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When I interviewed psychoanalyst/psychiatrist Arnold Goldberg to get his take on Anthony Weiner and Dominique Strauss-Kahn, I was surprised when he repeatedly referenced a female version—shopping—of “narcissistic behavior disorder,” the “psychological illness” from which, he speculated, both men suffered. (Goldberg stipulated more than once that he had never laid eyes on either man, much less treated them, “so all I can do is talk about similar kinds of patients that I have had.”)

Goldberg, 82, is the former director of the Chicago Institute for Psychoanalysis and current Cynthia Oudejan Harris professor of psychiatry at Rush University Medical School. To introduce the subject, the first exchange is from Part I of the Goldberg interview, and it’s followed by fresh questions and answers:

Carol Felsenthal: All of those hit by this affliction whom we’ve talked about today are men [In addition to Weiner and Strauss-Kahn], Eliot Spitzer, John Edwards, Bill Clinton, Arnold Schwarzenegger), most at the top of their games when scandal hit.

Arnold Goldberg: Please do not become a sexist, because women have problems just like this, but usually not in the sexual area. Shopaholics are notoriously narcissistic behavior disorders…. They’re mainly women. Most of the sexual misbehaviors are men.

CF: There’s a similarity in the behaviors of men and women who suffer from this disorder?

AG: They not only are very self involved, very concerned … with how they affect other people, …they also periodically misbehave. They misbehave sexually, they misbehave financially, they misbehave by lying, by stealing, by shopping…. My patient who did periodic shopping would spend incredible amounts of money, go deep into debt, and said she’d be pulled into a Gucci or a Prada store and would go into something like a dissociated state … and find herself buying, buying, buying;  afterwards feel, `What in the world happened to me?’

CF: Could the shopping lady or, say,  Dominique Strauss-Kahn, claim an insanity defense?  [The shopper was eventually caught shoplifting and, more seriously, stealing from her employer to finance her addiction.]

AG: Probably not, because for the most part the majority of their psychology is realistic. It’s the split off part that is crazy. With the shopping lady, and I mention her because she was in the newspaper and I treated her, we were able to get the judge to say you need treatment and she was successfully treated. …The point is for the most part she is absolutely disdainful and hateful for her behavior.  Yet when it happened it overwhelm[ed] her.

CF: Do women generally hide this shopping mania from their husbands?

AG: The sick person is very involved with what we call disavowal or denial, saying it’s not me, Jekyll and Hyde; Jekyll said that is not me. That is a foreign person. There’s also usually a great deal of denial on the partner’s part. They say …. `Who’s running up these credit cards?’ But they practice a great deal of denial as well … I remember the husband of my shopping lady would say to her, `Listen honey, before you shop, call me,’ and she’d turn to him and say, `But if I call you I won’t shop.’

CF: [When we discussed Dominique Strauss-Kahn, after stipulating, “I don’t know him; I’m not analyzing him,” Goldberg told me that the man who stands accused of sexually assaulting a maid in a New York hotel was likely feeling at a pinnacle of success in his life; often mentioned as the next president of France: “He gets very … narcissistically involved with his importance and specialness.” Goldberg added that people who act out usually do so “at points of success.”]  Was that true for you shopaholic patient?

AG: The shopping lady would go out and spend $100,000 after she was promoted.

CF: There are men who also shop?

AG: This university professor who used to steal books. He’d go in to the bookstore with this big raincoat—before they had these warning things on the books—steal books, take them home, put them in the closet, never read them. Shopping people are very interesting. …. [They] range from people who shop, bring it home,  and wear it; people who shop, hang it up in the closet, take it out and look at it and never wear it; people who shop, put it in the closet and never look at it; and … people who shop and never take it out of the bag, just bring it home and pile it in a corner.

You’d say this is crazy and they would admit it; it’s crazy behavior…..The shopping lady was mainly a very high functioning executive. The university professor was mainly a professor; it’s these periodic behavior disorders that erupt that they included themselves in hating and wishing it was not the case.

CF: What’s the status of the shopping lady today?

AG: She’s fine, she’s cured, she’s working, she’s happy, she doesn’t shop…. As she got better, she would go through the closet and say,  `Oh, my God, I have three of those white blouses.’


Photograph: jardenberg (CC by 2.0)