Editor’s note: Dr. Gail Saltz is a Clinical Associate Professor of Psychiatry at The New York Presbyterian Hospital.
Dr. Gail Saltz
Here we go again. Another politician front and center for accusations of breaking the law. Not just breaking the law, but specifically abusing the power he has because he is a politician and taking advantage of others who don’t have the same power.
We could be talking about Foley, Spitzer, Clinton or Nixon for that matter. Men who also had everything to lose by breaking the rules and so we are all left wondering why they did it. There is a likely a combination of biological temperament combined with the experiences of life that is to blame. Many people in politics are risk takers.
In some ways this serves them well. It makes them driven, charismatic, able to act on creative thinking and able to come to solutions which might be outside the box. But it still makes them risk takers and when that trait is combined with a lacking moral compass…you run into rule breaking. Power is heady stuff and once attained leaves many people thirsting for more. If fueled by narcissism, a deep insecurity which is fended off in the mind by grandiose fantasies, then power can become highly corrupted. In other words, these guys start to believe their own desperate wishes that they are above the law and entitled to what they wish for.
To wish for money, sex, power is really very human and most everyone does at some level or another. But it is when these wishes and urges stay unconscious and unexamined that they have the power to make us behave in ways that are harmful, to ourselves and others. Over and over we see politicians who specifically appear to be heroes in the very arena that they are committing crimes.
Foley as champion of children’s rights is preying on his teenagers interns, Spitzer as champion of closing down prostitution is seeing a call girl and this governor has made his career on getting through legislature on crime and justice only to allegedly use his power to manipulate others and take bribes. This is the minds way of denying the unconscious urge…that they split themselves into the good guy who would never do those terrible things so as to distance themselves from the bad guy who is doing exactly those things.
As a society we need to wake up and recognize we are all human, stop expecting our politicians to be any different in their desires and understand that we all need to examine our dark urges if we are going to have any chance at avoiding bad behavior.
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