The Meadows Blog

Monday, 30 May 2011 20:00

Why would someone like Arnold Schwarzenegger risk everything to have sexual affairs?

Maureen Canning Maureen Canning

Why would someone like Arnold Schwarzenegger risk everything to have sexual affairs?

I do not know Mr. Schwarzenegger, but I do know that many people are addicted not only to sexual acting-out, but also to the intensity, risk, and adrenaline high that come from "living on the edge." For some addicts, the secrets - and the sense of getting away with bad behavior - are the best part of the high, whether perpetrated on a partner, friend, workplace, family, or "the system."

Sexually compulsive individuals often feel shame at the core of their being. This shame comes from messages they received in their formative years about who they were as people. Often these messages were overt, but more often they were covert. As kids, they lived with expectations... to be the best, save the family, support a parent's emotional needs, make us proud. Such dynamics leave children feeling resentful, as they must perform in order to get attention and feel valuable. They are stripped of their authenticity by demands to meet others' needs and expectations.

This gives children the message that there must be something wrong with them. They come to believe, "I must prove myself in order to have value and worth. I must perform. I must provide. I must bring home trophies, be the leader of the class, be the most popular. No longer is it okay to be just good enough. I must excel; otherwise, I will disappoint. And if I disappoint, I will be emotionally abandoned."

Meeting such goals results in externalized self-esteem. No matter how hard the child tries, it is never enough. There are always more goals and more things to prove - never-ending expectations to meet someone else's needs. These children tend to grow up to be perfectionist overachievers. They are often smart, efficient, successful leaders. They are excellent problem-solvers and winners in the external aspects of their lives. They have financial success, respect, nice families, and loyal circles of friends. They are physically fit and attractive. They tend to be extroverted, fun-loving people who seem to have the world wrapped around a finger.

Yet, over and over again, we see it in the news:  the governor, sports figure, movie/television star, preacher, CEO, even the President taking risks, leading secret lives. Each time it happens, we sit back in awe. How could this be? Why would he risk it all?

It doesn't make sense without an understanding of the deep-seated dynamics lying under the external success. Resentment fuels all addictions. In some individuals, resentments fester like an infection, a toxic poison infiltrating all aspects of the addict's life. The only place he feels in control is within his secret life. The rest of life is a seamless yet meaningless existence lived on mind-numbing autopilot. He takes the risks, lives on the edge, has the affair, cheats on his partner, and lies to the camera. He chases the lies until the curtain is pulled back and the truth exposed; in the light of stark reality, the lies are unbelievable even to him. Two worlds collide in what often feels like a death - or what we in the addiction world call "a bottom." The carefully constructed life crumbles.

This is when recovery is possible. The addict comes to a point where the addiction is no longer worth it; he is exhausted and disgusted, and he wants out. At this point, the addict can reach out for help.

Not only does the addict hit bottom, but the family does as well. Maria Shriver, Schwarzenegger's wife of 25 years, also has been in the press. Like all partners, the family system is profoundly devastated. The betrayal leaves spouses and children feeling overwhelmed and lost.  The good news is that there is help and support for them as well.

In her book, Maurita Corcoran (recently featured on Dr. Drew Pinsky's show) talks about her 14-year marriage to a sex addict. Learning of others' experiences helps to normalize a partner's experience, as can literature addressing these issues, and 12 Step meetings for partners of sex addicts provide safe places to share common experiences.

Because families and partners who heal together are more likely to survive intact, The Meadows offers a week-long workshop specifically for partners of sex addicts. The workshop clarifies the sexual addiction cycle and provides a place for partners to get answers and express their anger and grief.

Sexual addiction is unique in that it affects people at the core of their being. Sexuality is tied to one's identity, affecting one's sense of safety and trust. When this trust is broken, one's entire world can shatter, leaving shock and dismay. It is important that partners have a place to reach out and feel validated and heard - a place where they, too, can heal.

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