Most of us have probably fantasized about having a super power. After interviewing numerous individuals for this column, invisibility – one who sees all but is unseen - is in the top three super powers these folks would choose. (FYI - the other two were flight and intelligence.) Well it may be possible in the near future to become “invisible” as Japanese researchers at Keio University headed by Dr. Susumo Tachi have created an invisibility cloak with retro-reflection projection technology using a computer, projector and video camera. Background images are projected onto a subject wearing a cloak made of special material which renders the subjected “invisible."
We asked our interviewees who chose invisibility as their super power what they would do if they had such a cloak. While some said steal, all said spy on people – some for information and others for voyeuristic purposes. Which leads us to the subject of this column – voyeurism. If you could be invisible and spy on anyone in your life, who would it be? Our friends at Merriam-Webster define voyeur as “a person who gets sexual pleasure from secretly watching other people have sex; a person who likes seeing and talking or writing about something that is considered to be private.” Then might looking at sex magazines or viewing porno on the internet while masturbating also be considered voyeuristic? We don’t think so as these “tools” are specifically created for just that purpose. But many of us have had unintentional voyeuristic experiences such as walking in on your parents or friends at parties while they are having sex.
Phil and Rose share unintentional voyeuristic experience
Phil: When I was 12 years old and on my way to a Boy Scout meeting with some friends, we passed a ground floor window where a woman was undressing with the curtain UP! My friends and I watched her until she was totally undressed. We were mesmerized! None of us had ever seen a woman without her clothes on! Just then a cop showed up and made us look at him instead of the amazingly beautiful naked lady and then made us recite aloud and in unison the Boy Scout oath. Talk about shame and loathing in the Bronx!
Rose: One evening, when I was 15, I was walking home after a church meeting. As I passed an apartment building I heard a masculine voice stage whisper “Hey, pretty girl!” Of course I looked in the direction of the whisper. A long haired, bearded guy sporting a head band (this was in the 70s) was standing in the courtyard with his pants down - pointing at his crotch. The thought of a guy so desperate for a girl to see his genitalia in such a manner struck me as ridiculous so I started to laugh. He cursed at me as I ran away.
Shame on you!
Both Phil and Rose felt intense shame after our unintentional voyeuristic experiences; but what about the naked lady and the hippie guy? Did they realize how they affected us? We don’t think so. The following is a case in point:
For one of our clients - we’ll call him “Bob” - his voyeurism became an obsession. It started by his using high powered binoculars to scope out the people in adjacent apartments participating in routine daily activities and escalated to the use of a telescope to zoom in on unsuspecting women and couples in various stages of undress and acts of intimacy. His wife insisted he seek help as the sexual relationship they once enjoyed didn’t happen unless he “spied” on someone. In therapy, Bob revealed that when he was growing up, his bedroom was adjacent to his parent’s and he could hear them having sex at night, but he was young and didn’t know what all the moaning was about. It scared him. As he got older, he realized his parents were having sex and although he was creeped out, he couldn’t help his budding sexual reaction. When Bob was in high school he took to spying on his girlfriend, hiding in bushes at night and using binoculars to peep through her partially opened bedroom curtains. “I never told her. But it was thrilling. When we were together, I would remember spying on her and get excited. She wasn’t ready to have sex but she was agreeable to doing other things.” When asked at the time if he felt shame or remorse about spying on her, he said “Yeah, but for me, the thrill was greater than the shame. And she never found out.” But he never thought about how she would have felt about this invasion of her privacy.
Bob took his voyeurism a step further in college by purposefully walking in on fellow students when they were being intimate. “It was easy – I would act drunk and stand there and stare. It became sort of a joke with my buddies and their girlfriends – ‘Lock the door so Bob doesn’t walk in!’” Getting beat up by an acquaintance after one such incident along with being spurned by girls deterred Bob from peeping and caused him to transfer to a different university where he started “clean.” Once he was married and settled, he started using the binoculars and then the telescope – and you know the rest.
When Bob started violating other people’s privacy and therefore their trust, his behavior became abhorrent. If the people Bob spied on knew about it and preauthorized the viewing, there would have been no offense. But the opposite was true; in every case, Bob was committing a crime and displayed abhorrent behavior. He ENJOYED getting away with violating their private, being secretive and never once considered how they would feel about his actions much less the consequences he would suffer if apprehended.
The voyeur in us
Bob was lucky – his wife wanted to stay together and help with his recovery efforts. Through time perspective therapy, he discovered the genesis of his voyeuristic tendency (past negative) and gained a deeper understanding of why what he did was wrong. Then he worked towards making plans for a more healthy future (future positive) with his wife by selling his spying equipment and recommitting to her alone. His wife now feels she is a vital part of their intimate relationship rather than a means to an end. And Bob has become a more compassionate person.
Most of us may have a secret yearning to be a “fly on the wall” in circumstances from business to personal. But when one takes action on these impulses it can quickly become criminal activity. Having voyeuristic thoughts is natural, but putting them into action is pathological, even criminal. Choose wisely.
Check out our other Psychology Today blogs to get a fuller appreciation of how to create a more balanced time perspective in your life!
Visit our website, "http://www.timecure.com/" \t "_blank" www.timecure.com, to view a free 20 minute video - The River of Time; you’ll learn self-soothing techniques as well as how to let go of past negatives, work towards a brighter future, and live in a more compassionate present.
Take the Zimbardo Time Perspective Inventory at www.thetimeparadox.com to discover your personal time perspective.
See The Time Cure: Overcoming PTSD with the New Psychology of Time Perspective Therapy "http://www.psychologytoday.com/basics/psychotherapy" \o "Psychology Today looks at Psychotherapy" Therapy (Zimbardo, Sword & Sword, 2012, Wiley Publishing); for strategies to reduce stress and improve communication, visit "http://www.timecure.com/" \o "www.timecure.com" \t "_blank" www.timecure.com and "http://www.lifehut.com/" \o "www.lifehut.com" \t "_blank" www.lifehut.com.