The media love stories like Tiger Woods and his lady friends.
Sex sells, it always has
Unfortunately, the media rarely care whether they are portraying an issue accurately, it is more about soundbites and sales. I know, because I used to get interviewed quite often for addiction-related stories when I worked for a large university teaching hospital. My 20 minute interviews would get slashed to 10 second clips on the nightly news.
I have come to realize that it is not their fault, it is the way of news in our soundbite culture. But topics like addiction and what has happened with Tiger deserve more than soundbites.
Addiction is an incredibly complex problem with no simple answers. It seems that despite this fact, the media have attempted to reduce Tiger’s problems to a diagnosis of sex addiction. In the above clip they interview a sex addict who provides evidence that sex clearly is an addiction, and that his experiences are similar to Tigers, watch the video – and then keep reading.
Far too much time is spent debating whether specific behaviors should be called addiction
The reporters above point out that many do not consider sex addiction a real psychiatric disorder because it does not exist in the current verision of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). But the DSM is a socially-constructed diagnostic guide that is in the process of completely revamping the section dedicated to the diagnosis of addiction.
Turns out we got it wrong for the past couple of decades! In my opinion, debates about whether people can be “addicted” to specific objects (porn, food, internet, cell phone use) get us nowhere. For years therapists have treated patients with significant problems related to all these things, which usually come in packages of behavior. Our focus should be on understanding addiction as a relationship problem, not an object-specific problem.
How should we understand Tiger’s behavior?
If addiction is about relationships, then we see that his pursuit of women has been about something other than just sex.
Any therapist in the country who has spent time dedicated to the topic of sex addiction (Patrick Carnes, Jennifer Schneider, Robert Weiss) will say that sex addiction is not about sex. It is about intimacy and emotional connection, or the lack thereof.
As humans we are wired for relationships, but adverse childhood events (and trauma throughout life) lead to the avoidance of emotional experiences necessary for healthy emotional development. The result is a person like Tiger becomes an adult doing his best to negotiate the complexities of adult relationships with the emotional/relationship/intimacy skills of a child. No wonder he looks like a deer caught in headlights at news conferences.
The Emotional World
As a person neglects their internal emotional world, very often the emotional energy (which has to go somewhere) gets displaced into academic mental activities or sports. It is not coincidental that many who suffer from addiction and untreated trauma are professional athletes or have professional careers requiring brain power and academic credentials.
A number of news commentators have pointed out that when Tiger came on the pro scene at age 19 his life never was the same. I would add that prior to the age of 19 his life was very different from other kids, how else was he able to go pro at 19? I am not an expert on Tiger Woods and have no knowledge of the events in Tiger’s early life that influenced his present behavior. And in truth, I don’t care, they are not my business. Each person’s past is their own.
We are not so different
We need to realize that we (even those who work in the media and are taking shots at him) are not so different from Tiger. On some level, we all struggle with past traumas, maintaining intimate relationships, sex, and developmental constrictions. And at times we all have engaged in excessive behaviors that help us disconnect from the world and our emotional pain (like even watching a bit too much professional sports).
Sure, we may not have millions in the bank, be the world’s greatest golfer, or have the ability to act out in the ways he has, but just like Tiger, we all have our own life challenges. The real question is whether we are deepening our awareness of our shadow side, and doing the work necessary to own it, integrate it, and evolve our own mental/emotional health.
One final thing
Understanding why Tiger did what he did is very different then letting him off the hook. Let me be clear,
I am not attempting to justify his behavior or say his acting out was not his fault.
He needs to take responsibility for what he has done, and realize how his actions have hurt a lot of people. But we in society are so quick to judge others, and in a sick way relish watching those on top take big plunges. Instead of buying into the soundbite entertainment value of Tiger’s pain, we could benefit a lot more by exploring how his fall is a mirror for aspects of our own life.
“…we could benefit a lot more by exploring how his fall is a mirror for aspects of our own life.” — well stated.
We all have challenges in our life, some more extreme than others. Unfortunately, those that are in the spotlight appear to be held to a different standard.
el luis says
This story has had lots of attention and is often talked about in work and around water coolers but often in a negative light. I was glad to read this as it reassured me that I wasn’t alone in my thoughts. It is very unfortunate that we live in a culture where negativity is the headline and true reflection is not encouraged. I’ve been witness to much Tiger bashing, which in essence is a group version of trying to assuage themselves that their own thoughts and behaviors are at a higher caliber than that of Mr. Woods, thus they are above such sordid thoughts and impulses, massive social projection!
In terms of the public i.e his fans and news media- it seems that the hurt stems from the fact that their perfect celebrity idol has been revealed to be human and that is what hurt them. I feel for tiger, I really do. He definitively shows what a lack of nurturing relationships in early life can do to the individual. I’m a bit of a sports nut so I’ve heard a bit more about Tiger in my readings/tv time but I think back to the allegations of how his Dad wasn’t the most supportive father in terms of his nurturing aspect. His father was reputed to be focused on developing the raw potential that was Tiger’s golf skills via his mental focus and his athletic ability. It makes me think of Andre Agassi’s autobiography related to his recent admission that he hated tennis most of his life in conjucntion with his use of meth. In his case he had a father that driven by his own demons was quite abusive and hard on Andre in his quest to make Andre the best tennis player ever.
The point I’ll try to close with is that as humans, and parents specifically, we have to keep in mind that resolving our own inner conflicts take priority if we really want to give our children the best chance at succeeding in life. When we push our children in such a manner as did Tiger’s and Andre’s dads great things are possible but the pain and anguish that results from such a drive towards competitiveness and aspirations for greatness, are they truly worth it? As a society our own drive to be the best at the expense of another is core to Americana but in the end where does that leave us? Thanks for giving me a space to vent Senor J.
JR - Freedom From Porn Addiction says
Going to the refrigerator, biting your nails won’t put you behind bars, shatter the trust of your children and wife, nor would you get a huge negative reaction from people if you struggled with that and you held a party at your house for your kid’s birthday and invited all the neighborhood kids. I know if the commentator thinks about it he’ll see the difference.
Secondly, it’s not that there’s no choice, it’s just that it’s extremely limited because of the strength you’ve conditioned your urges to have.
DSM is not the end all in diagnosis, it’s just a help for psychiatrists. It’s also influenced by politics. When things become politically incorrect to call a disease there is pressure to remove it.
It’s possible to get help, but you first need to call a spade a spade and admit you have a problem. That’s really hard to do when just about everyone you hear in the media is saying there’s no such thing. They’ve been saying the same thing about ADD for years and if you listen to Tom Cruise, psychiatry isn’t even a real science: http://en.wikinews.org/wiki/Tom_Cruise_debates_psychiatry_on_NBC%27s_Today_show
The key is to listen to that voice inside that helps guide you. You can feel/know when something is not right, but too often we drown out that voice with noise and justifications that sing us into a sleep of denial.
Fall 2010 Student says
The topic of Tiger Woods and his sex addiction has almost sickened me over the past year. My attitude is a result from the media and the never-ending opinions and judgments that come from all angles. It seems that as humans we are meaning making machines: if we don’t understand something we will do anything in our power to make sense of it. Along with that aspect and the fact that our society thrives off of the “sound bite” and beating someone while they’re down Tiger’s sex addiction caused many of us to express our opinion. Like you mentioned, the problem is that not very many people have spent time to understand the meaning of addiction.
I agree and believe that media issues like these are so influential only because so many of us are facing similar problems. I also agree that we all have dealt with some struggles at some point in our life and as a result we might have engaged in excessive behaviors to help us cope. How far we go and what we do are all a recipe individually customized to our own lives and circumstances. Passing judgment as to why Tiger did what he did and if it really is an addiction is just as ridiculous as me having hope people would stop being so opinionated. Opinion is part of our nature as human beings. Listening to one of the broadcasters on this clip was bothersome. All he did was talk about himself and compare his nail biting and his relationship with his wife; meanwhile he seems to lack any knowledge about addiction.
I believe that addiction is real. Whatever form it comes in and however strange it may be; addiction is about an unhealthy relationship with substances, objects, or behaviors. Why and how one gets to this unhealthy relationship is part of their own past. Education on addiction should be the next sound bite the media should get out into the public in order for us to realize that, yes, maybe we are all one in the same.
Addiction itself, especially sex addiction, is something that has always pulled me in two different directions. On one hand, I know that there have been life events (ACEs, poor peer/ parental relationships, etc) that have lead someone down the road to addiction. On the other hand, a part of me still feels like there was a distinct choice that lead to the addiction and that there is a point when we need to hold someone accountable for their actions. Often when I hear the term “sex addict” I find it being used as an excuse for someone’s adulterous actions, however this shows me that I have fallen down the same hole that the reporters have fallen down: I’m focusing on the object and not on the relationship. Over the duration of this class I’ve started to realize that fully understanding addiction means that I will have to completely transform everything I’ve learned and believed about addiction in the past.
This article also made me think about addiction and power. I have a family member who is a sex addict and, at least from what I know, it is not a co-dependent addiction (he does not drink or do drugs while pursuing sex). However, he does seem to have a huge need for power and constantly seeks out female companions to demonstrate his “power” and dominance. Many addicts seem to develop their addiction due to feeling powerless and they use their objects of addiction to help them gain power. As therapists, we try to help empower our clients so that they can lead fulfilling lives. What do we do then, if power is what a person is addicted to?
I cannot help but respond to this article as a product of my own celebrity obsession (addiction? That is another discussion…). While I was unable to get the video to play, I think it is an important reminder that the DSM is also socially constructed, as are addictions, and that it doesn’t have to be in the DSM to be causing destruction to your self, family, career, etc. as Tiger’s situation clearly has. Also, the point that under any addiction is a package of issues that are the root of the addiction itself. He could have manifested his addiction in many other ways; in this case it just happened to be sex. It is also interesting that you point out that he probably manifested unhealthy internal energy into high-level sports. Another tie to my brother, like a light bulb in my head: he rowed for the Junior Olympics and in the Henley. Destined for greatness he crashed and burned freshman year of college. We thought it was the stress of high-level competition; all the while it was probably his mental illness that allowed him to be so good.
It is amazing how quick we jump to tear down someone in a privileged position. Why do we gain satisfaction from his failures? Why do we say “Look at how messed up his life is”? Thank you Dr. Fitzgerald for bringing a little humility to the situation. For treating his as you would a client.
“…addiction is about relationships.”
I think Dr. F says it all right there.
I had a really hard time listening to the male reporter in the CNN video. Trying to understand an addiction that you don’t even believe exists is impossible when you are close minded. Saying that sex addiction doesn’t exist, to me, is an example of close mindedness, which is hindering our progression in understanding addiction. You can’t shun one addiction and glorify another just because it doesn’t make sense to you; yet it is done. Being open about the relationship, not the subject, seems to me to be key in understanding addiction.
PHE 326 Student (fall2011) says
I would like to start by highlighting the remark that addiction is complex and that by only drawing public awareness to the bias opinion of the media is such a tainted portrayal of addiction. There are so many different and outstanding complexities within the world of addiction and to simply dispense bias opinions created by (generally) uneducated reporters is ruining the minds of the mass-public viewers of our society.
Our culture has become one that is so dependent upon technology that our minds have become shaped by the upper-elite class who controls those methods of technology that spread across our nation. When we become so reliant on television and other technologies that dispense news (e.g. the Tiger Woods story) we believe whatever we hear because our brains have become to lazy to develop our own means to knowledge and understandings. If an individual within our society REALLY wanted to gain knowledge regarding Tiger Woods’ addiction, they would FIRST conduct secondary research studies on Sex Addiction and its’ effects on marriages and father-child relationships (depending on what specifics interest them) and THEN they would be able to create their own opinion on how his addiction may have effected his personal life… however, I do not know anyone who would care to do that much research unless they have a direct relation to him. My point being, society is lazy and would rather believe the simple and bias facts presented in the media than go through the process of gaining their own understandings through their personal research. Thus, creating a society that is judgmental and “dummed down”.
In my opinion, it would be just the same thing to say anyone suffering from addiction is a bad person or stupid for throwing their life away for something as “simple” as addiction. I have never known anyone that has wanted to become addicted to something as harmful as sex, drugs, or alcohol… it is a disease. Just like no one I know would wish to get cancer or A.S…. to me, it is the same thing for any kind of addiction.
Jessica Harding says
It is amazing how almost anything can be named an addiction, and how carelessly people seem to throw that word around. “I’m addicted to chocolate,” “I’m addicted to this TV-show,” “I’m addicted to buying shoes.” It seems that if we say that we are addicted to something it almost takes away some of our responsibility. I cant control my chocolate consumption, because I’m addicted. But it’s not my fault, because I’m ADDICTED.
I am not exactly sure where I stand on the subject of sex addiction. Is it real, is it not? But as you pointed out in your blog post, perhaps that is not the important or necessary question to ask. The most important thing is that people who feel that they have an addiction to sex get help. Because whether it’s considered an addiction or not, they are suffering, and so are their families.
However, if we could stop calling so many things an addiction, perhaps people would be taken more seriously when they do have an actual serious compulsive problem.
I agree that addiction is an overused term and very often incorrectly used. For better or worse, it is a term that most recognize and the challenge is educating people about the true nature of addictive disorders. Unlike other chronic, relapsing conditions (asthma, diabetes, hypertension), there is tremendous stigma attached to addiction that keeps many people from seeking help and dealing with the shame that is so much a part of the disorder. In our current fast-paced, quick-fix, social media world, addiction will continue to thrive until we begin to understand the societal implications of the problem. Check out: http://addictionmanagement.org/2011/02/interview-with-dr-bruce-alexander/
Thanks for your comment –
I think the idea of sex addiction is an easy an easy out. Because these people have obviously done something that has in turn put a great amount or a perceived great amount of guilt on them. So the simple confession is that “it’s not my fault!” The interesting part of that news broadcast is how the male news anchor was so quick to label tiger as being wrong or irresponsible. Just because Tiger is a sexual being does not make him wrong or irresponsible. The fact that he was married makes his actions irresponsible. So why not just label him a liar instead of going so far as to label him a sex addict? Maybe Tiger never really wanted to get married but it’s due to societal norms that caused him to go through with the ceremony. I’m not saying that I’m against this more “traditional” way of pursuing relationships. But why hasn’t anyone tried to dig deeper into the biology humans and realize that we are indeed mammals that have a larger area of the brain connected to pleasure sensors and these sensors are heavily activated during sexual arousal. Unfortunately with America being born out of a puritan society has led modern society to forget that being sexual in nature can be very normal. Which the only normal thing that the anchors seemed to talk about was the fact that they didn’t agree on sex addiction as a disability itself but that it was a part of a tick or compulsive disorder.