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Should They Be Chastised Or Pitied? - 6/26/2008


What do these names bring to mind?  Thomas Jefferson, Mark Foley, Wilbur Mills, Wayne Hayes, Gary Hart, Newt Gingrich, Bob Livingston, Dan Crane, James McGeevey, Roosevelt, Eisenhower, Bill Clinton, John, Robert and Ted Kennedy, Jim Bakker, Jimmy Swaggert, Jerry Falwell, Henry Cisneros, Ronny Latham, Bishop Thomas O’Brien, Elliot Spitzer and David Paterson.  It’s a long list, but it  probably only scratches the surface.  They’re politicians, senators, representatives, judges, presidents, mayors, religious leaders; all successful, intelligent, charismatic human beings who reached the top of the ladder in their various fields.  Yet, their behavior brought them all down to a common level.   

All of them cheated.  They abused their power, undermined their positions and destroyed their reputations.  Wherever I go, people are talking about it.  They wonder, “Why did they do it in the first place?  Did they want to be caught?  Why didn’t they think of the hurt their spouses and children would experience?  How could they be so stupid? ”  The answers vary from one expert to another.   “They weren’t thinking”, said Los Angeles psychotherapist, Robert Butterworth.  “They lost their ability to see what’s wrong and what they’re doing”, said Dr. Brooks, of the Summit Institute for the Study of Power and Persuasion.  “It’s all a case of arrogance”, said William Bike, a political historian.  “They really didn’t think anything could happen to them.”  “It’s addictive. It provides a buzz.  The thrill of it becomes a high”, said Pamela Brill, a Boston clinical psychologist.  There are as many opinions as there are professionals.  Each viewpoint includes some degree of accuracy and reflects where that particular individual  is coming from, professionally, personally and emotionally.  

However, I’m sure that there’s one thing that all of them could agree on.  Adultery isn’t condonable.  It is socially unacceptable, politically incorrect and tremendously hurtful to everyone involved.   It destroys trust.  It is a betrayal of a moral commitment between partners and is damaging to every family member.   There is no doubt that infidelity is morally, logically, intellectually and pragmatically a poor decision.   Yet, believe it or not, most of the individuals who participate in this behavior are aware of that fact prior to, during and after their indiscretion.   None of them would condone adultery, or view it as acceptable behavior.  Nor is it a case of them lacking  good judgement.  Instead, whatever judgement they do possess is often clouded by, or totally negated by, another driving force that supercedes their values and any sensibility inside them.   That driving force consists of a desperate need to fill a long-term emotional hole inside them which contributes to a feeling of emptiness, a desperate need for closeness and an erroneous  feeling of intimacy that is briefly satisfied by their liaisons.  The satisfaction they derive is only fleeting.  Consequently, the driving force reoccurs on a consistent basis.  Although it is often accompanied by feelings of guilt and remorse, these emotions only serve to further undermine the participant’s sense of self worth.  They are rarely sufficient to curtail their behavior.  

For the most part, their adultery may be likened to a form of addictive behavior.  It involves the same emotions, the same lack of good judgement and the same long-term results, i.e., it fails to satisfy their empty emotional hole, which has existed since childhood.  Initially, it may have been filled by a myriad of behaviors, ranging from academic success, approval from authority figures, rewards for good behavior, or athletic prowess, then, when all of the preceding no longer sufficed, by infidelity.  

Think of it this way; each of the previously named individuals belong to a large group of Type A personalities who followed the same rule they learned early in life, from society,  parents, teachers and even from their college commencement addresses.  Work hard, keep your eyes on the goal, never give up and you will be successful.  That success will come in the form of personal recognition, professional accolades, financial success and power.   All of which will result in you feeling whole.  However, after reaching their goals, most of them probably asked themselves a question made famous in a song by Peggy Lee, “Is that all there is?”  After all, they  followed the rules, climbed the ladder of success and, in the process, gave up many things to achieve their goals, only to find the empty feeling inside still haunted and depressed them and undermined their sense of self worth.    

Only then did some of them begin to realize that, in their quest to reach the top, they never developed the skills needed to truly satisfy the emptiness inside.  Their lack of development generally resulted from early  feelings of  rejection, abandonment or insufficiency, any one of which could have caused them to feel a driving need to succeed and prove themselves worthy.  But that only explains the original problem.  Their empty feeling inside persisted.  To fill it, they needed someone to love them, no matter the cost (even $4,000 an hour), or the risk.  To that end, they were willing to jeopardize their position as president,( vis a vis Kennedy and Clinton), their aspirations for the presidency (Gary Hart), their image as a spiritual leader (Jimmy Swaggert) and their record as a formidable political figure (Elliot Spitzer).  It’s as though they climbed to the top of a mountain only to feel themselves totally alone.  Their numerous accomplishments hadn’t contributed to any lasting change in their sense of aloneness.   What relationships they did have were only based on their outward appearance of success and strength.  They could have resorted to drugs, alcohol, or any number of other addictive behaviors to hide their problems.  Instead, they turned to sex.  Granted, their behavior was ill-advised and unacceptable, but, should they be chastised or pitied?

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