Thursday, June 02, 2011

Arnold, explained

A branding strategist like myself has only to wonder why things happen the way they do. More often than not, I find that the solution to a problem is usually found within the problem itself. I look for patterns. I turn over possibilities to find what motivates people to do the things they do. That, after all, is where branding really lives: deep down in people's hearts, right next to where their most sacred -- and sometimes nefarious -- dreams reside.

So it was with great interest and something more than a little morbid curiosity that spurred me to observe and report on the strange, perhaps bizarre case of one Arnold Shwarzenegger and the revelation of his recently announced extra child. For some reason, the media seems shocked and appalled by the ex-Governator's most recent revelation. But now that the media hype has died down, it seems the careful observer should never have been surprised at all. It really boils down to one, simple word:


Please don't leap to the commonly-held myth that the term sociopathy implies anything criminal. It doesn't. Sociopaths are not necessarily criminals, although many criminals are sociopaths. In fact, you probably know more than a few. Sociopaths have a few unmistakable traits they wear like the mark of Cain, the most prominent of which are these:

1. A very low, even non-existent self-image.

2. An absolute lack of awareness of anyone else in the room, or for that matter, in life.

There are more, but these are the two biggies. Because they have such low opinions of themselves, sociopaths spend all their energy trying to prove to everyone else that they do indeed have some basic human worth. That's why so many highly successful, high-achieving people are indeed sociopathic: they know that if they can just grab enough props of success, people will have to think they're worthy. Sociopaths can just as easily become CEO's of large corporations as serial killers, because what they are is always hidden behind what they do.

The second hallmark of a sociopath is not only a complete disregard for others, but a total refusal to admit others even exist. It's not that other people don't have feelings; it's that there simply are no other people in the room. When your self-esteem is incredibly low, the one thing you want to avoid is getting hurt. And the best way to avoid receiving pain is blocking out those capable of inflicting it.maid

With me so far? Great. Now you can understand everything you need to know to make sense of Arnold the Great.

By far, the most commonly-asked question about the illicit Shwarzenegger Domestic Child Affair has got to be this: Jesus, this guy could have any woman in the world -- why would he be having an affair with HER? It's a reasonable question. In fact, rumor has it that Arnold has had lots of beautiful women in his life, so it does seem odd that he'd choose to have an ongoing relationship with a woman so ill-matched to his image.

Unless you consider the model I've outlined above.

If you begin with the assumption that Arnold has always had low self-esteem, the pattern becomes pretty clear. He started life as a weak youngster, perceiving himself to be somewhat of a loser. His solution to that problem was to transform himself into something else. In a feverish, brutal competitive fashion, he bulked himself up to the top of the body-building world -- his first prop to show others that his new, manufactured image was his real persona. But a sociopath's needs are insatiable. As they fortress themselves behind their artificial props, their biggest fear is discovery. And so they continue to add, build and create believers with each additional piece of evidence they're driven to acquire. Arnold's next prop was a Hollywood career.

It's no accident that Arnold would choose to become an actor. Actors make their livings pretending to be someone else. Actors also rely on others' approval to measure their success. A man with low self-esteem craves constant approval. Living with the constant stress of being found out who he really is only drove him harder to keep his real persona secret.

Arnold could have married anyone. But he chose a Kennedy. If you look at the pattern, why he chose Maria Shriver fits right in: If he married a Kennedy, it would fortify his circle of deception. Marrying into the Kennedy clan, in his mind, certified his legitimacy: Now everyone would have to accept him. And it worked - to a point.

arnoldThe problem with sociopathy is that the sociopath never knows when to stop. At some point, with their fortresses of fantasies in place, the sociopath becomes secure, safe within the walls of his self-made deceptions. Because he's walled out others from his life, he has no sounding board for reality. He becomes delusional, lost in his own version of reality. He simply doesn't know when to stop.

Not content with a physique, a career and a Kennedy, Arnold pounced - in typical sociopathic, opportunistic style - on a one-in-a-million chance to become governor of California. This was perhaps the greatest prop of all: legitimization by popular vote. Of course, what happens on the outside of a sociopath's brain never matches what's never changed on the inside. Inside, he still needed to continually prove to himself and others he was no pathetic loser.

Which brings us back to Arnold and the maid. Why her? Simple:

The sociopath never loses his feelings of inferiority. His is a constant, driving need to express his power over others with props. The maid was not pretty. Or sexy. Or even highly talented or intellectual. In fact, the only thing the maid was, was right under Maria's nose. The thrill of carrying on an affair with the maid for over ten years without Maria even suspecting gave Arnold the feeling of power and superiority. Every day, he could look at the maid, look at his wife and think to himself, "I'm even smarter than a fucking Kennedy."

Of course, you can only build a house of cards so high. Eventually, the winds of truth blow the whole thing apart and the world sees what it's always seen: a weak, pathetic person with a low self-image and a high social and personal casualty rate. At this writing, all of Arnold's much-hyped post-political deals have been placed on hold. The divorce lawyers are lining up. All those years of deception are about to go public.

Sociopaths aren't nearly as uncommon as you might think. They're easy to spot. The tough part is having to courage to call them out.