Forensic Psychological Services

Sexts, Lies and Anthony Weiner, Icarus Man

From Anthony Weiner to Eliot Spitzer, from John Edwards to Mark Sanford, they surround us in the media—respected, respectable, and righteous men who fly high and then plunge to earth, in a spectacular moral flameout that destroys their reputations and often their careers, burns their wives and families, and shocks the world. In an interview, Katie Couric asked President Obama why prominent political figures risk so much in becoming embroiled in affairs, mistresses and other scandals. Mr. Obama was baffled. “I have no idea,” he said. “I’ll leave that to the psychologists.”

Recently, I have become the psychologist who must answer that question. My private practice has been inundated with cases--of private citizens referred by their attorneys or remanded to me by the courts. These men have inexplicably brought upon themselves disasters that led to arrests and criminal charges. I have treated an esteemed banker whose family’s lifestyle, prestige, and security was based on a phony hedge fund, several different lawyers who shared their bed with their wives and an assortment of prostitutes they found on the internet, and a real estate baron whose investors’ fortunes were turned to dust by his chimerical deals. I have worked with them in the courts and (often with their wives and children) in the painful confessional of the therapy office.

Yet as I began to treat these emotionally fragile and frequently suicidal men, I found that there was nothing the psychological journals or the experience of my colleagues that accurately described their constellation of traits and symptoms. Diagnoses of narcissistic or antisocial personality disorder did not fit them. Nor are they standard-issue philanderers or white-collar criminals, or psychopathic con artists or embezzlers. Instead, these men are compelled by a complex of obsessive-compulsive disorder, addictive tendencies, and bipolar mania that converge and combust inside their psyche. Hiring hookers, committing financial frauds, snorting away their company’s profits, taking on mistresses, and—yes—relentlessly sexting women not their wives, they suffer from serious obsessive-compulsive disorder abetted by addiction--to gambling or risk-taking, or alcohol or drugs. When bipolar disorder ignites their manic hubris, they compulsively engage in bizarre behavior that is aberrant and morally repugnant to them; they deludes themselves into believing they will not be caught while all the while desperate to be stopped. They possess the frenetic, death-defying drive to rise high at any cost--and then they deliberately collapse when they can no longer take the pressure of their impossible lives. I call their syndrome the Icarus Complex.

Anthony Weiner, beloved by his constituents, the wunderkind of Congress with an enviable new bride and a baby on the way, is the most recent sad example of an Icarus Man suffering from a syndrome so severe that it’s a wonder he could stay aloft as long as he did. He and his wife need our help and understanding.
Working with Icarus Men like Mr. Weiner, I must uncover the distinctive but consistently present psychodynamics that explain why they fall. I work to help the Icarus Man manage his illness and live a better, happier, healthier and truly successful life. Through therapy, he learns to shed the grandiose facade that led to his destruction and promote instead the development of his authentic self.
Icarus Men are canaries in a coal mine. They are the first victims of a psychological syndrome resulting from an epidemic of misplaced social values. The Icarus Complex defines a warped and dysfunctional model of success and masculinity that ultimately betrays our vision of the social contract, undermines marriage and the family, and poisons the workplace. Thanks to our celebration of the grandiose and swashbuckling alpha-male career man, those other men who lead truly integrated lives—who achieve balance between family time and work and enjoy stable monogamous marriages—seem like losers and also-rans.

Anthony Weiner has recognized he needs psychological help and is admitting himself into a treatment center. We can hope that with the proper care, he will emerge healed and renewed, while reviving his marriage in the process. The wife of one of my patients, a man who had been arrested for cyberspace indiscretions that were splashed across the tabloids, sees hope for Mr. Weiner and his wife, Huma Abedin. "I thought our life was over,” she told me. “Instead, it was just beginning again. We have rebounded to the point that after 20 years of marriage, we renewed our wedding vows and our commitment to each other and to our family.”
But unless we confront a culture that fails to celebrate the authentic, well-balanced American male, many more Icarus Men will crash, wrecking their careers and personal lives, and leave a burned-out place on the American landscape.