Psychoanalyst Arnold Goldberg, MD, former director of the Chicago Institute for Psychoanalysis and current Cynthia Oudejan Harris professor of psychiatry at Rush University Medical School, advised me how to write the lede to this post. “These are not moral issues,” he told me in a telephone conversation late Thursday in which he tried to make sense of why Anthony Weiner and Dominique Strauss-Kahn aimed a wrecking ball at their own futures. “These are psychological illnesses…..Everyone jumps on them and beats them up because they think they are bad people….These are not moral deviations and they’re not biological dysfunctions.”
The man who could have been mayor of New York and the man who could have been president of France are types that Goldberg, 82, has seen many times.
A local boy who graduated from John Marshall High School and the U of I for both undergrad and med school, Goldberg stresses that he does not know either Weiner or Strauss-Kahn, but that his experience tells him that both suffer from “narcissistic behavior disorders.”
Carol Felsenthal: So what does that mean?
Arnold Goldberg: People who have disturbances in their self-esteem regulation often exhibit what we call narcissistic personalities; they are very grandiose, they show off, they’re very self involved, … and they often are very important [people], … even celebrities…. Periodically they misbehave, sexually, financially, they misbehave by lying, by stealing…..The people we mentioned who are now in the news are very typical examples of narcissistic behavior disorders.
CF: You warned at the outset not to look at Weiner and Strauss-Kahn and label their behavior “bad, immoral, hateful.” Explain.
AG: The usual reaction to these misbehaviors is a very moralistic one. Psychiatrists and especially psychoanalysts try very hard not to be moralistic, and to try to understand them. Why in the world do they do what they do?
CF: Okay, why?
AG: “Weiner is a great example because he’s up there [at his press conference on Monday during which, after days of denial and lies, he finally admitted to texting and tweeting sexual images and messages to women he met on line] chastising himself, hating himself, saying what a terrible person he was and yet you see long standing episodes of misbehavior on his part…. We find that these people with the behavior disorders are not liars or psychopaths or dishonest people in general. …. They have periodic misbehaviors, they periodically do something that they feel very bad about, but for the most part they’re upstanding citizens.
CF: You’re saying then that they have a kind of bifurcated personality?
AG: The best literary example is Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. They act is if they are two people… Mr. Hyde is abhorrent to them. “How could I have done that? It’s like I was a different person.”. ….They are victims of a part of them that’s very realistic; we call that the reality ego, and then a split off …t hat behaves in this grandiose, megalomaniacal, and even delusional fashion.
CF: Does Weiner who seems so arrogant and had a reputation for being a bully feel humbled by this or just angry at getting caught?
AG: He hates himself…. I watched him [at the press conference]. I think now he is so unbelievably mad at himself; he can’t believe that he would do this again, but I can tell you he will do it again because the poor guy is not a bad man; he’s got one of these disturbances.
CF: I understand that you don’t know Dominique Strauss-Kahn, but can you explain how this disorder resulted in the head of the International Monetary Fund allegedly sodomizing a hotel chambermaid?
AG: He was about to be made the president of France. We can see he was being filled with the excitement of what we call grandiose fantasies, very special, great person, and when you’re filled with this and you can’t handle them you get over-excited …. These people do things that are semi-delusional; they’re crazy….. The periodic misbehavior is under the control of a different part of them, a split off part of them.
CF: But how did this result in the alleged sexual assault?
AG: “The guy is in the bathroom, he’s naked and he knows he’s being considered to be the president of France. He gets very grandiose, very excited … and he splits off and acts in a grandiose, megalomaniacal fashion. We have found that people who do the acting out usually do it at points of success…. I think he went into this kind of semi-delusional state of so self important … so great, that of course he could have any woman he wanted, and the maid, the poor woman, just happened to be there.
CF: Strauss-Kahn, my guess, will probably spend years, decades in prison. What about Weiner? Should he immediately take himself to a psychiatrist?
AG: Most psychiatrists, as opposed to psychoanalysts, can’t treat these people….. Psychiatric help for the most part today is medication and it will not do him any good…. What’s done with most of these people … is they’re put in 12-step programs—“Stop it, stop it, stop it, behave yourself, control yourself”….. The only thing in my mind that really helps is psychodynamic psychotherapy.
CF: It’s not surprising that you advocate psychotherapy, but do you really think a psychiatrist would be the wrong choice?
AG: I’m afraid he will see a psychiatrist who will give him some meshuggeneh drug and put him in a 12-step program.
CF: Do you think that Weiner ought to resign? It seemed to me from watching him over the years that he was bored in Congress, wanted something bigger, and we know he had the ambition to be mayor of New York.
AG: That’s a very important word, ambition is the undoing of these people. Ambition and success causes these dis-regulated self-esteem states where they get over-excited.
CF: All of those hit by this affliction whom we’ve talked about today are men (Eliot Spitzer, John Edwards, Bill Clinton, Arnold Schwarzenegger), most at the top of their games when scandal hit.
AG: 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: In the Weiner case, the most sympathetic character—she’s reportedly pregnant with his child—is his wife, Huma Abedin, the long-time body woman/traveling companion to Hillary Clinton.
AG: She looks like him too. We call her a narcissistic object choice. She’s dark, she’s thin, same height, they have the same cheekbone configuration.
CF: So how do we in the press do in covering these stories?
AG: The media, most of all, jumps on these people with all kinds of negative appellations…. Did you read John Kass? He so exemplifies the hate and the disdain that is directed against these people. All he wants to do is to beat the shit out of them…. hateful, awful, they’re not like us…. I try very, very hard to get people to stop being moralistic and let’s try to understand what’s happening.