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Posts Tagged ‘Tiger Woods’

We found out last week that Tiger Woods has checked himself into a posh rehab center for sex addicts.

This raises the issue of whether sexual addiction really exists.  I think it is a fair question.

After all, we’re all sex addicts, to some degree – sex is a normal, necessary human drive.

Sex also seems harmless.  It feels good, and if you use a few sensible precautions, no one has to get hurt.  With other addictions, like alcohol or drug abuse, kicking the habit entirely seems like a sensible goal.  But except for a few monks and nuns, no one abstains completely from sex.

So maybe it’s like food – moderation is the goal, controlling your appetite so you don’t get fat.

But that doesn’t seem right either.  No one can say how much sex is enough for another person.  Maybe you like it every night. Maybe you like it every month.  Maybe you like it two or three times a day.  That would appear to be nobody else’s business.

Does sexual addiction exist?

In my experience, it does.  It’s a bit like marijuana addiction.  Plenty of people have sex – or smoke pot – without any detrimental effect.  It isn’t innately addictive.

It only becomes an addiction when you decide there’s a problem.

Usually, the indicators are:

1) you’re no longer enjoying it the way you used to; and

2) you don’t feel in control of your behavior.  In other words, it becomes compulsive – you can’t stop.

I’ve worked with sex addicts who cruised online for hours, exhausted, but unable to leave their computer. Some patients set up endless series of anonymous hook-ups, staying up all night until they were so physically exhausted they lost their jobs.  These patients didn’t look forward to the sex anymore – they felt compelled to repeat the same weary pattern.

Typically, with sexual addiction, it isn’t the sex act itself that you’re craving.  It’s the feeling of being pursued by someone for sex – catching a stranger’s attention, and making him want to have sex with you.

Think about it.  When was the last time you had someone’s positive attention focused entirely, like a laser-beam, on you? Probably back when you were a small child, and then it was a parent’s attention.  It made you feel important, loved, cared for – the center of someone else’s world.

As an adult, you rarely get that sort of focused positive attention – except when someone is pursuing you sexually, trying to get you into bed.  It’s hard to compete with a sexual pursuit.  It brings an affirmation, a high, an ego boost that can feel terrific.  All they want is you, now, right away.  The focus is entirely on you.

Once the sex is over, though,  you crash.  The other person’s interest fades, and you realize you hardly know him.  You might even feel awkward in his presence and just want to be alone. It’s a bit like a hang-over.

A sex addict, like any addict, runs to what once felt really good – especially when he gets angry and feels deprived in other ways. He keeps searching for the easy high of being pursued for sex – trying to escape again into that good feeling.  It becomes like a drug.

After a while, like all drugs, it stops working.  If you do manage to attain the high again, you crash even harder afterwards.

That’s sexual addiction.

The treatment – which Tiger is presumably undergoing right now – is similar to the approach you’d take with any other pattern of addictive behavior.

First, there’s an intervention, in which the people in his life let him know how his addiction has harmed them.  Certainly his wife, and maybe the other women he’s been sleeping with, could confront him with how he’s hurt them by lying and betraying promises.

Then, fellowship is created.  Tiger goes to a place – a rehab center or a 12-step group – where he can meet other people who share his problem, and exchange stories and experiences.  He is educated about his addiction.

Finally, self-awareness.  He is encouraged to be honest with himself, and own up to how he’s been living, and decide for himself whether he wants that pattern to continue.

I haven’t met Tiger Woods, and I cannot say for certain if he is a sex addict.  He might just be a guy who needed to get out of his marriage and do some dating and decide what he wants in a relationship.

Only Tiger can decide if he has this addiction, or whether he’s going to address it.

But that’s the nature of any addiction – no one can make these decisions for you but you.

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It seems like Tiger Woods could use a visit, doesn’t it?

Everyone agrees he’s had a rough month.

So let’s go there.  What if Tiger showed up in my office?  What could the People’s Therapist do to help?

Patients often show up at my door when they’re in crisis.  Many people feel – wrongly – that they have to hit bottom before they call a therapist.  I’m guessing Tiger is feeling pretty shattered at the moment.  It would have been better if he’d shown up a few months or years ago, when he was in better shape, before all this bad publicity came down on his head. But you take ’em how you get ’em, and right now Tiger needs help.

My goal would be to create a safe space, and employ specific techniques designed to get Tiger talking, honestly and openly, as much to himself as to me.  We’re there to explain, not to blame.  He’s had enough of that to last a lifetime.

What I notice first about Tiger is that so many people hate him.  Mud is being slung from all sides, including the front covers of the supermarket tabloids, and even stuffy, anonymous Accenture, the management consulting firm, has dropped him as their representative. He can’t seem to do anything right lately.  It all blows up in his face.

This situation seems especially odd since Tiger is someone who’s spent his entire life trying to please.

That’s the root of the problem.

Tiger Woods grew up learning that good things would come to him if he pleased everyone.  As the greatest golfer in history, he had that lesson amplified by an apparently endless positive feedback loop.  He was able to consistently wow us, and we, in return, showered good things on him – money, celebrity, houses, boats, cars.

The problem was that Tiger never made the separation into adulthood.  That’s when you stop functioning as a child and start functioning like an adult.

If we’re operating unconsciously, we will all relate to the world around us as a child does:  the way we operated within our families – mostly the way we related to our parents.  For Tiger, that meant seeking to please, at all costs.

When you function as a child, you function as a parent-pleasing machine.  A child has to please the parent.  Like a baby bird in a nest, a child must scrupulously attend to pleasing its parents because it depends upon their care for survival.

An adult is different because he is self-sufficient.  He can feed and clothe himself.  He can decide for himself who his best self will be.  He can, like Nietzsche’s uber-mensch, decide on his own morality and ethics.

Let’s get back to Tiger.

Following the standard, societally-acceptable pattern, he married a beautiful woman and stayed faithful and utterly content in that relationship.  To all outside appearances, he was a paragon of virtue, a model citizen – exactly what we like to see.

Behind the scenes (at least, according to widespread allegations) we now know that wasn’t the case.  In reality, Tiger was cheating on his wife and acting out sexually – with multiple other women, including prostitutes.

Why would he do such a thing?

Because he wanted to.

The real problem is that Tiger was ignoring his own needs in order to please symbolic parents who had blown up into the entire world.

It is perfectly legal and acceptable for a man to sleep with just about any willing partner he chooses.  It’s called being single.  The only problem, for Tiger, was that he was doing all that and pretending to be happily married at the same time.  That meant he was lying to people, living inauthentically and damaging his relationship.  That was cruel and inconsiderate to all concerned and that’s why everyone seems to hate Tiger right now.

All Tiger needed to do was stop pleasing everyone else – acting like a child – and ask himself what he really wanted.

If he wanted to be married, which means being faithful to his wife, he could choose that.

If he wanted to be single, which means free to experiment sexually to his heart’s content, he could choose that.

But he had to make up his mind.

Monogamy is always a trade-off, but it’s not something that should be imposed on anyone.  Successful monogamy is really a form of mutual fascination.  Two people grow so fascinated with one another that they lose interest in sex with other people.  They come to see that an investment in one another will pay a richer dividend.

Tiger, on the other hand, created a seemingly “perfect” marriage to please the outside world.  Inside, he wasn’t ready.  I’m guessing he was angry, at some level, that he had to be what everyone else wanted him to be, all the while forced to sneak around behind everyone’s backs to get what he felt he truly needed and desired.  In the end, that situation ended up hurting everyone and making no one happy.

My work with Tiger would concentrate on making him conscious of his right to be an adult, and take care of his own needs first.  If he wants to be single and date many women and experiment with freedom, that’s okay.  The key is that he live openly as his authentic, best self.

My guess is that Tiger will take some time to explore his sexuality with a number of women, but that it will be open and honest this time round.  Eventually, he’s likely to find someone special, and monogamy will be a natural expression of that fascination with a special partner.

Tiger doesn’t have to change who he is.  He has to be more who he is – to trust his best, most authentic self, and simply be, as an adult, with no more pleasing others, and no more lies.

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