Dr. Wendy Walsh: Just two weeks after a suicide attempt, "American Idol"-winner Fantasia Barrino is back at work. Her recent appearance on "Lopez Tonight" was a mix of showmanship and downright honesty about her ordeal. She talked about a hospital nurse who inspired her get up out of bed and fulfill her destiny, and a stint in a group-therapy home where she vented and vented. The theme that kept cropping up as an explanation for her desperation was the pressure to look good, talk well, sing well and survive the criticism that comes with celebrity life. It was a lesson to all of us who blog and comment about public figures. Even celebrities read their own press, and underneath the glitzy facade is a human heart and a vulnerable psyche.
Fantasia is relatively new to fame, and was probably shocked by the underside of Hollywood. Perhaps the hardest lesson that people new to the limelight learn is the true legal definition of "public figure". As soon as one morphs from common stranger to public person, he or she becomes fair game and a de facto role model -- whether that is welcome or not.
There are two possible defenses against the onslaught of negative (read: envious) energy. One is to grow an alligator skin and become immune to criticism. This isn't the best route. Some people even enter the business with a defective layer in the form of narcissism. Narcissistic people don't care what anyone else thinks and are hell-bent on grabbing the limelight at all costs. In truth, people living with true narcissistic personality disorder probably came from highly critical parenting, and the false personality that they create is designed to suppress deep feelings of self-loathing. Blocking out criticism is learned narcissism, and can become just as dangerous to intimate relationships. It's different from processing criticism, considering it and then digging into one's vat of self-esteem to decide if you really need to change or not. Narcissists can't tolerate that kind of internal stocktaking.
A far better way to deal with the enormous pressures of the entertainment business is to be open and vulnerable -- the route that Fantasia seems to be taking. When people hide their feelings, they open themselves up to speculation and gossip, but honesty and vulnerability is usually rewarded with respect.
Having said that, I'm a little worried that Fantasia is "coming out" too soon after her trauma. It takes months to work through all the feelings that can lead a mother to such depression that she attempts suicide. My concern is that her anxiety was originally caused by a tendency to be "externally defined" rather than "internally defined," and I'm not sure anyone can make that kind of switch in two weeks.
Kudos to Fantasia, the ultimate extrovert, for bravely bleeding for us in public. But I hope she surrounds herself with love and support to shore her up when the next wave of negativity slams her.