While the high-profile cheater may indeed have a sexual addiction, there can be another component to the behavior. That component is narcissism. Narcissistic infidelity is based on an over-inflated sense of personal entitlement. This is a type of narcissism often observed in powerful men (maybe in powerful women, too, but they seem to be more discreet!). These men often see themselves as special, and may feel entitled to operate outside of normal legal and ethical constraints. There may be a sense that the rules do not apply to them. They may feel that they are too special to get caught, or if caught, they imagine that they will be easily forgiven. As the central figure of their own worlds, they may put their own impulses and needs ahead of their core values. Self-gratification trumps fidelity and comes at the expense of the people who love and rely on them.
All of us contain a degree of narcissism. It is the dynamic that motivates us to take care of ourselves and to achieve. Therapists call this “healthy narcissism” and without it we would not go very far in the world. The boundary between healthy and unhealthy narcissism has to do with the recognition, or lack of recognition, of the inherent worth and value of others as being equal to our own. When we gratify ourselves at the expense of others, we fail as responsible partners and citizens, and we become destructive forces in our families and in the world.
Clearly the underlying dynamics of infidelity are complex. Each case is different and must be evaluated on a multitude of criteria. When it comes to public figures, we know the facts, but not necessarily the reasons why. When it comes to our own relationships, paying attention to the quality of our relationships, and not ignoring warning signs is probably the best insurance that we won’t find ourselves caught up in such a painful scenario. Whatever the reasons, infidelity is always very painful, difficult and sometimes impossible to recover from.