Monday, January 29, 2007


The New York Times

THE drives that lead powerful men to self-destructive sexual encounters have little to do with sex, according to psychiatrists and other mental health experts.

Instead, they cite an explosive psychic combination of unhealthy narcissism and a grandiose sense that normal rules do not apply to oneself. At work are the narcissist's desperate need to prove himself and, paradoxically, a deep urge for failure. When these forces of self-betrayal encounter the temptations brought by power, the results can destroy even the most prominent, with the inexorable logic of a Greek tragedy.

No one can say from afar what motivates a given public figure; psychotherapists cannot diagnose at a distance. And a single incident in a person's life - no matter how notorious or consequential it becomes -may not indicate a lifelong pattern in personality.

Still, many experts see patterns in the well-publicized difficulties of Gary Hart, whose Presidential campaign ended amid allegations of ''womanizing''; Jim Bakker, the television evangelist who left his pulpit after an adulterous affair, and Mayor Marion S. Barry Jr. of Washington, who has said he will change his behavior in response to criticism of his drinking habits and late-hour visits to private homes.

The sexual nature of the indiscretions is, no doubt, partly due to the opportunities for dalliance that power and fame bring. ''Some women love to be involved with men of power; it's a mutual seduction,'' said Judd Marmor, a psychoanalyst in Los Angeles. ''The trouble begins, though, when that is combined with the arrogance of power, the feeling that the rules are made for other people, not for oneself.'' It is excess beyond the normal arrogance because it summons people to such unrealistic heights and suspension of judgment that by any definition it seems to indicate a pathology at work, in the view of many of those interviewed.

Psychologists say the syndrome can lead to other kinds of abuses of power unrelated to sex - even to debacles like the Iran-contra scandal or Watergate.

''There is a terrific seduction of the spirit that takes place when you are surrounded by admiring throngs, when the red carpet is laid out for you,'' said Dr. Marmor. ''Unless you are aware of the blinding effect the adulation can have, your judgment can be impaired so that you begin to feel that you are immune to normal limits and penalties. You see it in Gary Hart, and you see it, too, in the arrogance that lies behind Irangate.''

Ann F. Lewis, national director of Americans for Democratic Action and former director of the Democratic National Committee, said: ''From the moment you enter the world of a Presidential campaign, the normal rules no longer seem to apply. You're in a vacuum-sealed universe where everyday concerns no longer exist. It's easy to forget the rules of the real world.

''But they are neither expired nor suspended - they're waiting for you right outside the door.''

That feeling of grandiosity is one of the appeals of power in the first place, particularly for the character type known to psychoanalysts as the narcissist. The hallmark of the narcissist is a sense of entitlement, of being special and outside the rules.

''Hart wanted to feel he led a charmed life,'' said L. Jolyon West, chairman of the department of psychiatry at the medical school at the University of California at Los Angeles, who has friends among Mr. Hart's important supporters. ''He had a self-deceptive sense of invulnerability; he seemed to believe he would not be found out, no matter the risks he took. In that way he seems similar to Ivan Boesky,'' the Wall Street figure involved in an insider trading scandal.

''Gary Hart had a blind spot,'' said William Schneider, a political analyst at the American Enterprise Institute. ''He thought his passions and foibles were irrelevant; he did not sense how important the character of the President is. The word around Washington was that Hart felt special and invulnerable.''

Mr. Hart, who has consistently resisted efforts to delve into the private aspects of his life, has made himself unavailable to reporters' questions since his withdrawal from the campaign, and his press office turned away an effort to elicit his thoughts about political and psychological characterizations of him.

Healthy Variety of Narcissism

There is a healthy variety of narcissism, a feeling of excellence that is the natural companion of true accomplishment. Indeed, a certain degree of healthy narcissism is thought to be a prerequisite to success in politics, as in other fields. But the pathological form of narcissism impels people to achieve for neurotic reasons.

''Most of us get enough sense of self-worth in childhood that we don't need to rely on constant praise from others for it,'' said Robert Michels, chairman of the department of psychiatry at Cornell University Medical College. ''But if as a child you have a sense of being unloved, then you can go through life like a child forever seeking love and approval; you need to have praise simply to feel merely adequate.''

Closely linked to the striving for achievement in unhealthy narcissism is a need to fail. The unconscious need to fail was noted by Freud, who said men who ruined their own success were commonly seen in psychoanalysis.

''If your self-esteem is so fragile, you are unable to believe the applause,'' Dr. Michels said. ''You feel guilty and conflicted about the praise, because you don't believe you deserve it. Such people vacillate between a sense of undeserved success and a feeling of worthlessness.'' '

They Devalue' Success

''When they finally achieve a great success, they devalue it or even undermine it,'' Dr. Michels added. ''Their success is destroyed because it had built into it the seeds of defeat.''
People who seem to undermine themselves may have ''many strong motives that they do not know about,'' said Mardi Horowitz, a psychiatrist at the medical school at the University of California at San Francisco. ''And they often don't know what their unconscious moral standards are. They get themselves in trouble as punishment for having gotten something that, deep down, they do not feel they should be allowed to have.''

Such people may invite discovery. ''The circumstances of Hart being found out and of Nixon taping the conversations that undid him both suggest people who, at some level, want to be caught,'' said Lester Luborsky, a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania. ''Each, in a way, invited discovery. You can't know for sure, but you can assume an unconscious guilt. It's a combination of narcissistic grandiosity and self-delusion.''

One political analyst said he felt Mr. Hart's problems resulted from ''ambivalence about the Presidency'' -both wanting it and not wanting it, as Mr. Hart himself has said - ''rather than a political death wish.''

Another hallmark of the narcissist - and it often dooms their relationships - is a preoccupation with their own gratification, in combination with a lack of regard for how others feel.
''Such people come to feel they can do no wrong, and should be allowed to do whatever they want,'' said David Spiegel, a psychiatrist at Stanford University Medical School. ''It is only an educated inference on my part, but Gary Hart seemed to be so taken with himself and his accomplishments that he could not empathize. And he was so divorced from a sense of being involved that he could not consider the cost to his wife and to his supporters of not controlling his own impulses.''

The Public's Reaction

The psychological experts suggested that there may be factors that would lead the public to react strongly to transgressions that would have been forgiven in less elevated figures - or in an earlier time.

For example, the extramarital sexual encounters of John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. were well known by their immediate circle and even by some members of the press. But things have changed since then. Some experts point to changes in the status of women since the early 1960's. Others point to heightened concern over the President's role in the fate of the world.

''Now, more than ever in history, our personal welfare depends on the moral fiber and judgment of the President,'' said Milton Greenblatt, a psychiatrist at U.C.L.A., who has made a study of the Presidency through history. ''That makes us more critical of that fiber than before.''

Dr. West of U.C.L.A. said: ''There is a special meaning to sexual indiscretions in someone like a Presidential candidate, or a minister, for that matter. Why are we preoccupied with the old-fashioned image of an ultra-pure, loving couple - the Harts or the Bakkers? With the family so threatened and fragmented today, we want our leaders to reassure us that the ideal is still viable. We want them to symbolize that for us. When they don't, we feel a betrayal, because they have destroyed our idealized image of the family.''

'An Idealized Good Parent'

Dr. Greenblatt likened the President to ''an idealized good parent,'' saying: ''He's supposed to be pure, monogamous, fatherly. If he betrays that ideal, we're outraged, like small children whose parent lets them down.''

Bill Hamilton, a political consultant at Hamilton, Frederick & Schneiders in Washington, agreed. ''People cannot forgive things in the President they would in a governor,'' he said. ''He's the last man between them and nuclear war, economic instability, world turmoil. They want to know the guy is solid and knows himself.''