Expectations and Happiness

Expectations and Happiness

 Expectations, Adaptation and the Link to Happiness

                                   Christopher Knippers, Ph.D.

Our expectations in life color every experience we have in life. Our expectations can be a double-edged sword; sometimes leading us to pursue achievements in life that we would not have otherwise pursued, but other times leading us to profound disappointment in life. Some people are good at adapting to the disappointments and adjusting their expectations without becoming cynical, but others develop a cynical or depressed outlook.

Our success in relationships, work, and all aspects of life is significantly effected by our expectations and our ability to manage disappointment when some aspect of life does not fulfill our expectations.

For example, romantic couples are often disappointed when their relationship is no longer “exciting” and the rush of hormones of a new relationship start to subside. You may stop being hypnotized by the other person’s charming qualities, and they no longer get a pass for having any human defects. The relationship becomes at least a little more routine, seeing each other is no linger quite the thrill it used to be, and sex eventually becomes somewhat routine. The relationship might even seem disappointing, so it seems that a terrible mistake was made by ever thinking that this person could be “The One.” After all, “I expected that they would have some flaws, but certainly not these flaws.” In relationships that succeed both partners are able to gradually accept that their loved one has a particular shortcoming they had always hoped they wouldn’t have to deal with, and they focus on qualities they appreciate. While at the same time, they maintain reasonable boundaries such as, “I will never allow myself to be abused; or to live with an addict.” You can’t be faulted for having boundaries in any relationship. Expect disappointments in relationships; but not abuse.

Addictions of all kinds are often driven by unrealistic expectations. Some people are always chasing a higher high in life, not realizing that life can’t always feel great.

We all have certain expectations in life. Most of us likely have fairly realistic expectations. One of those realistic expectations that keeps us sane is the expectation that not everything we expect or want in life happens; or at least not in the timeframe we might expect. In other words, most people are able to adapt to disappointment, and keep moving forward in some productive way. Some will try harder at what they were pursuing, or will try another pathway to the goal that was blocked; others will set new goals. Some might just wait patiently for the right timing for pursuing their goal again. A small percentage of people give up and are bitter or depressed when their expectations are not met.

A few people respond to disappointment by going beyond severe depression, to suicide. There are many reasons why people take their own lives, and we still don’t completely understand the suicidal mind. A major disappointment can lead to a feeling of being forever trapped in a hopeless situation in life. This is a very common impression that suicidal people report. Many times a situation is indeed traumatic and would be difficult for most anyone to endure. It would take a long period of time, support, and other resources for any person to come to terms with certain traumas or losses which cause a few people to give up all hope. Most people are eventually able to adapt to the overwhelming trauma or loss, and go on to lead productive fulfilling lives.

There is a subcategory of suicidal ideation that stems from people having unrealistically high expectations of themselves and of life. They buy into the myth that “you really can have it all.” Some people get through adulthood with these plaguing expectations, never really admitting to anyone just how high their expectations are nor how disappointed they are in themselves and their life. They define themselves by their disappointments and perceived failures to achieve perfection. They have learned that others really would not understand their high expectations, and would indeed judge them or even shame them for having such high expectations. But one day in secret and often without warning, they decide that they have lost the stamina to continue reaching for the highest stars. They realize that all of their successes and accolades over the years have not ever been “enough” to satisfy their expectations of themselves or of life. Facing this disappointment every day when they look in the mirror is just too much for them. They don’t say a word, because “no one would understand.” Therefore, many high-achieving people take their own lives in despair and utter disappointment, even at what some might say is the height of their success. There have been many celebrity deaths in recent decades which might fit this scenario. 

The only lesson for those of us who have a very high-achiever in our lives is to never ever judge them for their high expectations; but to gradually give them messages that you value them for just “being,” not for “doing” nor for whatever they have achieved. “I just love your company, and would love you even if you had never achieved all the status.” “What I love is your humor, your smile, your open attitude about your anger and sadness, your willingness to just be human and have flaws.” And, if you are the one who has overly high expectations of yourself, chill out!

I began letting go of my overly high expectations of myself when I was in my late 30’s after I received my first book contract with a major publisher. I was so very proud, and thought, “Oh, my parents are finally going to be extremely proud of me!” I excitedly called them and told them the great news. There was silence at first, then they almost simultaneously said, “Well, did you get a contract for your next book?” I was stunned at first, then I threw back my head and laughed. It was literally funny to me. I had insight into why I was so hard on myself all my life, never feeling good enough. Please don’t get me wrong. My parents were wonderful, dynamic, loving people and I am actually very grateful for the high standards that they instilled in me, and for the genuine love they showed me all my life. They saw tremendous potential in me and believed that setting the bar higher was the way to bring that out. But, I have to admit the message that “You are good enough just the way you are,” was not explicitly communicated to me by them until many years later.

Adjusting your expectations of life can be a balancing act. You want expectations to be realistic but not too low. The measure of a realistic expectation is different for each individual; but know that an expectation of life or yourself which leaves you always feeling that you are not good enough indicates that your expectations are too high. By finding appreciation for yourself and your life in your current state is never wrong. Appreciation of ourselves and of life generally leads us forward and higher in life anyway; so placing some manufactured expectation on yourself is not really necessary to motivate you. What truly motivates people to fulfill their own potential is being able to appreciate oneself in the present. Then, you are able to see your potential, and move toward it with compassion for yourself when you don’t always reach the mark.

Appreciate where you are in life. Savor each moment of your life, appreciate yourself for who and what you are in the present, pay attention to the potential you begin to naturally see in yourself and in your life; and pursue your potential gently.

Christopher Kni[pers, Ph.D.                             August 17, 2019

The Healing Between

The Healing Between

 This is a 1600 word article submitted to The Bellevue Literary Review. A bit long for a “blog” post; but definitely about one of the most important means of “Healing,” on all levels.

                                        Christopher Knippers, Ph.D.

Healing of the body and the mind can come in diverse, and sometimes mysterious ways. It is often a factor that you would not expect that brings a healing process to life. I experienced this as a young Clinical Psychology intern who had just learned all of the quantifiable methods of helping to bring about healing in a wounded patient. But there was a process of healing that I had not learned in my very rigorous training. I learned it when a man entered my office presenting the most challenging case I had heard since my internship in a high security prison. 

He was a handsome 40 year old man who had been a successful executive in one of Southern California’s most respected and important corporations. He had the upper-middle-class ideal of life: A job he loved; a beautiful intelligent wife; a healthy happy 2-year-old daughter; and a custom home on the west side of Los Angeles. Yet he slowly walked into my office looking somewhat disheveled, slightly stooped over, and his eyes looking at the floor as he introduced himself. He was hardly the man that the person who referred him had described to me.

Sean confirmed the facts of his background to me and then began unemotionally relating the reason for his current state of crippling depression, overwhelming sense of loss, unemployment, and being on the brink of bankruptcy. He spoke softly in a monotone, like someone who was barely conscious.

Seven months earlier, Sean, his wife and 2 year-old daughter were returning from their favorite restaurant where Sean and his wife each had a single glass of wine with dinner. He felt perfectly good when he got behind the wheel of their Mercedes and headed home on the 405 freeway. Suddenly, the next thing he knew a car swerved into the passenger side of his car where his wife was sitting with their 2-year-old daughter strapped into the child safety seat directly behind. Sean was unharmed but he heard absolutely no sound coming from his profusely bleeding wife and his badly mangled little girl.

Sean spent the next 2  months in complete shock and was unable to leave his house. People from his church brought him food, sat with him, gave him advice on how to move on with his life, urged him to get out of the house; but Sean could not move from his emotional dungeon. After 2 months of self-imposed incarceration in his own home, he occasionally accepted invitations to meals at friends’ houses; but these outings only exacerbated his depression.

Though very understanding and supportive, his company had no choice but to replace him after six months of absence from his highly responsible position in the company. Sean was not suicidal, but he was unable to function in any meaningful way due to the ongoing state of severe depression which had not only left him emotionally unable to function, but he was now physically unable to sustain activity of any kind before experiencing complete exhaustion. Sean spent his days closed in his house with the drapes drawn, leaving only every couple of days to get food.

Eventually, his home foreclosed, and he moved to low-income housing in a high-crime neighborhood of Los Angeles. He barely noticed the change. His surroundings actually were a better match for his feelings about himself and his life. Appropriate punishment for the death of his wife and daughter.

Sean had been blaming himself all along for their deaths, even though the police officers had immediately determined that the accident was 100% the fault of the other driver whose blood alcohol level was beyond the legal limit. “I’m sure that I could have done something to prevent the accident if only I had been more alert! If only I had not had that one glass of wine!” 

I desperately wanted to hug him and assure him that he was not responsible for the accident or the deaths of his beloved wife and daughter. I wanted to convince him that he would be able to get beyond this tragedy and live a life that would honor the memory of his wife and child. But, I too felt frozen. Frozen in despair, a devastating inconsolable sense of loss, overwhelming guilt and shame. After almost an hour of listening intently to his gut-wrenching story my mind struggled for just the right words to give him an educated healing response. I desperately wanted to be objective, but it was too late. The analytical function of my brain was drowned out by my emotions. My mind was blank, but my emotions were raw and overflowing. I had become completely caught up in my patient’s experience. Not just empathizing with him or feeling sympathy for him; but experiencing the experience of loss and trauma with him simultaneously.

Tears streamed down my face; and while chocking back sobs, I said, “I am so sorry. There is nothing I can say.” For the first time Sean looked me in the eyes. With some strength and feeling in his voice, he said, “That’s okay. I’ll see you in 2 weeks.” With that, he left my office and drove away.

I felt embarrassed, and deeply disappointed in myself. Here I was supposed to be the objective professional providing comfort and actual solutions for an emotionally broken grieving man, but instead I had broken down emotionally myself. I was sure he had said he would be back in two weeks instead of the more typical one week, because he did not plan on coming back at all. I kept his time-slot open in the unlikely event that he would return.

Two weeks later just before 8:00 P.M., in walked a truly handsome, well-dressed and groomed 40 year-old man with a strong gate looking me in the eye and confidently saying, “Thank you for what you did for me 2 weeks ago. My life changed immediately after our session. I went hime, cried uncontrollably for the first time since the accident, slept through the night for the first time in 7 months, got up, called a recruiter, and was hired for a great executive position the next week. I’m still sad, but I let go of the guilt, and I am capable of thinking more clearly now. I have more energy every day.”

“Sean, what was it about our last session that made such a difference for you?” I was truly puzzled.

“For the first time since the accident someone actually listened and felt what I was feeling. Not giving me advice, or telling me that everything was going to be alright. That it was not my fault. That God had a plan. That my wife and daughter were in a better place. You did none of that. You did not tell me how I should be thinking or feeling. You felt what I had been unable to feel for 7 months. Your genuine emotion and tears freed me from my paralysis. I’m a new man, thanks to you.”

I was as dumbfounded at hearing this as I was at experiencing his devastation 2 weeks earlier. I was in awe of what had happened to him, as well as what had happened to me in that whole experience.

It took weeks of reflection on that experience to begin to understand the dynamics of how that became such an unexpected healing event. With the help of a colleague, Dr. William Heard author of The Healing Between (Jossey Bass, 1993), I learned what had happened: A broken man came to me sharing his deepest experience while being completely open, authentic, and vulnerable; and I responded with my full and complete focus on him while also being fully present cognitively and emotionally. I was also being open, authentic, and vulnerable in my receiving of his communication. Healing occurred between his open sharing and my open listening.

I never again actually cried openly during a therapy session, but I did always allow myself to have a truly authentic response to people who were being truly authentic with me. I allow myself to express my true emotion both verbally and nonverbally in response to what i am hearing and perceiving from a patient. My practice of psychotherapy changed and has been much more fulfilling, effective, and often amazing.

Transpersonal Psychology studies this phenomenon taking into account processes that are experienced in psychotherapy which go beyond the five senses, and include the dynamic forces that take place when humans make an emotional and cognitive connection with each other simultaneously. This type of deep connection allows people to enter into each other’s experiences on a deep emotional as well as cognitive level rather than simply understand each other’s experiences on a cognitive level. Many people believe that there is actually a connection on a spiritual level in these deep human interactions. Other scientists believe that it is a neurological phenomenon in which a yet-unidentified set of neurons in the brain signal neural receptors in the other person’s brain as two people interact with each other and feel a deep connection with each other.

In whatever way you want to conceptualize it, I learned that there is a healing phenomenon that takes place when a person goes beyond an initial cognitive understanding of another person and listens deeply with feeling, rather than with a mere intellectual understanding. A healing takes place between the intellectual and the emotional, and perhaps the spiritual as well, which might not be quantified but is nevertheless real. It is listening with your entire being that can set in motion a healing process in both the giver and receiver of communication. When one person openly authentically shares their true self, and another person receives their sharing openly and authentically, then healing occurs between them.

May you have healing relationships.                 Christopher Knippers         July 13, 2019

The Cave

The Cave

This is actually a fairly prosaic personal journal entry; but I’m posting it for all the world to see, just in case anyone can relate to it or gain a little insight into their own lives:

The Cave

            A Glimpse Into the Psyche of Dr. Cecil Christopher Knippers II

                                        (Enter at your own risk)

I recently heard that oft-repeated analogy of how our lives can can seem like we are a caterpillar crawling on the ground dreaming of being a butterfly, then finding itself suddenly in the dark, isolated, and unable to move; but then one day gloriously finding itself flying through the air on beautiful wings. It always triggers some insight into my own life whenever I hear it in a minister’s or motivational speaker’s talk. But, this time it did not seem to fit, although I kind of wanted it to. I am actually happy and feel secure (although most people would probably find many reasons in my life to talk me out of feeling happy and secure). Faith hope and gratitude are very strong in my life.

I realized that the analogy which more accurately applies to me is that of being in a cave.

My hillside cave is safe, comfortable, and I have a wonderful companion with me. My cave has a beautiful expansive view of the valley below. I can see lush forests, harsh craggy rocky deserts, tribes of people who seem happy, tribes of people who seem fearful and angry (I can sometimes hear their loud shouts; I think they are mad at their leader). Then, there are some lonely ones wandering around by themselves just outside of the tribes. Some others appear to be actually suffering. I do write messages to the people in the valley below, and toss them down through the air hoping that they will reach whomever needs that message. At times I think I should try to scale down the hill and meet with these people, or at least explore that amazing valley; but I always end up being content with sitting on the narrow ledge in front of my cave admiring the view, or occasionally climbing the narrow pathway that leads to just above my my cave. Then I go back into the safety of my cave, being grateful for what I have.

I know this could be judged as being somehow a bad thing. I have been told repeatedly throughout my life by a variety of hundreds of people that I am gifted, a healer, an inspiration, etc. (almost no one has acknowledged the flaws of which I am keenly aware). So, I occasionally think, “Maybe you should put yourself out there more, and do some good in the world.”

I confidently believe that I am doing exactly what I need to be doing at this point in my life; and that if/when it is the right time, someone or something is going to show up to give me the opportunity to do something outside of this comfort zone, as has happened many times in my life. I will either choose to take that opportunity or not. In the mean time I will continue being hopeful, grateful, and having faith that my regular meditations and  prayers for guidance are being answered.

************************************************************************************

I know that some of my relatives who read this will pray for me; some of my friends will avoid me; others might try to organize a rescue mission to come get me. Whatever you do, please don’t send the men in white coats with a syringe of Thorazine.

Christopher Knippers, Ph.D.,    June 27, 2019

Survivor or Thriver

Survivor or Thriver

Paige Winter, the phenomenally upbeat 17-year-old girl who recently survived losing a leg and 2 fingers in a brutal shark attack was interviewed by journalist Robin Roberts. She portrayed the most positive outlook on life that have ever heard coming from any 17-year-old girl; even those who are in the most positive of circumstances in life. Despite not being in the most positive circumstances, this young girl (I should say “woman”) is hopelessly happy. She is radiantly looking forward to all the things she can do with her life (which even includes shark conservation). Talk about resilience! This young woman takes resilience and coping with significant loss to a whole new level! Since I have grown accustomed to being around the types of people who have good health, comfortable wealth, and a beautiful home who get seriously stressed out because their spouse insisted on the trip to Maui instead of Bora Bora, I was truly amazed by Paige Winter.

After the journalist’s interview there was some discussion on the news program of this young woman’s attitude after surviving a shark attack, and losing a leg and 2 fingers. I believe it was Robin Roberts who said that Paige is not really a survivor, but is instead a “Thriver.” Of course, everyone (I’m sure including Paige) agreed.

That turn of the term that we so often use to describe ourselves as “survivors” of severe chronic illness really grabbed me. It suddenly gave me a whole new perspective on myself and of life in general. 

I have always felt that the term “survivor” was just wrong for me, despite the fact that I did survive many life-threatening conditions even after medical professionals were no longer even trying to save my life. Survivor sounded weak to me. Like I was saying, “Well, at least I’m still hanging on to life somehow.” Which paints a picture of a person who is beat down and bedraggled but managing to still schlep through life.

The term “Thriver” when applied to myself felt really right. Like Thriver really fits who I perceive myself to be, and how I see life. It felt very empowering. I do indeed see myself thriving in life, and know that there are no limits on what is possible for me; even though I am certainly not one of those people who puts any pressure on myself to always be “more.” (More on that some other time.) I see myself as thriving in my current state of being and achievement. From now on I am referring to myself as a Thriver (at least to myself).

I urge any of you who are surviving a chronic illness, or any other significant challenge in your life, to try thinking of yourself as a Thriver. See how your perspective on yourself and your life changes.

                                                         Christopher Knippers, Ph.D.         June 20, 2019

Advice to Dialysis Patients

Advice to Dialysis Patients

The American Kidney Fund recently asked me to become an Amassador to help in lobbying efforts to our legislature. They also asked me to give advice to dialysis patients and their families. Here is an excerpt from that questionnaire that I think is helpful to most people who are going through regular treatments for most diseases such as cancer:

   Getting through treatment requires mental gymnastics, in addition to taking the best care of your health possible. Keep your thoughts about yourself and your situation as positive as possible. Avoid ever thinking of yourself as “A Kidney Disease (or, dialysis) Patient.” You are a human being with life, love and purpose. Thinking in  a “victim” mentality is destructive and untrue. Stay as engaged in life and your passions as possible. (My passions happen to be writing, and volunteer work for my church.) Focus on every positive thing you can think of, at all times. You don’t have the luxury of a negative thought. Your job now is to be an example of overcoming adversity with courage and conviction in order to give others hope and inspiration.

While in the actual dialysis session, practice relaxation and meditation techniques. Take a workshop or get coaching in this if you have to.

   Newly diagnosed patients need to learn that dialysis is effective and is not a death sentence. It becomes a routine (though relatively small) part of your healthcare regimen and life that will keep you on track. Don’t let dialysis become the focus of your life. Even the diet is not as bad as you might think. You are capable of adjusting to all of this effectively, and finding meaning and purpose in your life.

   It is vital to have support from a friend or family member in your life whether a dialysis patient or not; but now you really need a special kind of nonjudgemental empathic support from someone who cares enough to be educated about the needs of a dialysis patient, and will be a positive influence in your life, encouraging you.

   Family members need to remain positive and encouraging to the kidney patient. Offer tangible as well as emotional support (be careful not to be patronizing or pitying). Patients sometimes feel a bit physically and/or cognitively weak immediately following treatment, and might need a ride home or help with preparing a meal. Most patients bounce back by the following day.

   I have overcome numerous life-threatening conditions in my life, and have actually been pronounced dead at a very early age. I have overcome being brain-dead from a landslide, then unplugged from life-support so I could die. I went on to earn a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology, just for spite. I have had a remarkable career in psychology and have worked with many people you see on television and in movies and in politics. I still counsel a few of them on a complimentary basis. Since receiving the diagnosis of kidney disease 5 years ago, which I initially was sure was a death sentence, I have become happier than I have ever been in my entire 66 years; despite now having a significantly reduced income from my days as a busy psychologist. My strength comes from the beautiful love and support of my friends, and family; as well as from a very deep faith in God (for very good reason). There have been many amazing miracles in my life, and there are more to come.

I hope this is helpful.  Blessings to you.

Christopher Knippers, Ph.D.                                                    June 13, 2019

Sabotage, Over-reaction, & Other Irrational Behaviors

Sabotage, Over-reaction, & Other Irrational Behaviors

Many people who have a lot of great qualities manage to still screw up their relationships, jobs, health, or other important areas of their lives. We chock it up to being “stupid,” having bad luck, ignorance, or other reasons that still don’t quite explain why someone who has so much going for them would just keep failing in some important area of their lives. There is an often overlooked explanation for sabotaging good things in life, over-reacting to relatively minor stressors, or in some other way being irrational in making behavioral choices which have significant negative consequences.

Secure emotional bonding with parents often goes wrong somehow. The reasons are usually environmental (for some reason parents don’t provide a secure predictable relationship with the child, or there is severe trauma); or the child can have physiological or neurological conditions that prevent them from feeling secure in general. The child never fully feels safe and secure in the relationship and carries that sense of insecurity into adulthood, generalizing that insecurity into all relationships. They end up coping with it in various ways which usually involve either being overly dependent in relationships, avoiding close relationships; or some combination of those relational styles (going from dependent to avoidant) which creates inconsistent behaviors in relationships.

These relationship dysfunctions can affect many different types of relationships (personal, work , etc.) and other areas of life such as health and substance use. When a person feels insecure in relationships they also feel insecure in their own identity and sense of self. Then, everything can be thrown off course, and the world is a confusing place.

This “Attachment Disorder” is believed to affect at least half of the adult population. This high prevalence can account for the current divorce rate of over 52%, among other things. Some people have only a small degree of attachment issues, so the overall number of people affected to some degree is likely much higher than 50%.

Attachment Disorder is a fairly common diagnosis of children and can be effectively treated. Unfortunately the field of psychiatry does not officially recognize the disorder in adulthood, despite its obviously lingering and growing consequences after it has been left untreated in childhood; and despite the fact that  numerous clinicians and researchers do recognize it.

It can be very effectively treated in adulthood. First the disorder must be recognized by the affected individual. Next identify the specific relationship patterns that are problematic (avoidant, dependent, inconsistent). Then with professional help new rational thought patterns about self-identity and self-worth can be established, along with more realistic perspectives about people in general (e.g. “there are degrees to which you can trust people, and having a few faults is normal”). It is essential for new effective behavior patterns in relationships to be taught, so relationship re-education is needed.

Of course, if the root cause is on a physiological or neurological level, medical intervention is necessary as the first step in treatment. Also, if the root cause is severe trauma, then specialized treatment of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder must be primary.

In my own case, the etiology was fairly mixed and complex (many causes). It required very effective psychotherapy including Cognitive Behavior Therapy for irrational thinking, and EMDR therapy for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I required medical intervention for a lifelong severe illness. A vital component of my treatment (initiated by a secular Clinical Psychologist) was spiritual reprogramming through spiritual re-education, meditation and prayer in order to give me the ultimate in a secure, trusting close relationship with a Higher Power.

There are varying degrees of Attachment Disorder, from severe to mild. If you can identify with any degree of Attachment Disorder know that help is available from therapists who are familiar with Adult Attachment Disorder.

It’s really not your fault. You can get on with a much happier, effective, fulfilling life.

Christopher Knippers, Ph.D., 02/18/2019

The Genetics of Success

Success is something most people want to achieve in their lives, and it is defined differently by different cultures; but it generally involves a high degree of recognition for some accomplishment in a person’s career and/or personal life. Our United States culture honors those who become outstanding corporate leaders, athletes, and actors. Often, these successful icons write autobiographical books detailing how they became successful, and usually offering advice on how most anyone who has the desire for success can also achieve the same greatness that they achieved. Is this actually true?

Genetic research would suggest otherwise. The good fortune of having been born with the right genetic make-up can determine just how far a person can go in their lives and what they can accomplish. We are talking about resilience.

Everyone experiences some degree of stress throughout their lives. Some of this stress can be extreme enough to be categorized as “trauma.” Some people are able to bounce back from trauma, while others suffer crippling depression and/or anxiety. The degree to which someone bounces back is typically determined by genetics. Many people are even able to compensate for, or overcome debilitating physiological conditions due to the fact that other genetic factors can help them over-ride the disability. In many individuals even brain damage can be overcome because new neural pathways can form to compensate for the damaged neurological structures. Of course epigenetic or environmental factors interact with genetic factors to help determine a person’s resilience to stress of any kind, whether physiological or psychological.

The point is that people who achieve success despite overcoming great odds in their lives, whether they be environmental or physiological, have been given a significant advantage by genetic factors of which they might be completely unaware.

The lack of awareness of the role that their genetic good-fortune has played in their achievement can give successful people the false impression that they somehow did it on their own to a much greater degree than is actually true; and can cause them to hand out the advice to others that they too can achieve the same kind of success.

Another phenomenon can be explained by the genetic theory of success: Highly acclaimed successful people who unexpectedly kill themselves without giving any indication that they are in pain. Friends and family are often bewildered saying that they had no idea anything was wrong: “Robin seemed to be happy; Kate was her typical cheery self the day before when we went to lunch; Anthony was living his dream to the very last day.” If a person does not have the genetic stamina to handle success (which can be extremely stressful), their resilience can simply run out abruptly without warning. They continue trying all of the same strategies they have used most of their lives to keep going (cheerful attitude, etc.), but the sustaining underlying stamina is not there. It can come to a jarringly abrupt end, shocking even themselves.

From a scientific standpoint, I like the quote from the research study Psychobiology and Molecular Genetics of Resilience (Adriana Feder, Eric Nestler, Dennis Charney, 2010): “Complex interactions between an individual’s genetic make-up and his or her particular history of exposure to environmental stressors determine the degree of adaptability of neurochemical stress response systems to new adverse exposures, as well as the function of the neural circuitry involved in stress responses.”

Humans are genetically wired for certain drives, and for responses to life. Environmental and other epigenetic factors can intervene and alter certain behavioral responses to life, but the basic drives and response-patterns will still be there, as will certain inborn abilities.

We were not all meant to achieve success in the same ways. We certainly weren’t all meant for high recognition. I believe that everyone has unique strengths, weaknesses and abilities. Discover yours. Use that information to determine what you consider to be successful for yourself, not what some narcissistic Type A corporate CEO tells you you should consider success. Relax and enjoy being you.