The latest scandal with Anthony Weiner has revealed a cultural epidemic—men who seek power and self-worth through the means of seduction, harassment and exhibitionist behavior via social media. This is no longer a fad; this has become a preferred and predictable way for many men to deal with their psychological impotence. And while we see an increase in these stories in the news, the behavior and pathology is not new. Before the internet and social media, men did this by flashing someone in the park or making an anonymous call and breathing heavily into the phone or harassing someone at work in the break room or seducing someone at the local bar. However, these behaviors have escalated with the seemingly anonymity of sitting alone behind your computer screen—this makes it easier for men to act out as it requires less contact with their victims. In other words, more men can engage in these tactics because it requires less tenacity. While the behaviors can easily be made into jokes about boyish antics, there are greater pathologies that underlie these acts. Men who engage in these addictive exhibitionist behaviors suffer from a deep sense of powerlessness and shame. Unfortunately, the way they seek to remedy their underlying pain results in embarrassment and more shame for themselves and the people their actions affect.
It is too easy and simplistic to focus solely on the morality of such betrayals. In truth, these situations reflect couples that are trapped in phase one (object-fantasy) of a developing relationship. There is a lack of self-reflection, self-awareness, and self-responsibility in these couples. There is no space for deep love and intimacy. These men (or women) vacillate between denial and pain—and unfortunately, deal with their pain in ways that hurt others.
Rather than asking questions such as “Should a wife forgive such a betrayal?” or “How could this man lie to the public?” we need to go beyond the discussion of morality and public responsibility. There are more important questions to ask. If I were Anthony Weiner’s spouse, I would ask myself the following:
- How does this behavior reflect the level of maturity and pathology in the man I married?
- What kind of man do I want to share my life with?
- What do I need to understand about myself? Do I want real intimacy in my relationship? In what ways have I colluded with the fantasy and denial?
- Do I want a husband/partner who seeks power in ways that are vain, inappropriate, and reflect a deep sense of powerlessness and shame? Is my husband/partner truly willing and able to do the work that is required for creating a loving, intimate relationship?
Relationships have a predictable developmental path. They offer us mirrors into ourselves. And in doing so, provide the perfect vehicle for healing, growth, and transformation. We of course, have the free will to accept or decline the opportunity.
Julie Orlov, psychotherapist, speaker, and author of The Pathway to Love: Create Intimacy and Transform Your Relationships through Self-Discovery
Create Relationships in Your Life That Work — learn more at www.julieorlov.com
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