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mental health mondays :: sex and the single narcissist

in the last week, we here in canada have been treated subjected to a rather sordid tale about a well-known [and in some quarters well-liked] radio personality with our national broadcaster. jian ghomeshi has been an active and very visible part of the canadian media scene for years, focused on the entertainment world and an important part of the cbc's increasingly desperate outreach to a younger demographic. a giant portrait of his handsome face adorned the lobby of the broadcaster's flashy toronto headquarters until this week, so it didn't take much to know that something serious was up when the cbc issued a terse statement saying that ghomeshi had taken a leave of absence to deal with "personal issues". ah, how fondly i remember those innocent days...

our most famous prime minister once said that "the state has no place in the bedrooms of the nation", something that we're very fond of quoting. but i'd like to update that to add that the nation has no place in the bedrooms of the rest of the nation and we're not especially happy when its foisted on us. we've all been witness this week to a meltdown of rather epic proportions, replete with more details than anyone ever wanted that has taken us through the gamut of emotions from "this has a meretricious appeal" to "this is getting seedy" to "this is very troubling" to "this is gross and i want it to stop".

after the cbc's announcement, ghomeshi made what i thought was a well-constructed attempt to set the narrative of his dismissal in his own terms. he accused the cbc of firing him because he enjoyed and engaged in bdsm sexual acts with other consenting adults, basically casting the cbc as uptight and hopelessly conservative bureaucrats [not a hard sell for a lot of canadians] who just didn't understand the multifaceted nature of contemporary sexuality. he claimed that his employers had been duped by a vindictive ex-girlfriend who had worked with a reporter [who himself had an axe to grind with ghomeshi] to persuade a number of women to claim that he had assaulted them and been violent towards them without their consent. he had been the victim of a conspiracy of malicious, conniving people. his statement, posted on his facebook page, was very well-written and a lot of people rallied around him, decrying the cbc for their intrusion into his personal life; after all, no charges had been brought by any of his supposed victims! they condemned the rush to judgment on the part of the cbc, who clearly didn't understand ghomeshi's side of the story, willfully ignoring the fact that the public had only heard ghomeshi's side of the story to that point. [i'll admit that i did judge pretty quickly: it's very common for sexual assaults to go unreported and i knew it was incomprehensible that the cbc would take such a drastic measure against their golden boy unless they truly felt that they had no option.]

that soon changed and ever since then, there has been an avalanche of awfulness, with at least ten women coming forward with stories of being assaulted by the radio personality, none of whom had reported the assaults to police, largely because they feared retribution. many of his victims were in the media industry and had reason to worry that coming out against a popular fixture in the landscape could end their career. furthermore, journalist carla ciconne was viciously bullied and threatened after writing a piece about going on a date with ghomeshi [she used a false name, but many were able to divine who she was talking about] a year earlier where he groped at her against her objections and behaved generally like a boor.

as story after story has come out, it begs the question why he chose to release the floodgates himself, creating a story about his sex life that was so easily and thoroughly rejected by past partners. this, ladies and gentlemen, is where i think that the mental health issue comes to bear.

i've already written about the evil twins of narcissistic and histrionic personality disorder in regards to child molester jerry sandusky. while i'm far from an expert and, of course, have never met the subject, i'd posit that it would be worth investigating whether or not jian ghomeshi suffers from the former. here's a list of the defining symptoms:

  • expects to be recognized as superior and special, without superior accomplishments
  • expects constant attention, admiration and positive reinforcement from others
  • envies others and believes others envy him/her
  • is preoccupied with thoughts and fantasies of great success, enormous attractiveness, power, intelligence
  • is arrogant in attitudes and behavior
  • has expectations of special treatment that are unrealistic
see a full description here

it's relatively easy to see any kind of celebrities as narcissistic, simply because we hear them talk about themselves more than others and we equate their being in the spotlight with yearning for the spotlight. however, the reports of ghomeshi's behaviour towards women do have an eerie consistency that definitely point to him believing that he expected to be treated well despite doing things that ranged from crass to outright illegal. and several of the reports indicate that he acted with impunity, failing how anyone could object, which is surely a sign of extreme arrogance. however, you don't have to look to his alleged victims to see warning signs. you can look at what he says himself.

first of all, there is the assertion that he was the victim of an orchestrated campaign of jealous and resentful people. that immediate focus on the self and the belief that others were likewise focused on him gives an idea of how he views the world. more troubling, his insistence off the bat that everything in which he engaged was consensual, while not surprising, indicates that he may not even believe that he's done anything wrong. narcissists lack empathy towards others because they are incapable of seeing others as being the same as they are- others are always inferior.in an attempt to prove his innocence, he showed his bosses at the cbc videos of past sexual encounters, something he clearly felt entitled to do without taking into account how sharing these videos might affect his former partners. [note: he does not expressly state that he handed over the videos without his partners' permission, nor does he say that he had their permission. i guess it's not about them.]

ghomeshi has been open about the fact that he has had issues in the past: he's suffered from panic attacks and was diagnosed with anxiety disorder. he's described himself as "neurotic", which isn't a diagnosis, but clearly indicates that his mind was not at ease and he was, to some extent aware that it was a problem. neither of those things are necessarily indicative of a further underlying condition, but it is common for mental disorders to exist in multiples, something that adds an extra layer of complexity to treating them.

of course, having a mental disorder [if he does have one] is not a "get out of jail free" card [and since toronto police have opened an investigation into him, jail is actually a possibility]. it does not excuse the damage he is alleged to have inflicted. but finding out whether or not he does and getting him the appropriate treatment would at least help prevent him from falling back on past behaviours once the current firestorm has died down.

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