Ghislaine Maxwell and the pathological pick-me syndrome
The socialite’s trial exposed that approval seeking is usually misguided at best, but it is a pipeline to perpetuating severe abuse.

On December 29 2021, former socialite and close friend of Jeffrey Epstein, Ghislaine Maxwell, was convicted of five out of six counts of sexual abuse during 1994 to 2004. These charges include conspiring to commit sex crimes and the sex trafficking of minors. She is to serve up to 60 years at the Metropolitan Detention Centre located in Brooklyn, New York.

Maxwell, who Epstein himself claimed as his “best friend,” lured dozens of underage teenage girls so that the latter could sexually molest and in some cases, rape them. She herself took part in some of the molestation as detailed by a former victim, Carolyn. However, for the most part, she acted as bait and co-conspired with Epstein so that he could securely commit sex crimes in his enclosed and affluent, Mar-a-Lago estate, presently known as “Epstein’s Island.” 

Maxwell’s motivations behind committing these atrocities lie in her pathological need to seek approval from powerful men, a pattern rooted in the early days of her childhood. During her youth, her father, publishing tycoon Robert Maxwell, was authoritarian and singled her out as his favourite. As a result, she did whatever she could to please him. As a young adult, Maxwell continued down a similar trajectory, exploiting her relationships with fellow socialite women to acquire the influence of powerful men. According to a former Oxford classmate, Anna Pasternak, “My recollection is that she was kind of breezily charming to other women, but I don’t remember her being a very close friend of another woman. I think that women weren’t really important to her—only as a means to get to another powerful man.” 

Maxwell’s behaviour can be best be described by a phenomenon known as ‘pickmeism.’ A “pick-me” person is desperate for acceptance from a particular group and will do whatever it takes to gain access to certain social circles and remain there. A pick-me woman will demean other women to gain male approval. Typically, pick-me individuals are simply misguided people who usually outgrow their desperate need for validation as they feel more comfortable with themselves or seek professional help. 

However, in a more extreme circumstance akin to this one, a pick-me woman, especially one in a relationship with a toxic man, will never recover and instead harm all women to please him. We’ve seen this pattern occur with predatory couples where the women usually act as bait so that the men can fulfill their depraved desires while remaining interested in their partners. A prime example of this is serial killer Karla Homolka. Homolka aided her husband, Paul Bernardo, in the rape, torture, and in some cases, murder of multiple teenaged girls, including her own sister, as a means of ensuring that he remained interested in her. Similarly, Maxwell who was previously linked to Epstein romantically, was happy to perpetuate the sexual abuse of minors if it meant fulfilling her strange infatuation and maintaining her status as, “Lady of the House.” 

The socialite world in particular is notorious for enabling predators. Women in this society use their formal education and upper-class backgrounds to partake in highly influential social gatherings and gain access to important people. At the surface level, socialites are depicted as leisurely rich individuals who spend their time gallivanting at parties. However, beneath the surface is a world in which rich predators like Epstein are enabled by a system which prizes social validation and recognition above all. Maxwell used her connections as a socialite to elevate Epstein financially and socially so that he could maintain a firm standing in upper-class society and she in turn could remain close to him. 

Maxwell also used her socialite connections to groom her and Epstein’s victims. Maxwell’s victims described their initial perception of her as “very sophisticated,” “elegant,” “charismatic”, and “poised.” In exchange for servicing Epstein, she would convince less privileged girls with high aspirations that she would aid their careers.  

Overall, Ghislaine Maxwell serves as a cautionary tale of severe approval seeking behaviour and its damaging effect on society. The toxic socialite culture Maxwell was a member of contributed to the sexual abuse of the victims in this case. It ensured Epstein’s respectable standing and veiled the pair from potential exposure. While ‘pickmeism,’ or the constant need for validation at the expense of others, is not always sinister in and of itself, it can lead to horrific abuse. 

Staff Writer (Volune 48) — Shreya is in her first year at UTM, seeking a double major in business management and English. She hopes to bring attention to worldwide issues and inspire others to change their mindsets through her contributions to The Medium. When she is not writing articles, you can find her sipping coffee and reading, watching classic films, listening to music, or engaging in photography.

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