Once again, what happens in politics deeply effects our families and children. You can say that the actions of Phillip Hinkle was shameful, was immoral, was scandalous; I say that we need to take a deeper look at ourselves.
A reaction formation is a defense wherein anxiety about a feature of self is so intense that the person acts out an exaggerated response in the opposite direction. In the recent example of representative Phillip Hinkle from Indiana, it could be asserted that his rejection of homosexuality, which goes so far as his voting record as he voted to ban gay marriage, is a defense against his own homosexuality. This is not to say in the old trite way that homophobia is borne out of disowned personal feelings of attraction to an individual of the same gender, but it’s actually deeper than that. The shame and disowning of self from a perceived unacceptable feature is so intense and causes the individual so much pain that they need to hate that quality and hate every representation of the quality they come across in the world. “I don’t know what was going through my mind” Hinkle was quoted in response to his internet communications in attempt to solicit gay sex. And while the cynics among us might smirk and rush to further punish him, it is altogether possible that he actually did not know what was going through his mind. Consciously, he had created a character so to speak, a false self, which was socially acceptable and politically electable. The false self has him behaving as a heterosexual family man, but it’s possible that his genuine identity, a self that was repressed and hidden long ago, is homosexual.
In a New York Magazine article from September 2006, James McGreevey is quoted “Thirty-four days after I was elected governor of New Jersey, I began a secret affair with an aide named Golan Cipel. It destroyed my career, ruined my marriage, and helped me discover who I really am.” He goes on to speak about his own struggle” How do you live with such shame? How do you accommodate your own revulsion with who you have become? You do it by splitting in two. You rescue part of yourself, the half that stands for tradition and values and America, the part that looks like the family you came from, the part that is acceptably true. And you walk away from the other half the way you would abandon something spoiled.”
I believe Phillip Hinkle like James McGreevey and many other people, who suffer from a deep personal hatred, act out in such dramatic ways as an act of desperation in reaction to the part of themselves that is still socially unacceptable. That is our shame, our shadow as a country founded on freedom and liberty but which still determines who should receive that right.
As a Psychologist, I focus in my practice on issues of social disenfranchisement and oppression. What we are seeing from these public figures is that their political and socio-economic success hinges on their willingness to sacrifice their psychological health. It is unacceptable to me as a psychologist, as a mother, as an American, that our public figures are still, in 2011, unable to be authentically who they are. That we force, in the name of family values no less, people to hate a part of themselves so deeply that they act out in hateful ways which determine legislation, is a ridiculous and dysfunctional repetition compulsion in which our national psyche is trapped. I ask you to think about this as we enter another political season. Think about your own psychological health and the health of our future generations. Do we want to continue to politically sanction hate and self-loathing, or do we want to move forward in a way that preserves real family values? Those values, which I hope my children will inherit, of wholeness, integrity and a respect for self that shows in how we treat others.