The question on everyone’s minds today is whether O.J. Simpson is a sociopath or a victim. Twelve years ago during the criminal trial, many questioned whether or not he actually killed his wife and Ron Goldman. Public sentiment has shifted in the intervening years. Today, after his conviction in the civil trial and his attempts to publish a book about “how he did it,” the overwhelming sentiment seems to be that O.J. is guilty of those murders.

What is a sociopath and is O.J. one? He certainly exhibits many of the characteristics of a sociopath: he is superficially charming, manipulative and cunning; has a sense of entitlement; lies easily; exhibits lack of remorse; lives on the edge; is callous and not concerned about wrecking the lives of others; exercises despotic control over others; justifies his crimes; and is a narcissist. This textbook definition is a dead ringer for O.J!

But can he also be a victim?

Sociopaths are made, not born. What happened to him in his childhood to create these monstrous characteristics?

O.J. was born in the projects in San Francisco and his parents split when he was a toddler. From ages 3 to 5, he had to wear homemade braces after he contracted rickets from extreme malnutrition. He was in a street gang in high school. What saved him was his mother’s love and his tremendous athletic talent; he broke a world record in track before he was even 18 and earned the Heisman Trophy in football in high school. He married his high school sweetheart young, and he had a little girl who drowned before she was two. He and his wife divorced that same year.

It’s not hard to read between the lines of O.J.’s childhood: it’s highly likely that he suffered a lot of abuse and a lot of prejudice for being poor and black. The evidence in the current Las Vegas criminal trial is not clear cut and most of the witnesses don’t exactly have clean hands themselves, so it may be difficult to make a prosecution against O.J. Simpson stick. He may be free again soon.


Britney Thumbs Nose at Court Order

As if Britney didn’t have enough problems with her lackluster performance at last week’s MTV awards, the judge in her child custody case ruled this week that she is a “habitual, frequent and continuous” user of alcohol and drugs and must undergo twice-weekly random drug and alcohol testing. The court also ruled that both Britney and her ex, Kevin Federline, cannot use alcohol for 12 hours prior to having the kids. To top it off, Britney was also ordered to meet with a parenting coach and both parents must complete a “Parenting Without Conflict” course.

What did Brit do in response? Well, laying low isn’t her style. Instead, she went out that evening, not to one club, but two, and partied hard ‘til closing time, with plenty of photographers around to document it. It was reported that she was dancing on the tables, trying to look really sexy. I’d say looking really desperate.

This is classic behavior for someone in as desperate a state as Britney. The judge is giving her one last chance to pull back from her addictive behavior, so she won’t lose her two boys to her ex. But Brit’s been on an adolescent streak of rebellion for some time now (first with her ex, then her parents – most recently, she’s fired her hairdresser, her attorney, and even her manager has quit). Child stars have a really hard time growing up, and we’re watching in rapt fascination as poor Brit goes through the terrible two’s.

Britney’s former bodyguard, Tony Barretto, went over to the other side at the custody hearing and was ready to testify against his former boss and accuse her of drug use and issues of safety and nudity in front of her children. Tony claimed he was only doing it “because he too had small children.” Does this pass the “smell test” for truth? No! Fortunately, the judge saw through it, and declined to hear his testimony.

Likewise not passing the “smell test” is ex Kevin Federline who protests he’s just looking out for his kids’ welfare in trying to get full custody. More likely he’s looking to increase the child support he gets when the kids are in his custody! No doubt he sees the children as a meal ticket.

What is it about Britney that prompts her self-destructive behavior? One reason is that she didn’t learn any normal coping skills as a child star. Where most regular folks learn early on that they won’t always get their way, young stars like Britney and Lindsey Lohan are given free reign as long as they continue to pull in the money. By the time they are young adults, 18-20, their view of the world and their role in it is pretty twisted: they’re convinced that they’re the center of the universe and everyone else is simply there at their pleasure. When things don’t go their way, they try to numb their feelings with drugs and alcohol. As their lives careen out of control, and producers, friends, exes and judges fail to fall into line, they become increasingly miserable, even despondent, and turn again to addictive substances, and the cycle begins again.

Britney’s never had a chance to find out who she really is or what she really wants. As a show child, her entire life has been focused on performance and competition, not inner happiness. Britney simply didn’t have the coping skills to have handled the stress of her “comeback” attempt at the MTV awards, so she skipped the rehearsals (fear), fired her hairdresser in a fit of anger (read: fear), and tried to drink her way through the performance (fear again).

Will she sabotage herself as savagely in the custody battle? It’s so obvious that the one thing she really has going for her is her real love for her children. Knowing Britney and her propensity for creating one train-wreck after another, it doesn’t look too promising.

The key is for Britney to “hit bottom” (hopefully, she’s close!) Then, she’d be in the right frame of mind for a successful rehab. In rehab, she’d be a part of a tribe of her own peers: people who’ve been where she’s been, and who are where she is right now. In that setting, she’d have a chance to go within and find her real feelings that she’s not had a chance to get in touch with before. At the same time, she’d have the support to get off the drugs and alcohol that keep her from connecting to these feelings.

We all hope that Britney will turn her life around!



High School Musical Star to Get Millions After Release of Nude Photos.

To our teenagers, it must seem like this kind of bad behavior is a winner. Kids are savvy today, and they know it’s unlikely that the nude photos of Vanessa Hudgins, star of Disney’s hugely popular (and lucrative) High School Musical, will throw a monkey wrench in her career. After all, hardly anyone had ever heard of Paris Hilton before her sex tape, and Britney’s posing without her panties hasn’t hurt her either. Vanessa is already saying all the right things, apologizing, going to church with her parents, and generally acting demure. The release of these photos may actually throw her career into overdrive.

Parents, older and wiser than their kids, know that failing to respect your own body doesn’t win you anything in the long run. Vanessa will one day realize that cheapening her image and flushing away her dignity isn’t the road to real self-esteem, but that’s hard to grasp in the throws of young stardom. I urge parents not to focus on the negative, but to find positive images for their kids to admire, like Reese Witherspoon and Beyoncé Knowles.

This kind of celeb misbehavior makes parenting really difficult. Parents are trying to raise their girls to have respect for the privacy of their own bodies, and here their idols are in various stages of undress. The real message to young girls is an unhealthy over-emphasis on body image. After all, how many teenagers actually look like Vanessa? This leads to problems like eating disorders. And “what you see is what you get” is the subliminal message – it encourages bad behavior in boys and men. This leads to problems like sexual abuse, date rape, and a host of other behaviors that we all deplore. It’s no coincidence that more than one out of every three girls is sexually abused today.

Nudity sends a mixed message. I tell parents: teach your kids that sexy is one thing, but slutty is another.


Downfall of being a Celeb Like Britney

We revere our celebs, fantasizing that they are immune from all the real life problems that we face, but they aren’t. In fact, depressing life events like Britney’s divorce and battles with her ex and her parents are even more stressful for them. It’s one thing to suffer these experiences in private and quite another to have it happen in front of millions of curious onlookers.

Celebs, just like us, are susceptible to the stresses of everyday life, except more so. The public likes to focus on the bright side of celebrity: fame, fortune, fans, and red carpets galas. But there’s a dark side to celebrity: when they go home at night and really look at themselves in the mirror, all they feel is fear: fear of failure in front of millions of people, fear of aging, fear of being alone. Then there’s the constant lying: pretending to be okay in public, even when their heart is breaking or they’re paralyzed with fear or hating how that extra ten or twenty pounds looks.

Britney Spear’s Sunday night lackluster performance on the MTV Video Music Awards is really guaranteed to give her weak self-esteem another blow, and my heart goes out to her. The criticism has been incredibly cruel. Britney’s problems with drugs and alcohol are likely linked to depression, which is linked to self-esteem issues. This latest experience certainly won’t help. Compare Owen Wilson, whose sense of self was so jeopardized, even though he was garnering nothing but positive feedback, that he evidently turned back to drugs.

The more any of us lies to ourselves, celeb or not, the more we split from our truth. Pretty soon, we don’t have a clue about how we really feel about anything, and our lives start to disintegrate. If only Anna-Nicole Smith could have gotten in touch with her real feelings about herself, instead of masking them, she might still be with us. The key is awareness.

To avoid depression that can lead us to drugs and alcohol—talk, talk, talk! Talk to your family and friends; find a therapist or 12-step program that fits, and stick with it. Our fear can really run away with us when we clam up.



September 10, 2007

Mary Winkler shot her minister husband, Matthew, in Selmer, Alabama, in the back and killed him after 10 years of abuse. The final straw, according to Mary, was when he put his hands over their one-year-old baby’s nose and mouth in an effort to stop her crying. Mary “snapped,” got out of a closet the shotgun that he had threatened her with in the past and pointed it at him,“so she could talk to him.” Then she heard a “big boom.” He collapsed to the floor and bled to death within a few minutes.

Charged with first-degree murder, Mary was convicted in April of voluntary manslaughter, and was released from prison in August. She spent her last two months in custody in a mental health facility where she was treated for post-traumatic stress disorder and depression. All told, she spent seven months in custody. Her three children (8, 6, and 1 year old) were placed in the custody of her husband’s parents, who are now trying to get permanent custody of the children. Mary is also trying to get custody. Her ex in-laws have sued her in the civil courts for $2M in connection with the death of their son.

Mary was obviously the victim of serious emotional and physical abuse. Her father reported years before seeing her face bruised, despite heavy make-up she used to cover her injuries. Mary testified at trial that her married life was living hell: she couldn’t do anything right and was terrified of her husband. She also testified that he insisted that she dress up as a hooker in the bedroom and forced her to have oral and anal sex, which she felt were unnatural. He often threatened her life.

Oprah interviewed Mary recently, and that interview showed she has all the marks of someone with post-traumatic stress syndrome. She seems “flat” and almost emotionless. She is unable to look at the interviewer or the camera, which evidences all the shame she carries for never being able to measure up to her husband’s increasingly unreasonable demands. During the interview, she repeatedly blamed herself for her husband’s problems and says she hasn’t suffered enough. This is classic behavior for someone heavily abused: the victim thinks it must be all their fault.

Like so many wives of men in public positions, Mary tried to keep the abuse a secret. She was overworked, lonely, and had nowhere to turn—a situation likely to become explosive.

Women can learn much from Mary’s situation. If you feel afraid for your own safety or that of your children, don’t wait! Get help immediately. It’s like the frog that sits in water that gets progressively hotter until it dies; lots of times we don’t realize just how miserable and unsafe we really are while the heat gets turned up a little each day. Mary said to Oprah,“I’m a different woman now. I speak up more.” We can learn that lesson from her!

Can Mary get her children back? It will be up to the Tennessee judge, but she should. Her conviction of manslaughter in no way infers an inability to be a good mother to her children. Her children need her.



Why in the world do celebs say the things they do?!

September 4, 2007

Jerry Lewis’s remark yesterday about “illiterate faggots” – what was he thinking? When we say things like that, what we’re really doing is expressing the collective unconscious that ALL of us share. We all have prejudices that we try to hide from ourselves and others, and sometimes they just slip out.

Michael Richards couldn’t believe what slipped out of his mouth this year, and has apologized profusely. Sometimes our mouths say what our deepest selves are thinking – beliefs we hold that are below are daily consciousness. What he said is what so many think; he just got caught expressing a shared belief. African-Americans have been second class citizens for hundreds of years, and those beliefs are built into our cellular memory.

Comedians especially walk a really fine line and sometimes go too far. Think Don Imus – he expressed a belief held by many of us that women (especially black ones) are something to kid about. Isaiah Washington is another example of foot-in-mouth disease. He was so angry about being called out for his remark, he repeated it! Here we have a situation of a member of one group who has experienced horrendous prejudicecriticizing another group that experiences even more prejudice!

Our comedians act like a Greek chorus for us: they express the hidden currents that run through our culture, and show us all what so many of us secretly think. When properly handled, think Larry David or Jerry Seinfeld, it can act like a safety valve—letting off some of the pressure and allowing people to remain civil in their discourse with one another.