Tiger Should Focus on Family, Not His Brand

Tiger Woods was spot-on when he said, “Every one of you has good reason to be critical of me.”

Dr. Michelle Golland: Watching him make his on-air statement, I saw a father and son who is truly broken. Getting in-patient treatment is no easy road — especially for someone like Tiger, who in the days prior to entering treatment was still trying to cover his tracks and keep his own lies going.

Tiger’s in recovery all right — and not just from sex addiction. Personally, I think he has an underlying issue: Narcissistic Personality Disorder. In his statement, Tiger spoke about feeling “entitled” and said that (before getting caught) he’d thought that normal boundaries “didn’t apply” to him because of his “money and fame.” This narcissism began when he was a child, I think; after all, he was a prodigy on the golf course by age 4.

I hope Tiger doesn’t lose sight of the fact that (as he said in his statement), “It’s not what you achieve in life that matters — it is what you overcome.” But contrived statements like that one did smack of kissing up, like Tiger was trying to recover his sponsorships and financial earnings, and not just his character. (In other words, he’s still focused on achievement, not on overcoming the challenge of healing the deep wounds he’s inflicted on others.)

As a husband, Tiger has destroyed his marriage and left wife Elin in the wreckage. Her anger and pain are unfathomable. It seems that she was also duped into believing in Tiger’s well-crafted image. In a way, he was using her in this charade, too. And his narcissism and sense of entitlement turned her world upside down. The couple’s marriage is still very precarious.

Tiger has brought shame and pain to his mother, Kultida, as well. Her disappointment and anger must also be mixed with fear and concern about her son’s mental health. She sat at today’s press conference with her arms crossed and her eyes downcast — which to me showed frustration and sadness. I’m sure she had been unaware of Tiger’s infidelities, too. Tiger’s irresponsibility may be making her question how she raised him, and how she may have contributed to his deep-rooted issues and narcissistic ways. What a painful, gut-wrenching position for a parent to be in.

As a father, Tiger may not see the damage he’s inflicted upon his children until they’re older. Right now, Sam and Charlie are young; I’m sure they’re feeling confused, sad and anxious about not having contact with their father. (Given Tiger’s golf career, though, this period of separation may not have been as uncommon as we’d imagine.) The greatest damage may be seen when the kids get older and begin to have their own relationships. Whether they reconcile with their dad or not, Tiger’s children will be aware of their father’s infidelity — and because of this knowledge, they may have trust issues in their own future relationships.

I think Tiger’s treatment would go far better if it focused not on him recovering his image or career — which seems to be the case — but on his therapy, family and spiritual beliefs. I appreciate his desire to apologize to his golf colleagues and those he worked for (who put their trust and money into him and his image). But as a psychologist who often deals with issues like Tiger’s, it’s apparent to me that a quick resurrection may be detrimental to Tiger’s treatment.

If Tiger recovers his image too quickly — and gets back on the golf course with his sponsors’ love and money and power — it will feed right into his narcissism. It will be very unhealthy for his recovery if this extremely bad thing he did gets “handled” in a matter of months. If I were working with him, I would require a real break from his “job,” so he could do deep work individually and with Elin — without the distraction of returning to golf or recovering his brand. Tiger’s going to have to be responsible for stopping, though, because let’s face it: The PGA and his sponsors see dollar signs when they look at him.

Tiger is correct: Elin has handled these traumatic and humiliating months with grace and poise. It was important that she not be by his side during this conference, but that he take full and total responsibility for his selfish and destructive actions. I would suggest to Elin that, should she decide to work on the marriage, she make it one of her conditions that Tiger take a year to truly and deeply focus on his personal issues and recapture his Buddhist beliefs. If Tiger wants to develop integrity and battle the demons of narcissism and sex addiction, it’s going to be a long road. It’s going to require his full and total commitment.

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