It seems that over the past year or two, we have had a spate of powerful rich men engaged in very risky, twisted sexual behaviors. From New York attorney general Elliot Spitzer to celebrated golfer Tiger Woods to now NewYork Congressman Anthony Weiner. There are some common threads here. All three of them are unusually successful, very well known, well-to-do and married to beautiful, seemingly devoted wives. So the question is: What drives these men to engage in such riskladen and at times bizarre sexual behavior? Is it the power, character traits, or mental pathology? Or maybe a combination of the above?
The role of power
In human history, powerful men have been known to engage in sexual indiscretion. Power does bring with it the influence and control. It can give people a high which has a potential to compromise one’s judgment. Power may also give a sense of “being above others and even above the law.” Engaging in risky sexual behavior and getting away with it reinforces the sense of power and feelings of euphoria. Judging by our politicians’ behavior, it should be no surprise that power can be addicting.
So, does this mean that all powerful people behave like Anthony Weiner? I personally do not believe so. Because I believe the ultimate driver of our behavior is a set of character traits that develops during the early parts of our lives. People who have certain traits are more likely to behave in erratic behavior when they assume power.
Role of character:
Environment or biology?
We know that our character and value system starts to develop very early in our lives. Interactions with parents and other significant adults play a major role. Certain parts of the brain such as the prefrontal cortex are known to regulate our judgment, reasoning abilities, insight, abstract thinking, impulse control, etc. The prefrontal cortex is poorly developed during childhood and adolescence. It is believed that the maturation of the prefrontal cortex does not occur at least until mid 20’s. So it seems that our character is a product of our innate, biological vulnerabilities and our upbringing.
I believe that our character traits are the most accurate predictors of our behavior and play the biggest role in the stories of Elliot Spitzer, Tiger Woods, and Anthony Weiner. I believe power alone does not corrupt anybody but if you have certain character traits and you are exposed to power and wealth, then you are more likely to engage in certain patterns of behavior. In my professional work, I have treated many people who lack both power and wealth but compulsively or impulsively engage in behaviors under discussion. I am sure many of our readers know people who fall in the same category.
Another element related to character traits is a combination of narcissistic and sociopathic tendencies. People with these tendencies believe they do not have to conform to social norms. They also have an uncanny abilities to lie and fool people with ease.
Impulsive vs. compulsive behavior
Many people are asking if Anthony Weiner suffers from some sort of sexual addiction. The story does seem to have all the hallmarks of addictive behavior. It contains elements of secrecy, denial, escalating (sexual) behavior, and an obvious high obtained from engaging in such behavior. Addiction could be related to drugs or different kinds of stimuli including sexual stimuli.
Most people fantasize about socially unacceptable sexual activities. However, most people are able to control their impulses and not act out. In that sense, Weiner’s behavior could be an impulse-control problem.
On the other hand, some people don’t even understand their motivations behind such behaviors, but feel compelled to engage in those behaviors. In this context, Weiner’s behavior could be compulsive in nature. With compulsive gamblers, the higher the stakes and the risks, the greater the high. Similarly, for those who are addicted to inappropriate sexual behaviors — the higher the risks, the greater the high. That’s what explains why the likes of Spitzer, Woods, and Weiner are willing to risk their careers and family lives.
I have always believed that deep seated psychological issues underlie most addictive behaviors.
So what should Weiner do now?
For Weiner to be truly rehabilitated as a good family man and a decent human being, he must go in for a thorough psychiatric evaluation. He would need a behavior modification program to address his sexual addictions. He must also receive treatment for any underlying psychiatric condition.
Next week: Love Does Not Have to Be Blind
The purpose of this article is for educational purposes only. It is not intended to diagnose or treat any medical or psychiatric issue. Dr. Rakesh Ranjan is a practicing psychiatrist and a researcher. He is a recipient of several research awards and has authored several peer-reviewed journal articles and book chapters on psychiatric illnesses and their treatments. He is a national speaker for several organizations and serves on the medical advisory board for the NAMI of Greater Cleveland. If you or a loved one is experiencing any symptoms that would lead you to believe that there could be a mental imbalance, please e-mail your questions to Dr. Ranjan at email@example.com. Each Wednesday, Dr. Ranjan will address some of these questions in this column. All contact info will be kept confidential. Check our recently redesigned blog at…www.drrakeshranjan.blogspot.com.