CNN's Ana Navarro tweeted recently, "Matt Lauer lost his job. Charlie Rose lost his job. Mark Halperin lost his job. Glenn Thrush lost his job. Billy Bush lost his job. Harvey Weinstein lost his job. Kevin Spacey lost his job. But in politics... Conyers still in Congress. Moore still running. Trump still President." Comments following her Twitter added Bill Clinton and Al Franken to the list, not to mention Bill Cosby....What's going on? What motivates so much bad behavior by so many men in high power positions?
Caveat: I have not personally interviewed any of the above men. Rather, the thinking I describe below is a composite of what I have learned from a number of men I have worked with who have been inappropriately flirtatious or sexually aggressive with women.
I call it Tall Man Syndrome.
I've written about Tall Man Syndrome in an earlier post, including how I became aware of this pattern. Tall Man Syndrome is a diagnostic term that I coined after a run on clients, mostly unfaithful husbands, who were too tall to fit in my relatively petite office chairs. My office still has the extra-large brown leather chair in my office that I bought specially to seat these long-legged clients more comfortably when they come for psychotherapy.
So what is Tall Man Syndrome?
What is the deal, that being tall can lead to so much inappropriate sexual behavior?
Being taller can lead to feeling above others. Tall in this sense may refer to height. It may also refer to bigness in any dimension: celebrity, wealth, best athlete, intelligence, head of a company, etc.
A word of caution here. Not all tall men become sexual predators. To the contrary, many tall men are mature, compassionate, and sexually monogamous human beings.
So what leads too many tall men to begin acting sexually out-of-bounds?
When feeling bigger than others in one dimension (height, wealth, etc) leads to a belief that overall you are better than everyone else in all ways, narcissism may result.
What is narcissism?
Narcissism is a belief that because I am bigger, more important, smarter, more handsome, more wealthy, more powerful, etc., than other people, I do not need to listen to what others say. It's all about me. What I think, what I want, what I know is all that really matters.
And I am always right.
If you differ in your viewpoint from mine, I am right and you are wrong. If you insist on being heard, on my listening to your viewpoint, be careful. I am likely to get mad. I am bigger so I can drown your voice out. Or hurt you in some way. Better listen to me.
In addition, because I stand above other people, I am above the rules. I know that those little people down there have rules like about being nice to each other, but I follow those rules only when they suit me, like when I am courting someone or trying to impress someone.
Why is being tall a risk factor for narcissism and sexual impropriety?
Since the rules don't apply to me, and since I am so special, I can express my sexual feelings when and where I want. I can flirt when and where I want. And flirting is great fun for me. It validates how I am so special.
Of course, all women are attracted to me. They want to have my attention. If they resist, they do it because of conventional rules. Really, they want my attention because I am special.
I'm so attractive that of course women are flattered by my attention. If they don't react the way I want them to, welcoming my flirtations and groping, there's something wrong with them.
Besides, I am more powerful. I can get them fired if they act as if they don't like me or don't like my sexual advances. For me, sex and power often go together. Acting sexually reinforces my sense of special powers. And because I have such special power, I feel all the more sexual.
Remember, I'm bigger and better so the rules don't apply to me.
Hmmm...Two more points.
First, Height (or any specialness, including beauty for women), in my clinical experience, seems to put people at higher risk for narcissism. At the same time, a number of research studies have made it clear that height also gives people increased power and leadership potential. Many tall men (and women) then use their leadership for the betterment of those over which they take responsibility.
One of this article's readers has commented that another 'tall dude', Abraham Lincoln, once said, "...if you want to test a man's character, give him power." (Thank you to Your Local Plumbr.)
Second, sexual feelings expressed in inappropriate actions in business and political settings often stem from causes other than narcissistic or other predatory impulses. My clinical experience suggests that most office affairs are inadvertent, resulting from naivete about protecting themselves from inappropriate affections and attractions.
Men and women who work together can easily find themselves attracted to a colleague. Most, particularly if they are married, then restructure the situation so they do not end up inadvertently connecting sexually. Clarity about the rules helps. Staying in public spaces and keeping their conversations limited to business matters then generally protects both men and women from sexual impulses that could get them in trouble. [I clarify these guidelines more fully in my book Prescriptions Without Pills.]
This article by contrast describes the thinking of men who are repeat offenders—of men who abuse their positions of power to request, or even demand, sexual favors.
The current media buzz about unwanted sexual advances hopefully will re-set awareness throughout the country about the inappropriateness of such actions.
For more about narcissism including a self-test, please see my article, Are You A Narcissist? 6 Sure Signs of Narcissism.