On February 19, 2010 the most famous golfer in the world Tiger Woods approached the podium and made a public statement, saying he was “deeply sorry” to his family, friends and his wife, finally answering the question that we had all be wondering about: Would he admit he has a serious problem that needs to be addressed, or would he continue to hide behind the cloak of privacy, claiming that his personal life is none of our business?
Although I believe his speech was scripted by media savvy consultants, I did find Tiger’s taking full responsibility for failing his wife, family, sponsors, colleagues and especially youngsters (who have put him on the pedestal of supreme role model) sincere and from the heart.
Moreover, the admission that he needs more therapy for his sex addiction was a relief to me, since so many people diagnosed with any addiction often look for a quick fix and deny their need for more help. Addicts need years of therapy in order to gain insight and learn to shut down the Dopamine producing effects of their addiction.
Behavioral addictions, such as sexual or gambling addictions, can be just as powerful as an addiction to heroin, in terms of stimulating the pleasure center of the brain. Most sex addicts live in denial of their addiction, and treating an addiction is dependent on the person accepting and admitting that he or she has a problem. In many cases, it takes a significant event—such as the incredible media circus that Tiger found himself in the center of to force the addict to admit to his or her problem.
Overcoming chemical addictions is facilitated by complete abstinence, but it is unrealistic to expect a sex addict never to engage in sex, particularly if he/she is still married. Therefore, the stimulation of “normal” relations with his wife can stimulate the drive that Tiger is trying to overcome which is of course a natural conflict.
My professional sense is that Tiger and his wife will need 3-5 years of continual therapy in order to not only eradicate Tiger’s addiction, but to repair the damage to their relationship and the family relation and begin to build anew. This can be accomplished, although there will certainly be ups and downs. With Tiger’s profession and the travel that goes with it, trust will be a major issue for his wife to deal with and rebuild. In addition, there are reports that there was a great deal of unprotected sex taking place, meaning that, in addition to the emotion impact of infidelity, there may be other consequences, such as sexually transmitted diseases, and in Tiger’s case, law suits!
None of this should be construed to be pessimism on my part. Throughout my career as a psychologist, I have seen hundreds of couples rebound from these situations and build their marriages stronger than ever. It can be done and I sincerely hope that the Woods family can be preserved.
However, if I had an opportunity to counsel Tiger Woods, I would tell him to be very cautious about continuing to surround himself by “yes men” and sycophants who will absolutely look the other way when he exhibits warning signs of falling back into that very destructive behavior. I would advise him to surround himself with people who genuinely have his and his family’s best interest at heart and who will not fail him by looking away. That goes not only for his friends and colleagues, but for his therapy team, as well!
I wish Tiger and Elin Woods well and hope that they will make it through this very difficult time in their lives with their family still together and stronger than ever. In my next article, I will address the sport psychology issues involved in Tiger getting back into the swing of his golfing career.
Jack N. Singer, Ph.D.
Certified and Licensed Sport and Clinical Psychologist
Diplomate, National Institute of Sports Professionals, Division of Psychologists
Diplomate, American Academy of Behavioral Medicine
Certified Hypnotherapist, American Academy of Clinical Hypnosis
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