(CBS) Ken Mehlman says he's gay, and while the admission may have answered longstanding questions about the Republican bigwig's sexuality, it raises another.
How could a gay man lead a political party with a reputation for voting against gay rights?
How did he manage the inner conflict?
A sort of emotional and professional self-defense is the likely explanation, says Dr. Matthew Weissman, a Washington, D.C. psychotherapist who has treated many closeted politicians (but not Mehlman).
"Very often people who are gay anticipate that they are going to be put in a 'one-down' position in certain communities and professional relationships," he says. "They feeling that being gay and living out as a gay man or woman will limit their success in some respect. So they make a conscious choice to keep that aspect of themselves under wraps."
"It's taken me 43 years to get comfortable with this part of my life," said Mehlman, now an executive with a New York City investment house. "Everybody has their own path to travel, their own journey, and for me, over the past few months, I've told my family, friends, former colleagues, and current colleagues, and they've been wonderful and supportive. The process has been something that's made me a happier and better person."
Those sentiments are commong among people who come out relatively late in life, says Dr. Weissman.
"There is a lot of literature on the psychological cost of being closeted, including depression, anxiety and a greater risk of drinking and substance abuse and unsafe sex," he said. "He may be burning some bridges, but he is taking a stance that is probably making him good about himself."