If you looked at baby pictures of Harvey Weinstein, Louis CK, or Kevin Spacey, would you predict they become sexual predators?
Why do these adorable babies become sexual harassers? A study found perpetrators are more likely to have “anxious attachment” to their mothers because they were rejected when seeking affection, impairing their ability to make healthy attachments to women as adults. Research indicates the incidence of harassment can be exacerbated when men engage in conversations with men who demean women.
Clinical studies identify narcissism and psychopathy as the most common characteristics of sexual harassers. Research also shows that both narcissists and psychopaths have structural abnormalities in a region of the brain that has been linked to empathy, severely impairing their capacity for empathy and compassion. Because of their physiological limitation, narcissists typically cover painful feelings of shame with a sense of entitlement, grandiosity, and arrogance.
To treat sexual predators, and to prevent our sons from becoming predators, we need to understand feelings of shame and unworthiness are at the core of all painful behaviors: sexual, emotional, physical, addictive, obsessive, and compulsive. We must transform these patterns so that we eliminate triggers for harmful and dangerous behaviors. When we fully understand the origins of shame, we can antidote these feelings when they occur and we can raise our children so that we prevent them from developing these painful feelings. If this is hard to believe, just ask yourself, if a person felt worthy and dignified, would they victimize another human being? The way we treat people is a reflection of how we were treated.
As a woman who experienced sexual harassment and rape, I know the repercussions of these abuses. I believe we must look at social and cultural issues that cause men to harm women and endanger themselves. We can reduce the incidence of these events by examining what shapes these behaviors.
Painful conditioning disconnects us from the loving and compassionate state we have at birth, and this disconnection is at the center of all difficulties. If you resurrect any memories you have of infants or children, you can remember their natural responsiveness and delight from loving attention. This loving nature is innate but can become obscured if we are conditioned to feel ashamed or unlovable. We all can remove painful conditioning and return to our fundamental nature. In all my years, working with people, I found everyone liberated from shame automatically treats others with dignity and compassion.
How can we prevent men from becoming sexual predators? If we do not know what causes predatory behavior, we cannot stop this conduct. At the core of all predatory behavior is a sense of shame and unworthiness. As a culture, we need to replace shame-based behavior with practices that enhance our compassion and love.
We must redefine power -- we cannot afford to live in a culture where power is “being better than others,” fostering judgment and humiliation, obscuring our natural, loving state. Children are vulnerable to shame when they feel humiliated, so adults are triggered when judged by age, physical appearance, etc.
We must dissociate power and sex. Men and women are conditioned to believe they can overcome shame with sexual attractiveness. Historically, for women, eating disorders start at a younger age and last into old age. Men antidote shame by becoming successful or powerful and having sexual prowess. Men and women often seek affirmation through sexual activity, but when they already suffer from feelings of humiliation, sexual activities may increase their sense of unworthiness.
As a culture, we also need to celebrate whatever differences exist between people including the differences that may result from “estrogen” and “testosterone” energy. Along with the liberating energy women found from the women’s movement came a lot of confusion for men about how their maleness could be expressed and appreciated. When I work with parents, especially mothers, they often inadvertently have difficulty with how their sons express themselves. I have heard mothers describe their seven-year-old as “out of control,” “too loud,” too energetic,” or “too silly.” I can have compassion for mothers who are overworked and overtired, and I do understand why some of their son’s energy can feel stressful. When I can support a mother so that she can connect to the excitement her son is feeling; when he’s jumping around or making farting sounds, she can experience and share in this joyful energy. Her enjoyment of her son allows her to avoid any feelings of stress about his loudness and creates the closeness she really wants to have with him. She also experiences deep satisfaction because she sees her son develop more self-esteem, and she avoids communicating any sense of shame to her son for his natural, testosterone energy. That doesn’t mean that there can’t be some limitations - for example, I teach mothers how to express they may have a different tolerance for noise levels without diminishing their sons’ exuberant vitality. Mothers learn to express compassion by understanding that these limitations may be disappointing while still celebrating their son’s joyful, expansive energy.
We need to understand not only “powerful” men become abusers, but diminishing women is ubiquitous in all strata of society. I say "powerful" because it is impossible to be truly powerful while abusing or diminishing another. When you are authentically powerful, you connect with the fundamental worthiness and dignity of yourself and others. We must encourage compassion and empathy, celebrating differences and seeing each other’s human frailties through eyes of love.
We must relearn how to love. We must teach children true empowerment comes from connecting to our fundamental dignity and results from unconditional love. Unconditional love is given freely and joyfully, celebrating another person’s intrinsic worthiness, and is gratifying for all. Unconditional love is not based on behaviors, accomplishments, or performance.
Childhood trauma and pain become hardwired into our brain’s fear centers which have not evolved to distinguish between stress and danger. As adults, stress can trigger painful childhood memories, and often, we react like children, losing connection to our resources because we cannot access higher centers of our brain. Reason and rationality go out the window, and we react impulsively and childishly, without awareness of how we hurt ourselves and others.
We must evolve as individuals and as a society. When we live in compassion and love, we deactivate our brain’s fear centers. We are truly powerful when love-centered because only then do we access all our gifts and resources and celebrate our collective dignity. Learning to reconnect with our core brings satisfaction, in relationship to ourselves and others, and liberation to fulfill our birthright, becoming the loving, compassionate beings we were meant to be.
About the Author
About Helen Kramer, Author, Therapist, Coach, Business Consultant
After graduating Cornell University in 1967 with a Bachelor of Science in Child Development, Kramer attended Graduate School at Brooklyn College and The New School for Social Research in NYC. Kramer attended The Gestalt Center where she taught and supervised professional psychologists, psychiatrists, and social workers.
Kramer has worked as a consultant for 60 Minutes, 20/20, and has been profiled in Mademoiselle, Cosmopolitan, New Woman, the Daily News, Family Circle, Newsday, and New York Woman. She has appeared on numerous radio, and TV talk shows across the country including Oprah, Today in NY, and Good Day New York. She has taught at the Learning Annex, the Open Center and is a frequent guest on WBAI’s radio show, “Take Charge of Your Health.”
Kramer continues lecturing and serving people through her private practice in New York City and Long Island. Contact Kramer by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.