Abnormal Psychology

This Week in Mental Illness: The Matt Gaetz Sex Imbroglio

I don’t usually speculate on the mental health of celebrities except to say something like someone seems depressed because vernacular. However, it isn’t nice to speculate on someone’s mental health when you can’t really know without talking to them or having ample evidence in the public record, like we had with the Ol’ Pussy Grabber. Speculating on his mental illness was absolutely necessary since he was likely to cause harm to others and himself. He was and still is likely to destroy the country, but that is a subject for another blog post.

I can see two reasons to speculate on Matt Gaetz mental health. First, it is worth going through the process of considering the available symptoms and how they match the diagnostic criteria for its educative and entertainment value because he has so spectacularly imploded on the public stage.

And second, because the mass shooting in Boulder was likely caused by the delusions of the shooter, we’ve got to remove the stigma surrounding mental health issues so we get people into treatment rather than letting them cause further damage, chaos, and mayhem to the rest of us. This is not healthy to continue to ignore the consequences that the mental health issues cause on society.

First, we’ll discuss how we distinguish between healthy and unhealthy behaviors. Second, we’ll go through the bizarre behavior that Gaetz has engaged in. Fun, right? And, last, we’ll make some conclusions.

Failure to Function Adequately

How do we know when someone is “crazy?” Kinda like we know porn and art: you just know it when you see it, right? Psychologists and other mental health professionals started out that way, too, but it led to abuses like lobotomizing children, categorizing homosexuality as a mental illness, and, otherwise, abusing anyone who drew the wrong kind of attention to themselves.

Anyone who is extremely mentally ill, like the the Boulder shooter or the guy who killed a capitol police officer after complaining that the government was trying to mind control him, are easy to spot. They sound crazy. But what about their beliefs or behaviors qualifies them as crazy? Lucky for us David Rosenhan and Martin Seligman gave us a pretty workable answer in their Failure to Function Adequately criteria. We’ll summarize it here. Follow the links if you want to know more about the study, Being Sane in Insane Places, it was based upon. This list is taken from Ye Olde Blogge post linked above just with all the references to the Ol’ Pussy Grabber removed.

o Suffering: Mental health issues are painful. People suffer when they are depressed, obsessive, delusional. It hurts when you are filled with doubt, uncertainty, anxiety and are estranged from society.
o Maladaptiveness: People with mental health issues have difficulty coping with everyday events and challenges. Sometimes even getting up off the couch to go to the refrigerator to get something to eat seems like too much trouble.
o Vividness & unconventionality: The behavior or things that the person says have to violate or norms or rules that govern our interactions and behaviors. They can be especially flamboyant and “out there.” Like we said earlier, you know it when you see it.
o Unpredictably & loss of control: One of the things that norms give us is predictability. We generally know what each other will do next. If you violate those rules, then your behavior is unpredictable. Or, a person could be doing things that suggest they are out of control. Behaving rashly and impulsively.
o Irrationality/incomprehensibility: We generally do follow logical reasonable goal-directed behavior. At least culturally-relevant logical, reasonable, goal-directed behavior. If you are violating those strictures, your behavior is seems irrational. It is violating culturally-relevant logic. Behavior that is not goal-directed or following a logic, it seems incomprehensible. It is difficult to understand why someone is behaving the way they are.
o Causes observer discomfort: If your behavior is unconventional, unpredictable, irrational, or incomprehensible, most observers are going to uncomfortable, nervous, anxious. The observer can’t predict what you’re about to do, and, therefore, understandably, starts getting the heebeegeebees.
o Violates moral/social standards: Like it or not, we have moral and social standards that we live by. It is why white people began to empathize with Black people when we saw video of unarmed Black people gunned down in cold blood by police officers or Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck.

Matt Gaetz, 17 Year-Olds, and Extortion

I see three basic diagnoses coming out of the evidence that are on display because of the imbroglio: affluenza, which is not really a disorder, but life course persistent anti-social behavior is, narcissistic personality disorder, and bipolar disorder.

The Scandal

By now, we all know the basics of the scandal blowing up around Matt Gaetz:

  • He is being investigated for allegedly transporting a minor (17 year-old girl) across state lines and trading things of value — travel expenses, drugs, cash — for sex. In legal terms, this is sex trafficking.
  • Women were being funnelled to him through his friend, Greenberg (see below).
  • They would do illegal mood altering drugs with the women including the child.
  • There is a trail of receipts and testimony suggesting that the women were paid cash money and given things of value with the explicit understanding that they were for sex.
  • Providing children with things of value in exchange for sex can result in a mandatory 10 year prison sentence!
  • When the story broke, Gaetz described some kind of convoluted story that he described as extortion.
    • Apparently, some people contacted his father — he’s wealthy, right? — asking for $25 million.
    • The money would pay for them to help ex-FBI agent, Robert Levinson, escape the evil clutches of Iran. Levinson has been assumed dead for like ten years or something, so good investment, right?
    • The resulting gratitude from a grateful nation would result in the DoJ dropping their investigation of Gaetz for child sex trafficking. Sure, in the Ol’ Pussy Grabber’s DoJ, but not in Biden’s.
    • It sounds less like extortion and more like a con job to me, but who would do anything other than laugh at these folks? How could you possibly take this “plot” seriously?

There is nothing abnormal about taking drugs legal or otherwise. Mammals have been taking mood-altering drugs since the inception of the nervous system. Nothing abnormal about getting drunk and fucking, right? But, drugs and using drugs and fucking cease to be healthy, normal, or acceptable under two circumstances:

  1. When someone uses drugs to induce an addict into having sex.
  2. When an adult plots and plans with malice aforethought to use drugs to have sex with a minor. Sex with a minor violates our moral and social standards, and Matt Gaetz knows it. This becomes a symptom or factor in diagnosing him.

Ethan Couch Syndrome, Affluenza, or Life Course Persistent Antisocial Behavior

Use of alcohol and drugs becomes a symptom when they cause the user and those close to them to suffer and interfere with their ability to complete the tasks of daily life. One of the problem of being a coddled rich kid is that your tasks of everyday life are completed for you… except for breathing and eliminating, which are on automatic pilot. I guess if we ask Don Gaetz, he could — but he won’t — tell us how inept, unreliable, and disappointing Matt is, ergo, dad bails him out from his fuck ups over and over again until the fuck up reaches such large proportions that dad’s money can’t take care of it. Kinda like the mess Matt finds himself in now. Thanks, dad, you did your boy a big fucking favor by not ever holding him accountable. Have fun visiting him in prison for the next ten plus years.

This is the quintessential feature in Ethan Couch Syndrome (ECS) or affluenza, neither of which are diagnosable conditions and one of which I just made up, but it seems to apply here. A more apt description might be life course persistent antisocial behavior which we discussed in regard to Book K’s SCOTUS nomination. When you get drunk, have a terrible car accident, and then try to plead out using the excuse of affluenza, you probably don’t have too many feelings of remorse. Then, if you skip off to Mexico with your mom only to be drug back kicking and screaming, you probably don’t have many concerns for our moral values or social standards — mom or son.

Here’s the funny thing. Many adolescent boys will engage in antisocial behavior but will just stop in their mid-twenties when their brains finish developing, i.e. their prefrontal cortex is finally developed enough to limit their emotional impulsivity and enable them to control their behavior. These folks are called adolescent-limited antisocial behavior. Those who persist, life course persistent antisocial behavior — ain’t that right, Boof K? Matt Gaetz falls into this category, perhaps. I doubt this is an isolated incident. I guess only his father knows for sure.

Narcissistic Personality Disorder

If, like me, you’ve thought that abusing minors and women with drugs and sex — Sex with Matt Gaetz? Yuck! — reminds you of a certain disorder that we’ve talked alot about over the last five years., then you’re probably thinking about narcissistic personality disorder. Even if you hadn’t gotten the clue, the heading probably primed you for it. This kind of behavior shows a complete disregard for the needs and welfare of others. Seriously, sex with Matt Gaetz? Here are the two most pertinent symptoms from one of Ye Olde Blogge’s earliest and most viewed posts:

  • Taking advantage of others to get what you want.
  • Being an insensitive asshole unable to acknowledge the emotions or needs of others or even that others exist outside of the purpose of meeting your needs

I don’t know enough about Matt Gaetz to make anything better than a haphazard guess about how narcissistic he is, but when the GQP members, can’t wait to dish on you to the press, well, then you probably put the ASS in asshole, which is the eptiome of narcissism.

While Gaetz could very well be and quite likely is diagnosable as a narcissistic personality disorder, it doesn’t mean he couldn’t have bipolar disorder too.

Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder is a mental health disorder that is characterized by periods of depression and mania where depression is characterized by deep feelings of purposelessness and an extreme loss of interest in activities once enjoyed and mania, euphoria, high energy, or irritability. Let’s evaluate him against the symptoms of mania since we don’t have any evidence of his depressive side:

  • Excessive happiness, hopefulness, and excitement
  • Sudden changes from being joyful to being irritable, angry, and hostile
  • Restlessness
  • Rapid speech and poor concentration
  • Increased energy and less need for sleep
  • Unusually high sex drive
  • Making grand and unrealistic plans
  • Showing poor judgment
  • Drug and alcohol abuse
  • Becoming more impulsive
  • Less of an appetite
  • Larger sense of self-confidence and well-being
  • Being easily distracted

This scandal that Gaetz has embroiled himself in smacks of a bipolar manic episode, although, not definitively. When you hear about someone who has unrealistic plans, exceptionally poor judgment, impulsivity, and drug or alcohol abuse, then you should consider bipolar disorder. Let’s consider the evidence.

The extortion plot. When I first heard it, it sounded like a tall tale a manic person would tell. Knowing that there is some truth to it tells me that Gaetz has extremely poor judgment by going on social media and Tucker Carlson’s show and telling it. He’s unable to stop himself. Impulsivity? Poor judgment? Over confident?

Calling it an extortion plot is the kind of hyped melodrama that mania induces. Extortion is the use of a threat to obtain something of value. What was the thing of value? That the DoJ might could drop their case against Gaetz? That’s the kind of tangential thinking that characterizes mania. You can’t follow the reasoning there. A con, on the other hand, is the attempt to get something of value through trickery usually promising a service or result that is not delivered. This was a con job, not extortion. Levinson is likely dead. There is no rescuing a dead person. They were being conned.

The Tucker Carlson Interview. The anecdote about having dinner with Carlson, his wife, and a friend that Carlson didn’t remember? That’s the kind of lie that the impulsivity and poor judgment of mania can lead to. Either it was so unrememberable that Carlson forgot it or it never happened.

There really wasn’t a point to telling that story, either. It was the kind of meandering tangential story that you’d expect during a manic episode.

During the interview, Gaetz confirmed the details of the crime — paying for travel expenses for “dates” — and didn’t deny the involvement of the 17 year old. Again, the impulsivity that comes with mania.

Leaving a paper trail. Apparently, they didn’t plan their sexcapades well. Instead of securing their cash before the party ensued so its purpose could be covered, they got it the time when the service was delivered. They used cash app, Apple pay, and hotel lobby ATMs to acquire cash to pay the prostitutes allowing investigators to verify stories with dates and places. Manic episodes move too fast for adequate planning to be used. You’re just going. And to keep the manic high going, you turn to drugs and sex.


We just don’t have enough evidence to make a definitive diagnosis, but as an educative exercise, it is worth going through the symptoms and interpreting the evidence. While all of the behaviors that Gaetz has exhibited during this scandal can be accounted for by any of and all three diagnoses, let’s just see where we land after considering each one one last time.

Affluenza isn’t likely. We internalize culture and social values and norms just from exposure to them through media, school, and other social interactions. His behavior probably isn’t the result of never being held accountable and him just not realizing that he couldn’t do whatever he wanted whenever he wanted with who ever he wanted. He’s internalized our moral values and social standards. It’s why influenza isn’t a thing. Sorry Ethan Couch.

What’s your opinion on Gaetz’s mental health? Tell us in the comments!

Life Course Persistent Antisocial Behavior. While affluenza isn’t a thing, antisocial behavior disorder is. If we could establish a pattern of Matt Gaetz engaging in reckless behavior that endangers himself and others, then we could determine that he is a personality disorder and will continue this pattern of behavior since he is well beyond his mid-twenties. I feel pretty strongly that he lands pretty squarely right here. He’s a psychopath.

Narcissism. Narcissism can cause people to say and do incriminating things in the belief that they can do no wrong and their thinking so impenetrable that none of us peons will ever figure it out — ain’t that right, Ol’ Pussy Grabber? He could be very similar to Trump. He could be an unproductive malignant narcissist.

He could be so narcissistic that he figures none of the usual moral values and social standards apply to him and that an exception will be made for him. It is even likely.

Bipolar Disorder. The way all of this unfolded and the ways that Matt Gaetz represented himself in the media spotlight just screams mania to me. Drug fueled sexcapades that cross state lines. Incoherent stories trying to explain and distract. Poor judgment and impulsivity.

If we had an example of a depressive episode from Gaetz, we could be more certain. As it is, we just have to go with my years of experience and hold on to our cautions.

Mental Health Stigma. The more we talk about mental health disorders and realize just how prevalent they are, the more we’ll reduce the stigma of having them. By going through the symptoms and looking at real examples of what they look like, the more easily we’ll recognize and accept them in our lives. We’ll also be more confident in offering help to those who seem like they need it like the Boulder shooter and the capitol rammer.

If you enjoyed this romp through mental health diagnoses and Matt Gaetz’s imbroglio, sign up for our email list!

Image Attribution

“Matt Gaetz Syrup Hair Pancake” by Dan Lacey is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

24 replies »

  1. When Gaetz first appeared upon the stage, I was immediately struck by his behaviors and thought he had a definite personality disorder. took about five minutes listening to his blather and told the hubs “that fool is a psychopath”. George, being the world’s most intelligent hubs, did not contradict my statement. I saw his commentary at (definitely not TO) Tucker the jackass Carlson and then thought “this twit has bipolar”. So nice to see my strange and rather illegal since I gave up my license diagnosis confirmed here. Huzzah!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Howdy Suze!
      It’s funny how you internalize the constellations of symptoms and the way they get communicated. They are subtle, yet definite differences between the hubris of a narcissist, psychopath, and manic person even though they can all result in similar outcomes for the person.

      The sad thing is that Matt Gaetz, like Trump, can afford to treat his disorders and manage them so that they don’t hurt him or others, but they don’t. Instead, they use their wealth to insulate themselves from the pain that is necessary to get people to change and to maintain the damage they’ve done to others.


      Liked by 1 person

    • Howdy Bob!
      There’s a feel to mania. Sometimes when I’m watching the news I’ll hear a story about some outlandish crime and think, yeah probably manic. Not only does Gaetz’s drug-fueled sexcapade feel manic to me, Greenberg’s extended crime spree in the tax collector’s office feels real manic. I was thinking about profiling Greenberg, Chauvin, and Greene for their obvious mental health deficits.


      Liked by 1 person

      • That’s an ambitious lot of profiling. One of the patterns with mania is the crash and burn at the end of a manic episode, which frequently includes psychotic features (paranoia, delusions, hallucinations). In a technical sense, that is not psychosis, but delirium due to sleep deprivation, neurotransmitter exhaustion, and physical exhaustion. In addition, is is not uncommon for people who also abuse drugs to try to extend a manic state with stimulants. The result tends to be a flip into a depression in which executive functioning is even more impaired, and exacerbated by inability to make any decision.

        The current episode of Hidden Brain looks at Honor Culture. It is worth a listen. https://hiddenbrain.org/podcast/made-of-honor/

        Liked by 1 person

        • Howdy Bob!

          I love the Hidden Brain podcast. It went on hiatus during #COVID19 and it fell out my listening rotation. I’ll have to catch it up.

          I think covering Chauvin’s obvious psychopathy is worthwhile because (a) it is topical and (b) so much of the crime and disruption of our society and culture is caused by psychopaths. I think the statistic is that 20% of the prison population is made up of psychopaths but 80% of the trouble in prison is caused by them. The 80-20 rule again.

          That brings me to a thesis that I’ve been contemplating is that much of our crime and misbehavior is caused by untreated mental illness like personality disorders, thought disorders, and manias. If true, it is a powerful argument for elevating the treatment and acceptance of mental illness in our culture.


          Liked by 1 person

            • Howdy Bob!

              While we cannot effectively treat anti-social or narcissistic personality disorder, we can “inoculate” people against their pernicious influence by popularizing the magazine-like, what should you do if you’re dealing with a personality disorder and how to tell if you’re dealing with a personality disorder. Strangely, borderline personality disorder seems to respond to dialectical behavior therapy (DBT). When I was in training the rule of thumb was to run from borderlines as quickly as possible. My dealings with the two or three that I’ve had bore this out. I don’t know how anyone has the patience to do DBT with that population.


              Liked by 1 person

              • I got the same advice about borderline, and great patience is needed. Much of the traffic when I worked Crisis was people with that diagnosis, the “frequent fliers”. It was also common to hear fibromyalgia called “the borderline disease”.

                Liked by 1 person

        • Howdy Bob!

          That’s the other confounding part of Gaetz’s odyssey: He’s gone silent. Is that because of legal advice or his mania has crashed and he’s in a depressive episode? There’s no way for us as consumers of news to know. It makes the diagnosis by remote observation nearly impossible. The other factor in diagnosing bipolar disorder is that it is very genetically based — more so than other mental health issues — so you look for close family members with bipolar behaviors as part of the diagnostic process, which, obviously, we cannot do.


          Liked by 1 person

          • I strongly suspect that his lawyers have told him very strongly to shut up and stop making it worse. How long he will be able to do that remains to be seen, He may also have flipped into depression.

            Liked by 1 person

            • Howdy Bob!
              Given his latest, he sounds like he’s still being manic to me. He displays the poor judgment of mania. All of his boasting of his sexual exploits is just gross. I pity the therapists he may turn to for treatment.


              Liked by 1 person

                    • So can I, but it just won’t be “fun.” On the other hand, maybe it would be from time to time. But, I think it would be more tedium and combativeness as he tries to sabotage any therapeutic intervention and is openly hostile to a female authority figure.


                      Liked by 1 person

                    • Even better was Angela Merkel’s reaction to him! The look on her face when he gave her a shoulder rub. Priceless. The look on her face when there’s a crowd of unhappy European leaders leaning over a seated Trump. Priceless.

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • I always thought he rejected the Western Alliance leaders because he knew they would recognize him as the phoney that he is. If he actually tried to work with them or interact as an equal, they would see right through him. So, did the minimum and tried to bully them before the cameras. The funny thing was that they saw through him anyway and rejected him as being the empty vessel that he is all the while wanting him to do the right thing or at least not destroy what they were trying to do. Unfortunately, he could only destroy.


                      Liked by 1 person

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