New York Governor Spitzer recently reported his involvement with prostitution shocked and confused many. Political colleagues were angry. But Spitzer’s behavior shows that he is painfully caught up in a sexual addiction.
When the news broke about New York Governor Eliot Spitzer’s alleged involvement with a prostitute the country was flooded with newspaper reports expressing shock and confusion. Politicians, corporate executives, and various other pundits were angry with Spitzer’s behavior? And health care providers are starting to scratch their heads at the level of apparent ignorance of the addictive behavior this response exhibits.
In fact, Spitzer’s behavior is a classic reflection of a certain type of addiction known as sex addiction.
In the addiction recovery field provider refers to the “madness” of the addict. They define this as a way of thinking that forces the addict to continue to make dangerous choices for themselves and others but deny consciously or unconsciously to oneself that those choices will have a significant negative impact. In Spitzer’s case he continues to make choices despite the enormous risks involved – risks that include divorce, alienation from children, job loss, legal accusations, illness, blackmail, and personal humiliation.
It is clear from the news that this kind of behavior is now confusing to many. They don’t understand what drives a person to act so irresponsibly that he ends up hurting himself and loved ones so much. Many criticize, judge, and express glee without understanding or interest that Spitzer’s behavior reflects an internal state that is very painful and unsanitary because it is very likely to be driven by formative experiences that jeopardize the health of oneself and others.
Such a painful state is at the root of sexual addiction.
Healthy individuals need to feel a positive sense of connection with themselves and to know that they are capable of managing their lives. Our ability to experience this grows from our interactions throughout childhood with our primary caregivers and is shaped by the degree to which we experience a sense of security, a sense of fun, and a sense of competence.
When we don’t have enough of these experiences growing up we become adults who suffer from a number of problems which include negative beliefs about ourselves, a general state of anxiety and / or depression, feelings of grandeur, loneliness, the need to please or be happy, and the need to dominate or dominated. Pervasive feelings of inadequacy are at the heart of these states and addiction is the means of managing that pain.
The effectiveness of sexually addictive behaviors that seem to relieve such intense pain lies in the emotional shifts that take place. Sexual behavior triggers mood-altering states that provide the addict with temporary relief from emotional pain and euphoric feelings of joy. And in the case of prostitution, a male or female prostitute is only a means by which the addict can experience joy, a sense of power, and a feeling of connection that he cannot experience in his life.
Governor Spitzer held great power in his political life, and he presented the embodiment of a dedicated, effective, productive and respected civil servant. Yet despite all this her sexual behavior shows that she is unable to consistently experience healthy internal self-confidence, loving relationships, and control. Maybe he will deny this. What is undeniable is the huge loss suffered by her and her family as a result of her sexual behavior.
At the very least, Governor Spitzer has the opportunity now to be curious about his options, to recognize how little wholesome power he exhibits over his behavior, and to seek understanding and help make healthier choices in the future. This is a critical first step for everyone caught in sexual addiction. To do so offers a deep and profound healing experience that leads to compassionate understanding and forgiveness, a world full of loving friends and family, and a very living life with grace and dignity.