Living in Los Angeles, I’ve had the opportunity to witness the anguish and despair of countless celebrities who have acquired fame and fortune, but at the expense of a personal identity and sense of self. These beautiful, powerful and alluring individuals often live in the shadows, having to hide from the world and live a life in secret where others can often not be trusted, where their value is dependent on their [often unpredictable opportunities for] success, where loyalties are questioned, and where the opportunity for simply “being” is out of reach.
Whilst most people envy the lives of the rich and famous, what is lost is an understanding of the profound loneliness, anxiety, despair, and pressure that is too often the consequence of this lifestyle. For these individuals, help and support is a complicated and often prohibitive process. Because of the fear of exposure and the devastating personal and professional consequences that can result, relief often comes in the form of drugs and alcohol, or other maladaptive forms of coping. The fear of judgment, blacklisting, public humiliation and image destruction that accompanies exposure leaves one few choices but to attempt to simply live with the pain. The ultimate consequence of trying to “manage” is an exacerbation of symptoms, including alienation from the “self who once was”.
Identity is a vital aspect of development from infancy through later adulthood. Satisfaction often accompanies a sense that one’s life has constituted meaning, fulfillment, connection, and purpose. The demands of a public life can rob one of the capacity for wholeness and balance, and create a shift in values (the process of which is frequently unconscious). One of the most gratifying emotional experiences is to be ‘seen’, truly known, understood and accepted. The life of celebrity, focusing largely on performance, public image, secrecy and “management” of the facts, deprives one of this opportunity. Freedom is lost. Spontaneity is lost. A sense of ‘owning oneself’ is lost. Privacy is lost. Hypervigilance, anxiety, fear and self-doubt takes over. The combination of all of these factors leave many celebrities with regret about the path they chose, or the path that was chosen for them, which is often the case.
What we, as a society, can do is to recognize our own projections, our own need to idealize, glorify and romanticize celebrities, and the functions these projections serve. After all, when we learn that a celebrity has fallen, our disappointment and anger is only a function of the needs and longings we have projected onto them. If that were not so, why would we feel so devastated to learn that they are human?