So when Anthony Weiner kept on having sexual conversations with women online after it turned him into a national disgrace and nearly destroyed his career, what was he thinking?
Psychologists are forbidden from diagnosing people not in their care. But several shared carefully parsed observations as to why a successful politician might indulge in behaviors that seemed almost professionally suicidal.
The "incredibly self-defeating" behavior of seeking faux kicks with strangers on the Internet is not really about sex, but a fake high for a flaccid ego, said William Pollack, an associate clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. Seeking online approbation from strangers online "gets in the way of real sexuality" that involves true intimacy, Pollack said.
As for the "Carlos Danger" screen name that Weiner reportedly used, a man will create an alternate persona in cyberspace not just to hide his identity, but to be, for a moment, different from the inadequate men they imagine themselves to be.
"There's a split within," Pollack said. "They feel weak and puny, but they're in so much psychological pain. They know that men are not supposed to feel that way," and so they adopt another, more virile and powerful, persona, he explained. Such a split comes easily to politicians, who often have a split between their public identity and private selves, Pollack added.
Can voters be assured that Weiner won't once again resort to an online fling with an inappropriate partner?
Sam Alibrando, a psychologist, said he was encouraged to hear Weiner's wife, Huma Abedin, remark that the couple had received therapy, but that it would be "even more assuring" if Weiner said he were in ongoing treatment, and a support group, such as a 12-step program for sex addiction.
"Addicts lie: It's almost instinctive," said Alibrando, a psychologist and author of "Follow the Yellow Brick Road: How to Change for the Better When Life Gives You Its Worst."
If Weiner got into politics to help others, it's not too late for him to behave in a positive way, said Alibrando. "He could help people who have sex addictions by being transparent. Transparency is the key to recovery from compulsive behaviors."