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Understanding Anthony's Anxiety

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Anthony Weiner is back in the news, campaigning to become New York City's next Mayor.  Beginning with a fascinating confessional interview in New York Times Magazine and an aggressive campaign underway, New Yorkers can expect an interesting race.  In politics, coming back after a humiliating scandal is certainly possible and even commonplace.  True, Weiner's future may never look as bright as it did pre-Weinergate, but with two years of apparent self-reflection and the extraordinary Huma Abedin by his side, his career is surely worth watching.  

Many following his candidacy must wonder what it is like for him to put himself in the public eye and how he came to make such self-destructive mistakes in the first place.  The message of the New York Times piece seemed to be this:  with scandal, one's world shrinks and condenses. Scandal forces reflection on one's self and one's relationships.  As interviewer Jonathan Van Meter writes so well, "Weiner and Abedin have realized, it seems, that the only way out is through."

During the interview, Weiner speaks so openly of his experiences with psychotherapy and self-reflection that Van Meter admits:

"I startled myself that day when, after two hours of listening while he unburdened himself, I heard these words come out of my mouth 'Maybe we should stop there for now.'  Never has an interview felt so much like a therapy session."

Weiner speaks of a long-standing desire for approval and traces it to his family of origin. His family was not the least bit touchy-feely.  His brother, Seth, abused alcohol and died tragically at age 39 when he was hit by a car crossing the street.  Weiner explains how Twitter provided him with an perfect outlet for his desire for approval through providing a constant, round-the-clock source of admiration and affirmation. 

Weiner's perspective makes good psychological sense and is entirely believable.  He admits that his actions were reckless: "For a thoughtful person, it's remarkable how little thought I really gave to it until it was too late."

He obviously grasps the underlying causes of his supremely wreckless actions.  What seems confusing, however, is the exceptional impulsiveness he displayed. To this end, there may be a missing piece to his admissions worth considering.

When the Weinergate scandal first broke, the New York Times ran a story chronicling the Congressman, Abedin, and their love story.  In describing his head-over-heels approach to their courtship, the New York Times reported that Rep. Weiner stopped drinking alcohol out of respect for Abedin's Muslim faith.  This fact is inserted as an example of Weiner's devotion, but it is not explored.  Weiner's partying past and way with the ladies is also referenced.

It is commonly understood in the world of substance abuse treatment that one of the ways to determine whether someone is dependent upon alcohol is to take it away.  It is also commonly understood that struggles with alcohol tend to run in the family.  Furthermore, it is commonly understood that, for most, the first year of sobriety is fraught with incredible anxiety, impulsiveness and high drama.  Another common understanding in the field of psychology is that one way of understanding substance abuse is that it is an attempt to self-medicate and numb depression, pain and/or anxiety. 

Considering the congressman's brutal honesty and Abedin's willingness to be equally open and forthcoming, it is worth considering that by eliminating alcohol, Anthony Weiner may have lost his long-standing coping mechanism for alleviating his anxious urges for approval and affection.  His confessions about his past offer insightful explanations for why he may have sought approval both through politics and through such inappropriate places as cyberspace, but they do not fully explain the dramatic, impulsive and reckless nature of his pursuits.

It is quite possible that Weiner, in fact, did not stop drinking; it is equally possible that he did, and that the cessation of alcohol use was not a relevant factor in his twitter implosion.  However, if he struggled with any of this brother's tendencies, and he did, indeed, stop drinking altogether as a part of his commitment to Abedin, alcohol dependency could be a relevant factor worth taking into account.

This couple obviously has great charisma, intelligence, a lot to say and potentially a lot to give.  I hope that their son Jordan will someday learn of a meaningful legacy beyond Weinergate.

Elisabeth J. LaMotte is founder of the DC Counseling and Psychotherapy Center and author of Overcoming Your Parents' Divorce.

 

This article was originally published at . Reprinted with permission from the author.

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