When Maria Shriver was a young college graduate, she was an intern at Philadelphia's KYW TV news station. On occasion she would call me for background information on stories she was working on. Two words to describe her: competent and lovely. At this time, she was a very close friend of my friend's son; and when she visited, my friend always said what a love she was. I remember her words: "When dinner was over, Maria cleared with everyone else, and then helped with the dishes. Not a spoiled bone in her body."
When Shriver first fell in love with Arnold Schwarzenegger, her father must have had grave doubts about his future son-in-law. He suggested that the couple buy a dog, cautioning his beloved daughter that Arnold would treat a wife like he did a dog. I did not hear what happened regarding this early suggestion during courtship. However, any parental doubts have been loudly confirmed. Schwarzenegger's behavior (as well as the alleged behavior of Dominique Strauss-Kahn) can be a life lesson to us all: Oozing charm is very different from sincere caring for others. It is very frequently a cover-up for deep feelings of inadequacy and powerlessness that one is always running from. Those who conduct their lives and lies as has Schwarzenegger need constant fixes (often sexual) to prove to themselves that they are not as inadequate as they secretly fear they are.
These adrenaline rushes, and the releases they offer, help them to remain in denial, confirming to themselves that the rules of regular people do not apply to them. They need constant confirmation that they are truly the center of the universe, and so much better than the rest of us. There is no humility, nor awareness or concern of the impact of their behavior on those who love and rely on them.
Those with these character disorders say they love, and have enormous skill in convincing others that their feelings are real. Yet, they have no concept of the meaning of the word. Mature love is always based on self and mutual respect, and this quality of devotion, compassion and loyalty is a foreign concept to those (men and women) with this character disorder.
Can such people change? Yes, but only if, and this is a big if, they can truly see and feel the hurt and abuse their behaviors have inflicted. To do this, they have to face a pattern of behavior that is deeply ingrained and the reasons why it developed. This is a very painful, draining commitment that will take a great deal of time and and enormous effort.
Stories such as the Shriver-Schwarzenegger marital collapse are always sad. Those with this disorder not only bring misery to others. Beneath their bravado they are suffering human beings, ever on a run from their true selves. Uncovering this suffering, and the reasons for it, can bring awareness and healing.
Maria Shriver is such a gutsy woman. As California's First Lady she was totally committed to her marriage, her family, and the values of her parents, giving up her profession in order to support her husband and his professional commitments. Maria's values came from her parents and their priorities. Maria's father, Sargent Shriver, a tireless public servant, was the founding Director of our Peace Corps. Her mother, Eunice, was committed to the world wide struggle to improve the lives of those with disabilities. In her recent eulogy to her father Maria spoke of his decency and respect for women and family. How painful that last public appearance with her husband must have been for her and their children.
Maria Shriver wrote in March on her Facebook page: "I'd love to get your advice on how you've handled transitions in your own life." A YouTube video offered a continuation of her pain: "It is so stressful to not know what you're doing next. People ask you what you are doing, and then they can't believe that you don't know what you're doing." Perhaps she will use the responses she receives to write a book on coping with life transitions, and if so, no doubt it will be rich with sound suggestions, movingly shared.
But since she asked, I have another suggestion. The Kennedy family is known for "doing, achieving, reaching." I would suggest that Maria Shriver take some well earned time "to be," without having to do anything other than live.
Taking time just "to be" can help one to know how to move forward. The reflection and awareness this time provides helps one to recognize those with substance it is safe and rewarding to build with, and to know the difference between character and Oozing Charm.