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3 Questions to Consider: A Psychologist’s Take on Anthony Weiner

Guest submission by Dr. Megan Fleming

Last week, MSNBC called my office and asked if I would speak on a panel about the latest Anthony Weiner debacle. “Of course,” I told the producer. “Happy to.”

For me, as both a New Yorker and a psychologist, there’s a ton of truth not being discussed underneath Mr. Weiner’s comments. I have to ask myself if the discussions he’s having on camera are coming from the voice of a man who intends to change, or one who is steeped in his actions. Does he see that this was actually wrong? How is he honoring and respecting his wife as he discusses his adultery — and does he even see his behavior in the light that other married people see it: inappropriate and wrong?

Sure, change is always possible, but the wise person looks at patterns when someone develops a habit of committing bad behaviors. Why is this time any different than the last? One would assume that losing his congressional seat would have been a pretty tough pill to swallow, but it doesn’t seem that those particular set of consequences were “tough enough” to stop his compulsive behavior.

Mr. Weiner is not my client, nor is his wife. But through my psychologist’s lens, and as someone who will be called to the poll to vote, I have to ask myself three important questions.

1. Would you want to vote into office a man who doesn’t have the courage to tell the truth?

A reporter asked Weiner, “Is there yet another woman’s shoe about to drop in this campaign?” He replied that he had no idea.

Well yes, in fact, you do. This is the point. You know exactly what behavior you have engaged in or not.

Denying this is just like a little kid who stole something from the store and lying about it to his mom in the hopes he won’t get caught. On this end, the public is just waiting for the next news to drop, but it won’t be new news to Mr. Weiner. He knows the truth; he’s just choosing not to share it in the hopes that someone else doesn’t come forth.

So one hand he’s right; he can’t predict the future. But he is also sidestepping the directness of the question and that is a slippery slope for a man who already has a track record of lying to the public.

I would have hoped that after resigning from Congress in 2011, he would have had the integrity and courage to be honest with us about what’s happened. But if I do an honest gut-check here, ever since he decided to run for Mayor of NYC, it feels like the same old song and dance. We only get the truth after he’s caught red-handed and is left like a child vrying “mea culpa”: please forgive me, I’m sorry and it won’t happen again. Can we really believe him?

2. Would I want to vote into office a man who doesn’t learn from consequences?

Last week, Weiner told reporters that he did not talk with “dozens and dozens” of women; “Six to ten, I suppose.” He followed this with, “But, I can’t tell you absolutely what somebody else is going to consider inappropriate or not.”

Whether sexting is considered infidelity or not to his marriage, that is only a question he and Huma can decide. The majority of us might feel that putting your sexual energy outside of the marriage is unfaithful. Their fidelity, however, is not for us to discern. Truthfully, it’s a decision and negotiation for every couple.

That said, six to ten? Wow — that’s not a single indiscretion. It’s a habit. And truthfully, whether it’s one or a hundred, the fact that he continued to engage in the behavior after the humiliating event of resigning from Congress, one has to ask what kind of consequence will be enough for him to change. His wife didn’t leave and he’s still fairly popular at the polls. Apparently women still find him interesting… so what will be the cost to him as a human being where he can say “enough is enough”?

What catastrophic impact to his marriage would be enough to learn that NO sexting is safe for him?

In terms of his career, I’m astounded that he did not know this. Sexting is bad for him. In 12 step language, he is “using”; engaging in this behavior despite significant harm. I have not met him and certainly can’t diagnosis an addiction problem, but I do know that both addicts and narcissists tend to rationalize their aberrant behavior and feel like they are an exception to the rule. As the saying goes: If it walks like a duck…”

3. Would I want to vote into office a man who doesn’t have good judgment?

Weiner said of his texting partners, “These are people who I thought were friends, people I trusted when I communicated with them. But who knows what they might do now.”

So behind this comment is the idea that these women were his friends and therefore shouldn’t have “outed” him. He’s a high-powered celebrity politician — why would he ever believe he’s immune to this kind of blackmail or risk?

The point is that Weiner should have anticipated the risk and not put himself in harm’s way. That, in my opinion, is an error in judgment. Trusting one’s capacity to have good judgment is a key quality to assess when considering an individual for public office. As an elected official, we need to have confidence in his ability to make good decisions (both for our public safety and with our tax dollars).

He thought Sydney Leathers was a friend. Does that then mean sexting was acceptable between friends? It makes me wonder what else Mr. Weiner feels comfortable “communicating” to friends and who those friends might be? New York is full of temptation; what other scandal is he going to be sucked into because he is a bad judge of character?

For me, these three areas are huge red flags to consider for the man we’re being asked to trust with the keys to the city. Can he be trusted to do the job? To have my best interest at heart? To use my dollars wisely?

Honestly, I seriously doubt it. Leopards rarely change their spots, and obviously whatever it takes for him to change his spots is a heck of a lot more painful than what he’s been through. I don’t believe I want to pay to watch that train wreck unfold on the public stage.

But, that’s just the two-cents from my psychologist’s lens.

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