Watching Charlie Sheen do media interviews over the past few days has been like watching a horror movie where the protagonist's wise-cracking friend is about to get whacked. You cringe in anticipation of the bloody show that's about to take place.
I can't help but think that surely Sheen knows what's in store for his character. He must have known his top-rated TV show, Two and a Half Men, was going to get canceled after he trashed show creator Chuck Lorre in an interview. He must have known that his twin sons would be taken away after parading them in front of TV cameras while bragging that they were being raised by his two live-in girlfriends whom he refers to as "goddesses."
To a lesser degree, we see this all the time. People who seem to have everything going for them -- Sheen was reportedly paid $2 million an episode for his TV gig -- and then self-destruct by engaging in behavior that most rational people would deem unthinkable.
While Sheen has admitted to having drug and alcohol problems, he says he's clean now and took a drug test, whose results were revealed on Good Morning America, to prove it. So what's driving his erratic behavior?
"I think there are two reasons for it," says Joe Tecce, a professor of psychology at Boston College. "He has a lot of guilt over some things he's done in the past, like trashing hotel rooms and beating up his ex-wife, and he's trying to clear his name. He wants to come out with a little more self esteem than he really has inside him to prove he's a smart guy and a good father."
That guilt may also be motivating him for a different reason. "Getting into a good fight helps him escape his real problems," says Tecce. "It occupies his mind so he's not thinking about whether Charlie Sheen is a good human being or not."
He may also be looking for a little self-punishment to assuage his guilt. "It feels good to get a punch now and then to take away the pain of guilt," Tecce says. "And what better way to get a psychological bloody nose than get into a fight with the media?"
Is Sheen a narcissist? Does he have borderline personality disorder? Is he delusional?
Psychotherapist Karen Ruskin, who has a private practice in Sharon, says Sheen's behaviors result from what she calls the "I-Man" mentality, a sense of thinking that it's all about him and his own self-gratification. "His talking about his own greatness, that he's wonderful, and that everything's okay is very much along the lines of a person who's experiencing a drug or alcohol affliction, even during times of sobriety."
Even if Sheen has been clean for a month, she says, he's still likely to display the self-aggrandizement sorts of behaviors that he's shown during interviews. In fact, behavior can become even more erratic during those first weeks when someone's sobering up.
"He's in the heart of it right now and he's not able to think with clarity," Ruskin says. But, she adds, the public and media are doing him no good by merely watching and grimacing. "It's as bad as watching someone getting raped on the street and doing nothing. Someone needs to step in and be empathetic to his decline."
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