What’s Wrong With Anthony Weiner?
A Psychoanalyst’s Answer

The big question in Josh Kreigman and Elyse Steinberg’s documentary Weiner is: “What’s wrong with Anthony Weiner?” Why would a political official destroy his reputation and his career? Why would he humiliate his wife? Lawrence O’Donnell of MSNBC’s Last Word posed this million-dollar question to Weiner on national TV: “What is wrong with you…I mean psychiatrically?” O’Donnell’s question is exactly what everyone is asking. It’s a complex question about a sadly troubled man. The answers aren’t easily visible.

Watching Weiner, we see Anthony Weiner pulled into a vortex of something dark and disturbed in his mind. Something he can’t bear; something he’s running from as fast as he can. On the surface, Weiner is volatile and manic, drawing those around him into a frenzy of excitement and admiration. A compulsive need for admiration is the name of his game – but why?  What is Weiner covering up with his showmanship?

Exhibitionistic Showmanship 

Weiner’s been called a fame whore, a preening self-promoter, and a glib narcissist. He was capable of stirring up fever-pitched excitement in crowds of supporters. And in young people who staffed his campaign. He had passion. Conviction. He had his ideals.

Weiner was a people’s politician, a colorful force who met people where they lived. He’s also a husband who humiliated his wife. A demanding and inconsistent boss. And a self-sabotaging man.

What would lead Weiner to exhibitionistic sexual texting? He needed adoration. From his supporters and his staff – and everyone. If people weren’t on his side, attuned to his every thought and need, he could turn on them in an instant.

We saw this thin-skinned meltdown during Lawrence O’Donnell’s interview. And also with his confrontational constituent in the bakery. Weiner desperately wanted to be seen as a successful and well-liked man. What he covered up brought him down.

Two Sides Of Anthony Weiner

Anthony Weiner passionately represented his constituents. Yet, Weiner is an embattled man. In the film we watch as a split-off alter ego takes him over. That’s “Carlos Danger.” Yes, the excitement of danger interrupts Weiner’s capacity to think before he acts on his self-destructive impulses. Indeed, Weiner’s two sides do not live in concert with each other. He’s always in danger of feeling small, weak, and never good enough.

1. Dedicated Congressman

Weiner was the youngest Democratic member of Congress, scrappy and combative, “scaring the hell out of the Republicans.” He refused to cower. Many people thought, as his wife Huma Abedin did, that “no one fights harder on behalf of the people.No one will make the city stronger, than Anthony Weiner.” Yet, when it came to fighting the shame inside, he did it the wrong way.

Truly, Wener had been fighting for the middle class his whole life. But, behind the scenes was a different fight. And this made him difficult and abrasive to work with. Yet, people believed in him even after the first sexting scandal of 2011. Even after he was forced to resign from Congress. When Weiner decided to run for mayor of New York City, stubbornly not backing down, his supporters said: “Everyone deserves a second chance.” But under that image of a people’s politician is something sinister.

2. “Carlos Danger

Close to winning his mayoral race, a new rash of sexually explicit texts was exposed. And, so was “Carlos Danger.” Carlos Danger is not just an arbitrary online handle that Weiner developed to obscure his identity. Carlos Danger represents an uncontrollable addiction to exhibitionism, He’s a dangerous part of Weiner’s mind.

Who is Carlos Danger? The man with the alluring penis. And, the key figure in Anthony Weiner’s perverse activity. He emerges during times of anxiety. These could be Huma’s pregnancy, becoming a father, running for mayor. Weiner turns to perversion. He reverses the anxious situation into one he controls. His sexting isn’t simply for self-aggrandizement. It is, instead, a form of self-protection.

What’s In Weiner’s Perversion?

You’d think Anthony Weiner’s perversion is obvious: a compulsive need to exhibit his penis to women via text. Yet, the real unconscious purpose is something different. Yes, Weiner needed to see himself as the hero of the middle class. Be “a big man.”

But no one with any confidence cracks when he doesn’t receive continual affirmation. Weiner’s exhibitionism is meant to overturn his fear of being inadequate and exposed. Think about how he reacted to Lawrence O’Donnell or to the heckler at the bakery. He became verbally demeaning to humiliate them in response to feeling humiliated.

What’s the result? A triumphant sense of relief. Weiner doesn’t think he’s destroying himself. It’s someone else being destroyed. Particularly, someone else’s power to expose or humiliate him. Perversion turns the tables. Personal mortification is temporarily avoided. And, it’s another person who suffers humiliation instead. Could be his wife or the woman he sexts with. “I will not be a loser” is Weiner’s mantra, at all costs.

Most of all, Weiner’s exhibitionism is an attempt to counteract forces (internal and external) that make him feel small. With Carlos Danger in the driver’s seat, Weiner feels big. And, he controls who the winner is. Of course, it’s him. At least, that’s what he thinks.

Yet, In Weiner’s case, as in most others, these perverse mechanisms backfire. The anxiety or humiliation supposedly (successfully) eluded crashing down. This is where Sydney Leathers comes in.

Who Is Sydney Leathers?

Sydney Leathers is a 23-year old stripper, porn star, ex-smitten Weiner supporter. She’s also the major figure in Weiner’s second sexual texting scandal. Leathers initially contacted Weiner on Facebook to say he’d let her down. He’d clearly fallen from Grace in her eyes. This isn’t tolerable to someone like Weiner who needs love and adoration.

To win her admiration back, Weiner pursued Leathers by text. And, they became embroiled in graphic phone sex, frequently 5 times a day. Weiner unconsciously chose his inner demon. As Leathers said: “You shouldn’t meet your heroes. You find out they are human like you.” She was right.

Weiner and Leathers were well matched in their sadomasochism. Both needed to come out on top. To be the one that did, Leathers turned on Weiner, viciously trashing him with Howard Stern. She was what Weiner tries to hide. The voice of his self-hate.

Shaming Voices Bring Weiner Down

During his mayoral bid, Weiner said: “Powerful voices have made it clear from the beginning they don’t want me to win. But they aren’t going to get their way.” The voices he later confronted. Steven Colbert, Jon Stewart, Sydney Leathers, and the constituent in the bakery. Yet, really, they aren’t the important ones. It’s the shaming internal voice he’s running from. The one that tells him he’s never good enough.

Lawrence O’Donnell became that voice. With such brittle self-esteem, Weiner couldn’t reflect on O’Donnell’s question or try to openly discuss his obvious problems. Instead, he retorted in a mocking way: “Good night, Lawrence. I don’t plan on losing. Maybe I’ll come on your show every night and kick your ass like I’m doing now. Bigger guys than you have tried to knock me down …”

Perhaps that bigger guy was someone in his long-ago past. There’s no question that something went awry and left him with a sense of inferiority he can’t bear. Now that big guy is the voice inside his mind that gangs up and tells him he’s a loser; the one that Carlos Danger is designed to override and prove wrong.

Can Weiner Recover From Being Weiner?

The film begins with a Marshall McLuhan quote: “The name of a man is a numbing blow from which he never recovers.” Weiner might have made a name for himself in politics if it wasn’t for Carlos Danger, the name that got him in trouble. Weiner chose that name. He must have known, at some level, the dangers. Yet, he needed the excitement of exhibitionism to prove his desirability and give him a sense of control over any perceived or threatened humiliation. He didn’t have control of his compulsion.

Weiner’s been called many names in his all-too-public difficulty being Anthony Weiner. Worse, though, are the fears and insecurities he’s lived with his entire life. If Weiner could recover, he’d need help naming the anxieties and trauma to his real identity that Carlos Danger was created to save him from – but can’t.

Weiner’s wife, Huma Abedin, did “a whole lot of work and had a whole lot of therapy to forgive Anthony.” But, it’s Anthony Weiner that needs the years of therapy. No one caught in perverse forms of self-destructive escape can get out of it alone. As Weiner did, they hurt those who try to love them. And, even more tragically, they inevitably shoot themselves in the foot.

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Dr. Sandra E. Cohen

I’m Dr. Sandra Cohen, a psychologist and psychoanalyst in private practice in Beverly Hills, CA. I work with creatives in therapy, story/character development, and entertainment consulting. If you are a writer, actor, or director and want help with a character – or a chance to do some of your own personal work - call at 310.273.4827 or email me at sandracohenphd@gmail.com to schedule a confidential discussion to explore working together.