Dear Ms. Vicki,
Now that the weather is getting warmer, I'm up to my compulsive behavior of looking in my neighbors' windows again.
This is something I've done since I was about 16 years old and got my first car. I would park my car in my neighborhood and look in my neighbors' windows. I did the same thing in college, and I still do it now as a 37-year-old man in the Air Force.
I figured serving my country would take the compulsion away, but it hasn't, even after almost 14 years serving. The only time I stopped looking in windows was when I was deployed three times, for four or five months each time. Maybe it was because being deployed was stressful and busy?
I don't know, but I know I need help because I can't stop. Last week, I'm pretty sure one of my neighbors saw me looking in someone else's window. I pretended that I had lost something to throw her off.
I don't want to get in trouble for this, but I don't know how to explain it to a professional. It's embarrassing, and I wonder if they would even know how to help me.
Can you steer me in the right direction for professional help, please? The excitement that comes with being a window-watcher is becoming too much for me to handle.
-- Peeping Tom
Dear Peeping Tom,
I would say that you are a voyeur because you get excitement from watching unsuspecting people who are getting dressed, showering, etc. Your voyeurism behavior is concerning not just because it could get you in trouble, but because it harms others and it could get worse.
In society, people who watch others are generally criminals who are casing homes to find the right time to commit burglary or to physically attack someone.
You get excitement from watching; you say you don't intend to do physical harm. However, you have to understand that your actions can cause emotional harm to other people. When a person finds out they have been watched without their knowledge, it can be very damaging emotionally. You should seek professional help immediately.
I'm not trying to do therapy through my column, but I do wonder if you have anxiety and even if you have experienced significant losses in your life. Cognitive behavioral therapy is one of the most common treatments to help patients control the impulse to watch non-consenting people and that could help you attain gratification in more adaptive and functional ways.
Don't be ashamed or embarrassed to seek professional help. Service members often feel conflicted about seeking mental health services because they don't want to be perceived as weak and a failure.
You owe it to yourself to discover why this behavior exists and has persisted for such a long time.
Check on base for the availability of behavioral health services. If services are not available, then contact Tricare and they will connect you with a therapist off base. Ask for someone who is experienced with cognitive behavioral therapy.
Thank you for writing to me.
-- Ms. Vicki