Bill Clinton: A Case of Attention Deficit Disorder?

So, after all these months, Hillary Clinton has a psychological explanation for her husband's sexual escapades. The problem is: she doesn't quite get it right.

Clinton's philandering was not caused by childhood "abuse" nor did it stem from the bitter struggle between his mother and grandmother (see the Jeff MacNelly cartoon, Arkansas, about this unlikely explanation). Of course, the common notion that the President has a sexual addiction is not explanatory but metaphoric: no one is really suggesting that he needs more and more sex to achieve the same effect [tolerance] or that he would experience physical symptoms if he suddenly stopped [withdrawal].

The overwhelming evidence suggests that Clinton is suffering from an attention deficit disorder. Not the Attention Deficit Disorder that is the diagnosis of choice in the 90's for children and some adults--but an endless, unquenchable need for attention based on a deep-seated insecurity about people "seeing" him and "hearing" him. Balderdash! you say: how can the President of the United States, the most powerful and visible person in the world (except for the Pope), feel that no one hears him or sees him?

Ah, you underestimate the power of childhood neurosis! In fact, the problem has little to do with sex. Do you remember when then-Governor Bill Clinton gave the keynote address at the Democratic Convention in 1988. He stayed on the stage for so long that his fellow Democrats tried to whistle him off. Are you beginning to see a pattern? Clinton has always been starved for attention. This craving along with his brains, looks and charm has propelled him to the most powerful position in the country. But shouldn't this be sufficient? Shouldn't he now be satisfied with the inordinate attention he receives? (I'm sure Hillary has asked him this very question...)

No. With every attractive woman he is compelled to play out his neurosis. The need to get attention is far more pressing--for the moment--than the pleasure and pride of being president. To the "inner" Clinton, these women are more powerful than he: will she like me, will she adore me, will she do what I want sexually, will she see how important I am? As a handsome, accomplished man he is provided with endless opportunities to receive this attention--and he has taken full advantage of it.


But where does this craving for attention come from? The odds are that he felt unheard as a child, and that he has spent his whole life trying to fix this problem (see Voicelessness: Narcissism). If you uncovered the true story of his family, you would likely see example after example of "voicelessness." It is incredible to think that success can spring from such a neurosis, but it happens all the time. Neurosis is among the most powerful motivators of human behavior.

There is a tragic side to this story, of course. In trying to address his early injuries, Clinton has used people, especially those dearest to him. His attachments are self-serving. Everyone close to him has suffered, and unless he acknowledges the real problem (not that he has had many affairs--but that all of his relationships, sexual and otherwise, serve to re-inflate a punctured sense of self), everyone will continue to suffer.

Bill Clinton could do something no other president has: acknowledge a serious psychological problem and get help for it. He is the perfect president to do this, having already been elected for a second term. He could redeem himself and give the country an important message: it is far better to get psychological help then to hurt the people closest to you. The country needs this message: it would be a significant part of the Clinton legacy.

About the author: Dr. Grossman is a clinical psychologist and author of the Voicelessness and Emotional Survival web site.

next: Voicelessness: A Personal Account

APA Reference
Staff, H. (2008, December 9). Bill Clinton: A Case of Attention Deficit Disorder?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 13 from

Last Updated: March 29, 2016

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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