One psychiatrist's view of Bill Clinton

January 28, 1998|By Dr. Alan H. Peck

THE media feeding frenzy over President Clinton's alleged involvement with a White House intern has overwhelmed us with moral, legal and political issues. But no one is asking if indeed this did occur, then why?

As a psychiatrist who regularly treats people with sexual problems, I question whether Mr. Clinton doesn't suffer from serious problems that may include sexual addiction.

White House crises

I don't intend to provide a diagnosis here because I have not personally evaluated Mr. Clinton, nor do I have access to his medical records. But in my psychiatric training in an analytical setting and after working with numerous patients, I offer some insights that may help the public understand this White House crises.

Over the past generation, we have learned a great deal about our sexuality, including that much of it is programmed early, probably by the time we're 8. It has a lot to do with what we experience in those early years -- not so much sexual activity, but the dynamics of the environment in which we are raised.

The human brain is made up of two parts: a primitive or emotional brain and a rational brain. The emotional brain is present in all animals and more evolved in mammals, including humans. It is our survival brain; it controls all bodily functions, including respiration, heart rate, anxiety, fear, depression and sex.

The rational brain is most advanced in humans; it accounts for our reasoning, intelligence and communication. In people with solid childhoods, without abuse, the two brains work in tandem; typically, such people will live conventional lives.

If childhood is marked by instability, the emotional brain is overstimulated; this arousal in early life will be absorbed by the brain and will affect the person's actions through adulthood. Much of his life will be spent trying to contain and discharge this tension. People so afflicted will try to discharge the pressure any way they can, including using alcohol, illegal drugs, gambling and sex.

The choice of outlet for such people may include fetishes, sadomasochism, excessive number of partners, a constant need for pornography, excessive intercourse or masturbation.

Mr. Clinton came from a dysfunctional family. His biological father was killed in a car accident before he was born. His mother remarried, to an alcoholic who was violent. The president himself has talked about some terrifying moments that he and his half-brother, Roger, experienced while growing up. Such events were immediately absorbed by their emotional brains.

A loving mother

The president was extremely close to his mother, and when there is terror, particularly from a male parent, the child will bond even more strongly to the mother. The intensity of this bonding had to affect his emotional brain and the energy involved would need discharge.

Sexual outlet appears to be the way Mr. Clinton has handled the pressure.

As for Roger Clinton, he has had trouble with substance abuse, including an addiction to cocaine.

Roger seems to have been brought down by childhood traumas. But Bill Clinton was somehow energized by his childhood experience to the point of becoming the president of this country.

Perhaps his keen intelligence from his rational brain has been of help. His sexual energy may have been the salve that encouraged so many women to vote for him and angered others who were made uncomfortable by it.

Quick on his feet

He has learned to move quickly, his mind is fast. He appears to always be in motion, jogging, golfing. But he has a personal history he can't escape, and the sexual excesses are showing as they have throughout his life -- only in a more public way than before.

There is shock, horror and dismay regarding this crisis. But understanding some dynamics that may have contributed to it may help put things in perspective. I only wish our president had done the same. If so, this ugly mess may have been avoided.

Dr. Alan H. Peck is a Baltimore psychiatrist.

Pub Date: 1/28/98

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