Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Lance Armstrong : The Truth Shall Set You Free

"I don't like that guy. That is a guy who felt he was invincible, was told he was invincible, truly believed he was invincible. That's who that guy was. That guy is still there. I'm not going to lie to you or to the public and say, Oh, I'm in therapy. I feel better. He's still there."
Lance Armstrong on old tapes of him under oath refuting the doping charges

I was so hopeful that the truth behind the allegations against Lance Armstrong would be justified but as I watched Lance Armstong’s admission of guilt on the Oprah show, I have to admit that I was disappointed. I do still feel an amount of compassion for the man who was a hero in many of our lives.  Surviving cancer against all odds and the ability to return to cycling, his passion in life, should have been enough.  But instead he was caught up in a game of drug abuse, the only way he knew how to win the Tour de France.  Getting away with it once became an obsession to continue his lies and cheating – what I call an addiction to power and glory.  But what I think is not important and the abusive accusations of others are not important here.  What is important is why he let his ego get the better of him, resulting in the hurt to family, friends and the world at large.  I decided to look up a couple of psychological evaluations to find some answers.

Cognitive Dissonance
If you've ever told a lie and felt uncomfortable because you see yourself as scrupulously honest, then you've experienced cognitive dissonance. It occurs whenever your view of yourself clashes with your performance in any area—you see yourself as smart but can't believe you made such dumb stock investments. Exactly how we choose to resolve the dissonance, and its discomfort, is a good reflection of our mental health.
I quote from an article in Psychology Today called “Cognitive Dissonance Group Opinion and the Fall of Lance Armstrong: How to cope with a fallen hero”:
“Lance Armstrong generates dissonance. The man who became famous for never giving up is giving up. He is a winner and a loser.  Yesterday he was quoted as saying "I refuse to participate in a process that is so one-sided and unfair." With his unimaginatively weak statement the man who almost single-handedly galvanized attention interest and fascination on the Tour De France and raising consciousness and money and funds for cancer has admitted to being another sports hero impostor. If there would have been truth behind his innocence Lance Armstrong would have fought this, and he did his own cancer, until he was victorious.  But this giving up is as clear an admission of wrongdoing as can be, and also stops the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency from testifying about anything else they might know about him, including10 former teammates ready to testify against him.  Lance Armstrong is a survivor and a liar; an incredibly strong man, and an incredibly weak man; a source of inspiration, and a source of disgrace and embarrassment; a hero and a villain. In short he has become the modern day exemplar of cognitive dissonance.
The theory of cognitive dissonance would predict that people would strive for dissonance reduction by using these three strategies.  In other words groups will form as people use one of three dissonance reduction strategies. They might sound something like this:
1. “He shouldn’t have to keep defending himself against these charges.  He was right to give up.”
2. “It doesn’t matter that they stripped him of his titles because he has already done so much good in the world.”
3. “We don’t need false heroes to raise money for cancer treatment, there are plenty of other good people to do that.”
But these biases nudge us away from reality.  The truth now is that Lance Armstrong is both good and bad; inspiring and despicable; a legend and fake. My hope is that another group forms based on allowing two truths to remain intact.  The struggle is in trying not to make this dissonance even out, take it away, or stop it.  Instead the work is to try and leave the truth as it is: Lance Armstrong is profoundly human.”

The Halo Effect
I quote from another article in Psychology Today called “Zero Worship: Did Surviving Cancer Make Armstrong a Hero”:
“It might be hard to remember after this week’s Oprah interview, but before Armstrong was driven from professional cycling and the Livestrong Foundation he founded, he was a hero to millions.  Although many people weren’t all that surprised that he doped and lied, many others were and have responded with intense anger and sadness. The blogosphere, social media sites, and airwaves are filled with angry condemnations of Armstrong. One tweet reads, “Lance Armstrong. pathetic. liar, bully, sad role model for bike race enthusiasts.”
Clearly there’s some truth to that statement. Armstrong doped. Armstrong lied. And he made untold millions doing it. Our opinion is that there should be consequences for his wrongdoings. But lots of people behave in equally unethical ways, and we don’t find ourselves getting nearly as upset about it.  What was it about Armstrong?  Why were we so willing to put him up on a pedestal?  Why did he have so far to fall before hitting earth?
A good part of the answer may be his status as a cancer survivor. Armstrong’s story is nothing short of amazing: In 1996, after years of professional cycling, he was diagnosed with a testicular cancer that had already spread to his lungs and brain. The prognosis looked bad. But, after surgery (including an operation on his brain) and extensive chemotherapy, he recovered, rejoined the world of professional cycling in 1998, and won the Tour de France many times over.
When survivors experience amazing recoveries, we are often quick to label them “inspirations." And not just in an “it’s-amazing-you-survived” kind of way. Many of us are quick to assume they’re amazing and inspirational in other ways, as well.  In short, we assume they must also be good people. Psychologists have a term for this—the halo effect.
The halo effect is a kind of cognitive bias in which our evaluation of someone’s character is unduly influenced by our overall impression of him or her.  Because someone’s survival story is inspirational, we jump to the unwarranted conclusion that he or she, as a person, must also be inspirational in other ways, even those not connected to his or her ordeal. So we tend to accord survivors role model status more broadly, even though we may have no real evidence they deserve it.
We seem to do the same for survivors. Because someone’s survival story is inspirational, we jump to the unwarranted conclusion that he or she, as a person, must also be inspirational in other ways, even those not connected to his or her ordeal. So we tend to accord survivors role model status more broadly, even though we may have no real evidence they deserve it. It’s important to note that this often is not an enjoyable experience for many survivors. Quite the contrary, it can place terrible pressure on them at precisely the time they may be trying to return to life as usual.”

Narcissistic Personality Disorder
Narcissistic personality disorder is a mental disorder in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance and a deep need for admiration. Those with narcissistic personality disorder believe that they're superior to others and have little regard for other people's feelings. But behind this mask of ultra-confidence lies a fragile self-esteem, vulnerable to the slightest criticism. Narcissistic personality disorder is one of several types of personality disorders. Personality disorders are conditions in which people have traits that cause them to feel and behave in socially distressing ways, limiting their ability to function in relationships and in other areas of their life, such as work or school.
I quote from an article in Dark Psychology called “A brief snapshot of a highly successful athlete admitting steroid usage”:
“Given the recent national news of Lance Armstrong disclosing he has previously used anabolic steroids, the nation seems to be split in accusing him of being a pathological liar and narcissist or an athlete who made a mistake and should be forgiven being a cancer survivor. What has been frequently discussed, by those following his story, is his multitude of television and media appearances over the years where he convincingly and calmly stated he had never used anabolic steroids. For those who look at Mr. Armstrong as a hypocrite & pathetic liar, his calm demeanor during his past press conferences are the examples they use to illustrate he is a nefarious character. 
Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) has been defined as a chronic pattern of grandiosity, a lack of empathy and an obsessive need for recognition. People with NPD perceive they are extremely important to everyone within their social spheres. People with NPD are often described as being pretentious, cocky, arrogant, patronizing, disdainful and pompous. In laypeople terms, someone with this disorder may be described simply as a “narcissist” or as someone with “narcissism.” Both of these terms generally refer to someone with narcissistic personality disorder. Based on the severity of NPD, the dysfunction to the sufferer’s life and associates can range from minimal negative impact to devastating and highly destructive.
Not having evaluated Lance Armstrong and knowing very little about his childhood, family dynamics, past self-destructive behaviors, past harmful behaviors towards others, this writer does not have an opinion. Not having any demographic or psychological information to formulate a diagnostic impression, this writer can only conclude, by observing his deceptive talents, that he has practiced the art of deception for many years to be as talented as he presents on media.”

The future? 
Whatever the prognosis, has Lance Armstong hit rock bottom yet?  I am sure there is more to come with pending court cases and harsh public abuse.  The only way he can bring justice to himself and the world is to change his attitude and make his amends.  He has made the first step of acceptance by admitting his guilt but he has a long road ahead of truth and reconciliation. As his ex-wife Kristen said: “The truth shall set you free”.
Did you watch the interview and what are your thoughts on his admission of guilt?

“Armstrong's fall from grace is so huge. It means a lot that he has finally come clean. But he also needs to realize his life is not just about a bike, races or a big mistake. Everybody has the ability within them to rise again. What really matters in the world is what kind of human being he chooses to be."
Oprah Winfrey


  1. He has the same choice any of us in recovery have. To stay in the mental disease or to choose recovery and a bwtter way of thinking and living.