Carol Felsenthal
On politics

What Were They Thinking? Chicago Psychoanalyst Arnold Goldberg on Anthony Weiner and Dominique Strauss-Kahn

Arnold Goldberg, a professor of psychiatry at Rush, discusses narcissistic personalities, the reality ego, and how Huma Abedin is Weiner’s “narcissistic object choice.”

Psychoanalyst Arnold Goldberg, MD, former director of the Chicago Institute for Psychoanalysis and current Cynthia Oudejan Harris professor of psychiatry at Rush University Medical School, advised me how to write the lede to this post. “These are not moral issues,” he told me in a telephone conversation late Thursday in which he tried to make sense of why Anthony Weiner and Dominique Strauss-Kahn aimed a wrecking ball at their own futures.  “These are psychological illnesses…..Everyone jumps on them and beats them up because they think they are bad people….These are not moral deviations and they’re not biological dysfunctions.”

The man who could have been mayor of New York and the man who could have been president of France are types that Goldberg, 82, has seen many times.

A local boy who graduated from John Marshall High School and the U of I for both undergrad and med school, Goldberg stresses that he does not know either Weiner or Strauss-Kahn, but that his experience tells him that both suffer from “narcissistic behavior disorders.”

Carol Felsenthal: So what does that mean?

Arnold Goldberg: People who have disturbances in their self-esteem regulation often exhibit what we call narcissistic personalities; they are very grandiose, they show off, they’re very self involved, … and they often are very important [people], … even celebrities…. Periodically they misbehave, sexually, financially, they misbehave by lying, by stealing…..The people we mentioned who are now in the news are very typical examples of narcissistic behavior disorders.

CF: You warned at the outset not to look at Weiner and Strauss-Kahn and label their behavior “bad, immoral, hateful.” Explain.

AG: The usual reaction to these misbehaviors is a very moralistic one. Psychiatrists and especially psychoanalysts try very hard not to be moralistic, and to try to understand them. Why in the world do they do what they do?

CF: Okay, why?

AG: “Weiner is a great example because he’s up there [at his press conference on Monday during which, after days of denial and lies, he finally admitted to texting and tweeting sexual images and messages to women he met on line] chastising himself, hating himself, saying what a terrible person he was and yet you see long standing episodes of misbehavior on his part…. We find that these people with the behavior disorders are not liars or psychopaths or dishonest people in general. …. They have periodic misbehaviors, they periodically do something that they feel very bad about, but for the most part they’re upstanding citizens.

CF: You’re saying then that they have a kind of bifurcated personality?

AG: The best literary example is Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. They act is if they are two people… Mr. Hyde is abhorrent to them.  “How could I have done that?  It’s like I was a different person.”. ….They are victims of a part of them that’s very realistic; we call that the reality ego, and then a split off …t hat behaves in this grandiose, megalomaniacal, and even delusional fashion.

CF: Does Weiner who seems so arrogant and had a reputation for being a bully feel humbled by this or just angry at getting caught?

AG: He hates himself…. I watched him [at the press conference]. I think now he is so unbelievably mad at himself; he can’t believe that he would do this again, but I can tell you he will do it again because the poor guy is not a bad man; he’s got one of these disturbances.

CF: I understand that you don’t know Dominique Strauss-Kahn, but can you explain how this disorder resulted in the head of the International Monetary Fund allegedly sodomizing a hotel chambermaid?

AG: He was about to be made the president of France. We can see he was being filled with the excitement of what we call grandiose fantasies, very special, great person, and when you’re filled with this and you can’t handle them you get over-excited …. These people do things that are semi-delusional; they’re crazy….. The periodic misbehavior is under the control of a different part of them, a split off part of them.

CF: But  how did this result in the alleged sexual assault?

AG: “The guy is in the bathroom, he’s naked and he knows he’s being considered to be the president of France. He gets very grandiose, very excited … and he splits off and acts in a grandiose, megalomaniacal fashion.  We have found that people who do the acting out usually do it at points of success…. I think he went into this kind of semi-delusional state of so self important … so great, that of course he could have any woman he wanted, and the maid, the poor woman, just happened to be there.

CF: Strauss-Kahn, my guess, will probably spend years, decades in prison. What about Weiner? Should he immediately take himself to a psychiatrist?

AG: Most psychiatrists, as opposed to psychoanalysts, can’t treat these people….. Psychiatric help for the most part today is medication and it will not do him any good…. What’s done with most of these people … is they’re put in 12-step programs—“Stop it, stop it, stop it, behave yourself, control yourself”….. The only thing in my mind that really helps is psychodynamic psychotherapy.

CF: It’s not surprising that you advocate psychotherapy, but do you really think a psychiatrist would be the wrong choice?

AG: I’m afraid he will see a psychiatrist who will give him some meshuggeneh drug and put him in a 12-step program.

CF: Do you think that Weiner ought to resign? It seemed to me from watching him over the years that he was bored in Congress, wanted something bigger, and we know he had the ambition to be mayor of New York.

AG: That’s a very important word, ambition is the undoing of these people. Ambition and success causes these dis-regulated self-esteem states where they get over-excited.

CF: All of those hit by this affliction whom we’ve talked about today are men (Eliot Spitzer, John Edwards, Bill Clinton, Arnold Schwarzenegger), most at the top of their games when scandal hit.

AG: Please do not become a sexist, because women have problems just like this, but usually not in the sexual area. Shopaholics are notoriously narcissistic behavior disorders…. They’re mainly women. Most of the sexual misbehaviors are men.

CF: In the Weiner case, the most sympathetic character—she’s reportedly pregnant with his child—is his wife, Huma Abedin, the long-time body woman/traveling companion to Hillary Clinton.

AG: She looks like him too. We call her a narcissistic object choice. She’s dark, she’s thin, same height, they have the same cheekbone configuration.

CF: So how do we in the press do in covering these stories?

AG: The media, most of all, jumps on these people with all kinds of negative appellations…. Did you read John Kass? He so exemplifies the hate and the disdain that is directed against these people. All he wants to do is to beat the shit out of them…. hateful, awful, they’re not like us…. I try very, very hard to get people to stop being moralistic and let’s try to understand what’s happening.


3 years ago
Posted by geographer

What the hell? Is this guy seriously justifying rape?! There's a difference between "sexual misbehavior" and physically assaulting another human being. You make it sound as if DSK is merely into sex toys or fetishes.

This article is misogynistic rape-apologist crap that promotes the ancient double standard of "boys will be boys" while trivializing and dismissing the horror that DSK's victim, and other rape victims, must endure.

I'm also disappointed in Roger Ebert for linking to this from his Twitter.

3 years ago
Posted by pujeemuhs

Way to negate men's responsibility for their adult informed independent decisions and behavior.
You know there's a huge difference between sexting with a consenting party and physically attacking a person, right?

3 years ago
Posted by geographer

Also, regarding the last paragraph, it's not "moralistic" to say that rapists aren't like me, because I don't rape people. I make sure that any sexual activity I engage in is consensual. It's not as if people are gay-bashing DSK, good grief.

Condemning rape is like condemning murder. It's a matter of simple human decency.

3 years ago
Posted by geographer

Oh, one last thing? Being a "shopaholic" is not like raping someone.

Even if I blew my savings on a wild shopping spree, it wouldn't give anyone Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, physical injuries, or a chance at an STD or an unwanted pregnancy.

This article is physically nauseating.

3 years ago
Posted by Keith Draws

I think you are projecting your own ideas of what you imagine is being said onto the interview.
Goldberg is not making excuses for rape nor is he comparing being a rapist to being a shopaholic. He's simply pointing out that the cause of such behaviors is mental illness which can be addressed and in many cases cured. Unfortunately that does not happen because people don't want to cure the disorder (which will prevent any further behavior like that from happening) they would rather take a moral stance and simply punish the person.
Of course that really works well after 100's and perhaps thousands of years of punishing this behavior we can see punishment works because the prisons are now empty.. oh wait....

3 years ago
Posted by karekenj

I did seven years in Sing-Sing on a charge of Aggravated Shopaholism.

3 years ago
Posted by hey

Sorry Keith, but he is justifying rape.

"The media, most of all, jumps on these people with all kinds of negative appellations."

I agree with him about Weiner, unless any of these women were not consenting (it appears that they were) or minors (jury's still out on that one), people need to leave him alone. I just read the John Kass piece he linked to: Kass seems sexually repressed, like the majority of Americans.

But Strauss-Kahn violated and psychologically injured another human being. And that is not bad???? Screw Dr Goldberg.

3 years ago
Posted by hey

"You warned at the outset not to look at Weiner and Strauss-Kahn and label their behavior “bad, immoral, hateful.” "

How disgusting.

3 years ago
Posted by bobbynorwich

As a psychoanalyst, Goldberg must try to understand the causes of behavioral problems and not make moral judgments about them. Because a narcissistic personality disorder (NPD)--- like all personality disorders --- is deeply engrained in the person's makeup, it is not easily treated as doing so requires working through the developmental (childhood) problems that created it. That is why he says that psychiatry and 12 step programs do not work for NPD as they are superficial, whereas psychoanalysis is much deeper and essentially re-makes the personality into a less dysfunctional one.

3 years ago
Posted by ritahayna

i do not think psychodynamic psychotherapy would help any more than introspection and the aversion to what these men are going through now, after being caught, as well as future consequences would. Is there any solid research showing that it has worked with cases like these?

3 years ago
Posted by Linda MacDonald

To seperate rape from ethics is unethical!
Linda MacDonald
Nova Scotia, Canada

3 years ago
Posted by Keith Draws

I'm addressing Hey but everybody else as well,
Hey said:
"But Strauss-Kahn violated and psychologically injured another human being. And that is not bad???? "

Of course it is bad.
I'm not saying, Straus-Kann should face no consequences. The man is obviously so sick that he is a danger to people around him. This means he should be isolated from the general populace so that they are safe. If he were put in a secure mental health facility they could then treat his disorder. If he respond to the treatment and becomes cured he would be safe to release but if he doesn't respond then they would have to detain him indefinitely.
Under the current system, if he is found guilty he will face a short term in prison after which he will be released again.. How in hell is that better?

I'm so disappointed with the small mindedness and lack of vision of people who claim to be moral. How is it moral to put a sick man in Jail?.... and even worse how is it moral to then release him (untreated and uncured) after a short time back in to the public arena where he will undoubtedly rape again?

Punishing Criminals does not work. If it did the jails would be empty.

Only stupid people keep repeating the same mistake over and over again.

3 years ago
Posted by Keith Draws

Currently there are many new studies being undergone but so far the evidence is showing very good results. You can read more about it here:

Your own belief that it would not work is based on what evidence?

3 years ago
Posted by pujeemuhs

Keith Draws, Strauss-Kahn isn't sick, he knew what he was doing and made the calculation - based on previous experience and on his flight itinerary - that he'd most likely get away with it.
Rapists know what they're doing.

3 years ago
Posted by docaig

I need to explain. Understanding is not condoning. We hate Cancer and try to understand it, but do not condone it. My point was that hating often blinds us to understanding. What these men did or may have done is terrible,but still needs to be explained as well as condemned. Yes, we are successful in treatment and have published the results. Arnold Goldberg

3 years ago
Posted by Junethecat

Dr. Goldberg is speaking as a clinician, someone who could work with this sort of problem. He is not speaking as judge,jury or executioner. No therapist would or should work with someone he/she considers "bad, stupid, evil, etc."
On the other hand, I am troubled by Dr G's blanket dismissal of 12 Step groups. There is a lot more going on there other than "Don't do it". Yes, the newer, impulse disorder groups such as Overeaters Anonymous and Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous all have some glitches to work out in contrast to AA which has evolved into a solid, psychologically minded program. Of course, if you want to use any group in a black and white way, you will get a black & white program where others might find something more nuanced.

3 years ago
Posted by pujeemuhs

@DOCAIG - Too bad the "explanation" so often boils down to "mental illness" when in fact it's an overblown sense of entitlement due in part to all the people out there who make every excuse for you.
People who actually have mental illnesses don't need that crap either.

3 years ago
Posted by pujeemuhs

@DOCAIG - "We hate Cancer and try to understand it, but do not condone it."

Rape has nothing to do with cancer. Anybody who truly wants to understand rape might get somewhere in that endeavor by seriously considering why they feel so obliged to defend and minimize it.

3 years ago
Posted by hey

Keith: first of all, I was *not* talking to you, at all, whatsoever. I was hoping at Dr Goldberg would respond in this thread, if he desired to do so, to those of us who are calling him out on this. And you say this:

"I'm so disappointed with the small mindedness and lack of vision of people who claim to be moral. How is it moral to put a sick man in Jail?.... and even worse how is it moral to then release him (untreated and uncured) after a short time back in to the public arena where he will undoubtedly rape again?"

You are ascribing things to me that I did not say in your unsolicited opinion. I did not make any comment about being, "moral". I did not make any comment about putting anyone in jail. I never said that jail was a place for Strauss-Kahn, or rapists, nor did I say it cures rapists. You do not know my position on these matters and you did not bother to ask, you merely assumed, how small-minded of you.

You call me "small-minded" for the fact that I do not believe that Strauss-Kahn's crimes (not only against this maid, but against the poor in third-world countries in his role in the IMF) should be seen in isolation from the harm against his victims. With the Weiner case, such an observation is valid.

And I know many psychotherapists, I work with them, the idea that a psychotherapist must see the behavior in isolation from the harm done to others is bunk.

Don't bother respond to any this comment or anything else from me as you do not know what the hell you are even talking about when it comes to my position on crimes and punishment.

3 years ago
Posted by Delores

This is an utterly irresponsible report. Dr. Goldberg has never met Anthony Weiner or Dominique Strauss-Kahn , yet he has diagnosed them with a specific psychiatric illness. His account of what was going throught Strauss-Kahn's head in that hotel room is particularly audacious. Goldberg is irresponsible for making these claims, Felthensal is irresponsible for asking hm to do so, and is irresonsible for publishing them. Ridiculous.

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