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Showmanship for some has its price

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Saturday, Feb. 18, 2012

Rebecca Roy is a Los Angeles-based psychotherapist who specializes in treating people in the entertainment industry. A theater director and classically trained actress, Roy, 40, spoke to the Tribune-Review regarding the unique pressures facing the famous -- pressures that occasionally turn from daunting to deadly.

Q: Although the cause of death hasn't officially been determined, it appears as though Whitney Houston's name will be added to the lengthy list of celebrities who have succumbed to their inner demons. Are famous entertainers generally more susceptible to self-destructive behavior than the everyday person, or does it just appear that way because they're so visible?

A: I think there's (instances of) both. When you're a creative person, your job is to push boundaries and go to the outer edges. Part of what happens is people get to those outer edges and they think that those outer edges are just fine to hang out in, and they lose sight of the fact that a more central, neutral emotional place is just as effective. Most of us live in a central, neutral place because it's more comfortable. If you work in a bank, you're not going to be on the outer edges, emotionally.

Q: Do entertainers tend to have personality traits that put them at higher risk for abusing drugs and alcohol?

A: I'm not sure if it's their personality traits or a function of what they do, but narcissism always comes into play. Part of narcissistic personality disorder, which quite a few (entertainers) have, is a grandiosity and a belief in their specialness. That means they feel they are untouchable, and the industry supports that, of course. So behaviors go unchallenged and unchecked, and it never occurs to people that they're being narcissistic and that can have a negative payoff.

Q: Can the same creative forces that drive a celebrity's art also drive a celebrity to despair?

A: Absolutely. What often will happen is that the narcissism got them to where they are, but as they get older, they find there's an emptiness to the core of it and they don't know how to deal with it. So they fill that core with something.

Q: And that something often turns out to be drugs, right?

A: Drugs and alcohol.

Q: Do some celebrities also resort to substance abuse to perhaps submerge feelings that maybe they aren't as talented as their fans believe they are• Do inferiority complexes play into this behavior as well?

A: Yes, that's really a common thing. They think, "I'm not this terrific figure that I've been made out to be." Some people feel that way even if they're immensely talented.

Q : If celebrities are predisposed to these behaviors, aren't incidents like the one that occurred (with Houston) inevitable from time to time?

A: From time to time, yes. The smart ones get help. Not that I'm saying Whitney Houston wasn't smart, just that she had a demon she didn't know how to deal with or couldn't deal with.

I think it's very hard for regular people to understand (the entertainment) world. You know, you hear the cliche of the pressures involved (in the industry). But you don't understand the mindset of the people dealing with those pressures -- they're quite fragile people. What it takes to get in front of an audience and give your heart like that requires you to stay in an innocent place that's very open, but it's a place that's also easily exploited. It's a complex issue.

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