feel like they could stand up for themselves. She might not have ever totally overcome her oldest child syndrome, but she did find ways to use it for good instead of just personal gain. And it’s through that combination of personal growth and self-determination that she was able to build a happy life for herself where she had everything she wanted, and the agency to make choices for herself while also having other people in her life that she knew she could fall back on.

“Everyone of you has the capacity to be anything you want to be.” “Except Cinderella.” “Come at me! See what happens!”