There is an old recovery saying that you can’t get sober if you are too smart, too rich or too good-looking. Clinicians working with clients who have sexually addictive behaviors know that these attributes can sometimes present challenges.
I’m not saying that looks brains and money lead to sexually addictive behaviors but I can see some of the ways they might operate to prevent the addict getting better.
There is no longer any doubt that success (fame, money adoration) can cause what is known as “acquired situational narcissism.” Narcissism is a false sense of self worth which can be bolstered and encouraged by massive amounts of positive feedback from others. This feedback promotes narcissistic self-centeredness, lack of empathy for others and over-entitlement. (See also my blog Narcissism, Sex, Power and Herman Cain.)
Any sex addict can adopt a narcissistic defense system but the process is magnified if the person is rich, beautiful, etc. The greater the narcissistic self-importance the greater the sense of being exempt from the ordinary rules that govern behavior.
If this superiority is constantly reinforced then the addict has a hard time getting a grip on reality. His attitude is “I’m special, I’m allowed; even my flaws aren’t flaws.”
Most addicts feel some level of guilt or shame about their sexually addictive behavior. After engaging in a behavior like repeated visits to prostitutes or sexual massage parlors or the wasting of hours on internet porn and masturbation most addicts go through a period of feeling let down. They have engaged in an out of control behavior that they must keep secret and they soothe the feelings of self-loathing in any way they can. Often they use other drugs to numb the feelings.
The problem for the rich successful or beautiful person is that they can use these assets as tools with which to numb or mask their negative emotions and restore their facade of self worth. The more easily the addict can dodge the feelings of self-hate, the more easily they can avoid coming face to face with their own double life.
Normalizing sexually addictive behavior
Normalizing is one of the defenses invoked by most sex addicts but with the brilliant, beautiful or rich addict it is particularly useful in certain cases. Take the guy who engages in repeated seduction, predatory flirting, workplace harassment or serial affairs. If he is successful or good-looking he can much more easily excuse his behavior by saying “I can’t help it, women just come on to me—what am I supposed to do?”
In this case the special attributes can function to keep the addict in denial. Special levels of status or achievement can be seen as justifying behavior which would be reprehensible in mere mortals. “Beauty is life’s Easy Pass,” as a New Yorker cartoon put it. Or in the words of Henry Kissinger, “Power is an aphrodisiac.”
Never hitting bottom
For the very good-looking, smart or rich addict can to a great extent use their special advantages to avoid or greatly minimize the adverse consequences of their behavior. These attributes give them power and that power allows them to maintain the status quo. They may never have to confront the reality of what is wrong with their way of life let alone what they have done to others.
The very smart, successful or powerful addict will have a hard time accepting the basic fact of his or her powerlessness over the addiction. The very smart addict is used to relying on his ability to think his way out of a problem. There is nothing he can’t solve. Therefore he doesn’t need to rely on others, doesn’t need to take direction or work a program. He’s got the answers, or so he believes.
Those around the addict face a dilemma
Attractive high-achieving people often do have many strengths. Their intelligence, attractiveness and resources can be used in a positive way to help them overcome sexually addictive behaviors. But as a therapist—or even as a friend, colleague or partner it is important to notice when these traits are being used in the service of self-delusion and be prepared to confront the addict directly about it.