The trauma from success

Oct 19, 2017

Things are going great for you. After years of working towards your education (wedding day, writing a book, completing a marathon, etc.) you reached that goal and it’s off your to do list. Yet, after weeks of freedom from that activity you’re at the very least sad most of your days.

So just maybe your recent successful accomplishment might be your problem? You might ask; “Have I entered into the area of having to deal with trauma of success?” Now this sounds like an oxymoron, does it not?

Throughout my 30-plus-years of behavioral health work I have heard, but I didn’t realize what I was hearing, sad stories which came about only after a post successful event. But it was only after I read philosopher, psychologist, medical doctor, William James’ (1842-1910) “Our hours of triumph is what brings the void.” that I began to clearly hear and to understand what was contributing to my patients acute sadness. Now with James’s tool in my behavioral health treatment arsenal my clients and I are making a lot more headway in alleviating my patient’s sadness.

John Paul Getty, an avid reader, must have read William James’ views about this new discovered disorder, because in his 1956 book, How to Have Confidence and Power in Dealing with People, Getty discussed a concept he called “economic suicide.”

In my view Getty extremely exaggerated when he lead his readers to believe: “…tens of thousands of Americans take their lives each year… after they scrambled for and achieved financial success…”.

This world-renowned entrepreneur hit the answer to this suicidal “epidemic” when he implied that all of us need goals. So when you are about to reach one goal you must immediately set other ones. So the key to fighting off the trauma of success is to NOT be content when you finish a major project, but rather you must without a hesitation set another cherished target.

The ideal term for this void, trauma of success, was apparently coined by Tom Hopkins when he discussed this type of trauma in his 1982 best seller The Official Guide To Success.

At this point I will let Buzz Aldrin, the astronaut who was the second person to put his footprints into the soil of the moon, tell what he personally learned about the trauma of success.

According to this national hero in his book, Return To Earth, Buzz Aldrin couldn’t remember a time when did not desire to go to the moon. And maybe Buzz was predestined to travel to the moon since his mother’s maiden name was Moon.

After a distinguished fighter pilot career Buzz applied to be a candidate in the new forming astronaut program, but sadly his application was rejected. But being a fighter and a determined person he didn’t give up this goal.

So Aldrin, believing that a doctorate degree would be his answer to becoming a spaceman, applied to and was accepted at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) where he eventually received his Doctorate in Astronautics. Then with his doctorate in hand Buzz resubmitted his packet to NASA and this time it was accepted.

Our space history is full of information about his Apollo 11th July 1969 moon expedition. What this history usually leaves out is that soon after Buzz walked back on earth, he mentally “crashed and burned”.

Buzz’s traumatic reaction to his greatest success lead him, under an also known as (AKA), to being hospitalized and it was under his new identity that this space hero started his eventual successful mental health treatment plan.

Buzz now tells us he reached the highest of his goals, by walking on the moon, but what he didn’t do was set any goals before he touched back down on our mother earth.

So with Buzz’s advice today when one of my granddaughters stares into the heavens, then points to Jupiter and says: “Grandpa Chuck, I am going to go to Jupiter”. I will acknowledging her goal then reply: “Yes honey, you may go to Jupiter. But what are you going to do when you get back home?”

Darn right, hopefully we all will inoculate ourselves from the trauma of success. We can do so by realizing our target is not the one in front of us; rather it is the hundreds of goals past that destination.

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