What All The Men Named In The #MeToo Sexual Harassment Stories Have In Common

Photo: Ayo Ogunseinde, Unsplash
emotional neglect

As the heads of the American people continually spin, men of influence fall like flies from their powerful perches. Indeed most people do not expect educated, successful, polished men to have such a dark, salacious side to them.

From Al Franken, Matt Lauer, Garrison Keillor and Harvey Weinstein, to John Conyers, Charlie Rose and Louis CK, they are indeed a seemingly diverse group.

But what caused all of these accomplished men to behave this way?

Are they sociopaths? Are they simply perverted? Should they all be lumped together and labeled “offender?” What is the common factor uniting them... or is there one?

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As a psychologist, it is intriguing to attempt to analyze each man as he is named in search for answers. For some, there is footage of their offenses. For others, victims offered vivid descriptions. 

Each situation is different and each man is different. Yet as I read through each story, my psychologist's eyes reveal to me the same factor.

One single factor drives the harmful behavior that spawned the #MeToo Movement: emotional immaturity.

Mental health professionals know that one of the most telling signs of emotional maturity in a person is the ability to have both emotional intimacy and physical (sexual) intimacy, all together with one person.

And not surprisingly, the opposite is also true. You can identify an emotionally immature person by the nature of his/her relationships with the gender to which he or she is romantically attracted.

What society has long called the “Madonna/whore complex” or the “objectification of women”, is actually a psychologically real and significant —and believe it or not, even painful — cross for its bearers.

Outwardly, it is a sign of poor judgment for all to see. Inwardly, it is a sentence for a life of quiet desperation.

Here's why this type of emotional immaturity occurs:

  • Humans are wired at birth to need a feeling of connection and intimacy — to feel deeply known, valued, understood and wanted by another.

  • To fulfill this need as an adult, one must have emotional intimacy and sexual intimacy with someone.

  • People whose emotional needs are thwarted in childhood grow up without the skills needed to get their emotional needs met.

  • This leaves them only one avenue through which to reach for fulfillment: sex.

  • Sexual partners alone can never fill the empty space, which drives the person ever more frantically to fill it.

As a specialist in emotion and childhood emotional neglect (CEN), I witness the true origins of this quiet desperation each and every day.

This emotional immaturity is the byproduct of childhood emotional neglect.

The #MeToo perpetrators' behavior is the result of being raised by parents who failed to notice, respond, validate and teach their children about their emotions while they were raising them.

This parental failure is not necessarily caused by abusive or mean-spirited parents. It can be incredibly subtle and can happen in the best of families, even with parents who are trying their hardest.

Nevertheless, children who grow up with their emotions ignored or discouraged end up with emotional deficits in key areas. They grow into adulthood lacking the ability to properly feel, tolerate, speak and share their own emotions — skills which are all necessary for an adult to have a truly emotionally and physically intimate relationship with another.

It is possible to lack emotional awareness and adeptness and still be quite successful on the outside. You may be able to produce, perform, entertain, inform, design, plan, speak or make laws using your cerebral cortex, the non-emotional part of the brain. You may do all of these things well without being truly in touch with your own, or others’ emotions and emotional needs.

A man who is incapable of intimacy in its fullest, most rewarding form is sentenced to always be wanting. It is a feeling of deficit and need drives him to seek fulfillment.

But why must these men behave so badly as they seek it? Why does it reach the point of harassment, boundary violation, and harm to others? Because these men have been provided with the perfect cocktail for it.

Imagine being driven by a deep, unsatisfied need for intimacy that was wired into you at birth and having only one tool you can use to fulfill it — sex.

Imagine having an empty space where your own emotional awareness and skills should be. You have a poor understanding of what others feel, and of how your behavior affects them. You lack empathy and, in many situations (but not all) compassion.

Should these men be forgiven for violating others because of their very real deficits?

No, quite the opposite.

They must be held accountable and called out for the harm they are doing.

Understanding these culprits teaches us a vital lesson: The burden falls on all of us to learn about emotions and how they work.

Here's what you can do.

We must pay attention to the feelings of our children as we raise them, and respond to them. We must learn and model these emotional skills ourselves so we can teach them to the next generation.

Because the way we treat our children determines the way they will treat themselves, their own children and others. And the way we treat our children’s emotions determines their ability to achieve intimacy as adults.

We must own this responsibility and realize that we have the power to fulfill it.

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Jonice Webb has a Ph.D. in clinical psychology and is the author of the book Running on Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect. To learn more about how CEN affects your parenting and other relationships, take the free CEN questionnaire and see Dr. Jonice Webb's new book, Running on Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships With Your Partner, Your Parents & Your Children.