Affluenza is Not a Disorder
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As a mother, I was devastated at the verdict in the case of a Ethan Couch, a Texas teen, who killed four people while driving drunk. As a clinical psychotherapist, I was appalled that Affluenza (which is NOT recognized by the American Psychiatric Association) was even humorously considered as a legitimate defense. I work with a significant number of ‘affluent’ individuals and families and this is ridiculous.
Affluenza is not a disorder. In sum, my re-framed definition of affluenza is the pressure to be socially accepted, which should have ended shortly after college. These are people who are empty/lack self-esteem and try to feel better by buying things that make them feel alive, special, wanted, or loved. Their sense of entitlement is eerily high and the feeling of empathy and remorse is practically bankrupt. In fact, anything that doesn’t go well for them is typically – wait for it – someone else’s fault.
Lack of self-esteem is hardly a disease; it’s a developmental phenomena that indicates one does not know, has not identified or believe in their own ability or self-worth. These things can be learned and are often taught by our caregivers when we are children through appropriate mirroring, conversation, encouragement, and setting limits (aka discipline).
Now, can one be so damaged that they will never develop self-esteem or the ability to empathize with others? Sure. We call those people psychopaths. With this said, if this kid is indeed suffering from ‘Affluenza’ there are a few sentences that the judge could have chosen to enact justice. Here are a few that comes to mind:
1) Place him with his peers – I believe they can be found in juvenile hall and then later transferred to prison. He will have an opportunity to connect with other like-minded individuals who also felt empty inside and lacked direction. For many of them, part of their emptiness also came from not receiving enough attention, structure, and consequence.
2) Put the parents in jail. I mean – the defense’s case was, ‘It’s the parents fault,’ no? With all of that money, I’m sure they could have afforded therapy for themselves or their kid once there were problems, right? The unwillingness or inability to do so means they are just as liable for the deaths of the people their minor child killed.
3) “You work it out or you sit there until you do.” I believe that’s called a time out. Let them all share the smallest cell is the darkest corner on the cell block so they can work out their problems the good old fashioned way. Why should four people die because of your normal family “I HATE YOU!” problems? What family in America doesn’t hate each other?
4) Take away their money until they learn how to handle the pressure that comes with it. It is long noted that once a stressor is removed, healing can occur. Once the healing takes place, the stressor may be reintroduced slowly so there is a healthy response to it. This is called behavior modification. This may seem a bit extreme to some people but I redirect your attention to the four dead people that are unable to speak for themselves.
Anyway, this is my take on one of THE most unreal cases, defenses, and verdicts only topped by the Zimmerman outcome this year.
I hope that we all learned how important it is to parent our children and help those parents who are struggling take responsibility for stepping up. Last but not least, I hope we begin having deeper conversations around the importance of mental health – for everyone.
What do you think about Affluenza and this case? Do share in comments below.
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