Anthony Weiner shouldn’t resign, but he should seek help [11]

By Dr. Keith Witt
June 10, 2011
An article about Anthony Weiner in the June 10, 2011 LA Times by Kathleen Hennessey and Michael Memoli (weirdly, on the “obituaries” page), quoted the latest Marist Poll showing 56% of the voters in his district didn’t think he should resign. Apparently his sexual escapades (all with consenting adults) didn’t cause 56% of his constituents to completely discount and dismiss his fierce advocacy for them and the rest of us over the last two decades. On the other hand, 33% were sufficiently creeped out by his penis postings to think he should pack it in and seek other work. In general, people either rationalized his behavior as in, “I know that not every guy is like that, but most guys are crazy for women,” or morally condemning as in, “I just think his lack of judgment is so bad, I couldn’t vote for him again.” I think both rationalizations and blanket condemnations miss the point. Cheating on your (pregnant) wife, and sending lewd pictures to different women are usually signs of sexual compulsivity, which is a problem like alcoholism, obsessive compulsive disorder, or social phobia (see Blog #10). People don’t need punishment or shunning for such conditions—they need treatment that focuses on acknowledging the problem and getting help. Why do we so easily forgive some psychological illnesses like alcoholism (Winston Churchill, Ted Kennedy), or depression (Abraham Lincoln, Mother Teresa), and be so ready to level the social death penalty—resignation—for sexual compulsivity? Why do we hold some citizens to perfect standards and excuse others for being sexually messed up? Wilt Chamberlain bragged in his autobiography about his twenty thousand hook-ups, and I don’t remember anybody expressing concern that the guy was driven by sexual addiction—mostly I heard grudging admiration from primarily male commentators. We have double standards in this country for how we deal with non-sexual and sexual mental illnesses, and who is allowed which transgressions. Anthony Wiener’s drama epitomizes such hypocrisy. Tiger Woods admitted his sexual addiction, got into a hospital, worked a recovery program, and is back on the tour. Many, including his ex-wife, admire the courage he demonstrated coming clean and getting help. Bill Clinton sought counseling from his pastor, reconciled with Hillary, and famously reported keeping focused on waking up every morning resolved to do his best to serve the American people—that’s you and me. There is zero evidence that Tiger’s and Bill’s sexual acting out affected their work. Tiger was winning championships, and Bill was two-term president who balanced the budget, got millions off welfare, handled a partisan congress where his party was in the minority in both houses, and was wildly popular around the world. They did have problems, they did suffer public humiliation, and they finally did their best to grow and make it right with family, friends, and fans. I hope Anthony Weiner doesn’t resign and does seek help. I have no idea what kind of help he needs (other than he has relational/sexual problems), or what kind of guy he really is. He has been described as a good friend and good man (John Stewart), as a self-promoting narcissist (Mark Shields and David Brooks—also see Blog #07), and as a gifted politician successfully bringing together diverse communities (Kathleen Hennessey and Michael Memoli). These apparently contradictory opinions are consistent with the fact that we are all complex beings with light and dark sides. If he were my client we’d dive into his issues in both individual and marriage counseling and see what kind of progress is possible and how willing he is to face himself. His wife needs to be included in the process because she’s been wounded too, and needs support and help, not more salacious notoriety. I’ve found that if men like Anthony Weiner are willing to do the work, they grow into better people who can manage their sexuality and relationships better. If he and his wife were both were willing to do the work individually and with each other, they could grow to have a superior marriage. If all this happened, this story could eventually inspire thousands to get out of denial of their sexual compulsions and seek help, and Anthony Weiner, like Ted Kennedy before him, could become another model of falling from grace and struggling successfully for redemption. Wouldn’t that be best for everybody?

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