Compared to being somebody, being anybody can feel like you're nobody.
We get to stare, leer and live vicariously through the Charlie Sheens, Lindsay Lohans and Tiger Woodses and then watch them go off the cliff without us following. This gives us an escape from how painfully ordinary and insignificant many of us can feel.
"Introjective identification" is the psychological process of taking someone into our being and experiencing that as if we were them. It is usually done with regard to positive figures, from Jesus Christ to God to role models, but it can also be done with regard to very negative and self-destructive people -- like Charlie Sheen, Lindsay Lohan and others.
Part of what fuels that is that most of us have a hunger for experiencing life, but many of us have lives that can seem so incredibly mundane that it doesn't appear that there is much to experience. It is that hunger that causes us to watch sports, go to movies and plays, become riveted to "American Idol," "Dancing With the Stars," etc. and do many things that we observe, rather than actually participate in. It is also why we buy fancy cars, fancy clothing, jewelry, fancy homes and become addicted.
Sadly, addiction, once begun, triggers a huge outpouring of a neurotransmitter called dopamine. And then once we get a taste of it and how awful it feels to crash off that surge, we start looking for ways to keep the dopamine high.
Ironically, Charlie Sheen and the others may be addicted to drugs, but because of our need to keep our dopamine highs by watching and reading about them, we have become addicted to that. The only difference is that, thankfully, most of us can still manage to go to work and tend to our friendships and families, while Sheen et al. go off a cliff.
Follow Mark Goulston, M.D. on Twitter: www.twitter.com/markgoulston