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Narcissism, Therapy and Us: What Weiner Revealed

What is the case of Anthony Weiner really all about? Well, New York Times columnist Ross Douthat has an insightful and profound take on the whole sorry affair.

Douthat writes, “In the sad case of Rep. Anthony Weiner’s virtual adultery, the Internet era’s defining vice has been thrown into sharp relief. It isn’t lust or smut or infidelity, though online life encourages all three. It’s a desperate, adolescent narcissism.”

Douthat is absolutely right. Weiner wasn’t out for sexual thrills. Opportunities for that kind of misbehavior stalk the halls of Congress.

No, Weiner, according to Douthat, was on a “pathetic quest for quasi-public validation.” Weiner’s Tweets and emails don’t reveal a man who wanted a relationship with women other than his wife. He simply wanted to show off. “Whether the congressman was tweeting photos of his upper body or bragging” about some other body part, Douthat observes, Weiner’s focus was “squarely on himself.”

Now, the Internet didn’t launch us into the age of narcissism. But it sure makes it easier to engage in self-absorption. A “growing body of research,” Douthat writes, “suggests that American self-involvement is actually reaching an apogee in the age of Facebook and Twitter.” Citing well-regarded sociologists, Douthat claims that “younger Americans are more self-absorbed, less empathetic and hungrier for approbation than earlier generations...

“The rituals of social media,” Douthat claims, “make status-seekers and exhibitionists of us all.”

We live in a culture of narcissism, as one sociologist famously put it some years ago.

But there’s another point that I need to make. Congressman  Weiner recently announced that he was seeking a leave of absence from the Congress so he could undergo therapy. Therapy for what? For repulsive behavior? For the inability to refrain from taking lewd photos of himself and sending them to innocent people?

I don’t know what psychologists would call this disorder, but I would call it sin. Something we are all prone to and guilty of.

And while some doctor will prescribe psychotherapy or some drug to control the Congressman’s urges, the proper prescription would be taking responsibility, repenting, and asking forgiveness.

But in today’s therapeutic culture, people too often try to explain away their sins. “I really have a drinking problem,” someone protests, or, “it’s a chemical imbalance,” or “I was picked on as a child.” Well, all that may be so, but those things did not drive you to sin. I do not want to discount the existence of grave psychological illnesses, but the vast majority of us choose to behave the way we do.

Those feelings of guilt and shame that so many of us nowadays try to medicate or explain away are absolutely essential to our moral and spiritual well-being. They are warning lights that all is not well with our souls. We ignore them or disable them at our own peril.

I suppose if any good is to come from the Weiner episode, it may be that people can see where the me-centered, post-modern worldview leads us: To narcissism and to the therapist’s couch.

Here are two worldview lessons for us. First: The cure for narcissism is stepping away from the mirror and looking at someone else -- especially at Him who is the true desire of us all.

Second: Taking a pill or undergoing therapy will be no substitutes for forgiveness. The good news is that forgiveness is only repentance and a prayer away.

This article published on June 16, 2011. Chuck Colson's daily BreakPoint commentary airs each weekday on more than one thousand outlets with an estimated listening audience of one million people. BreakPoint provides a Christian perspective on today's news and trends via radio, interactive media, and print. 

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