The Shrink Files

The Pleasure of Scandal

There used to be consequences to scandal. These days, nothing much happens. Woody Allen, Bill Clinton, Eliot Spitzer, Britney Spears, Newt Gingrich — they just go on, even flourish. I should be happy about this. I’m a fan of second chances. Besides, their transgressions weren’t so transgressive. But it feels like there’s something missing. There’s no denouement. No schadenfreude. I think we could use a nice juicy scandal where the perps get punished, where we vicariously gratify our vengeful feelings, where we have the pleasure of seeing others get punished for deeds we’d like to commit. When there are no consequences to scandalous behavior,  it does not titillate. Scandal becomes “meh.”




My new twenty-something patient, told me that she had a shocking secret, but she couldn’t talk about it. Even after I assured her of confidentiality she remained tongue-tied. I asked her how the secret made her feel. “Ashamed,” she said. “I feel like an imposter” We talked around it, about her life. I tried to make her feel safe.

On her second visit, she seemed even more hesitant, but was resolved, she said,  to spill the beans. She took a deep breath, stared past me and began to talk. As she spoke I observed that she began to glance at me. I recall that I didn’t react. I recall, moreover, that I didn’t feel the need to react. I had heard this kind of thing a million times. I remember looking at her pink dangling earrings. Afterwards, she was visibly relieved. She thanked me profusely. She felt so much better.

I never saw her again.

I’ve forgotten her secret.

(Note that the patient’s identity is disguised)