Saturday, March 7, 2009

Toxic Success

A psychoneuroimmunologist is a psychologist who specializes in the study of the brain’s interaction with the body’s immune system.

In other words, the mind’s affects on the body.

Dr. Paul Pearsall, one of the world’s leading psychoneuroimmunologists, is the author of 15 books, including TOXIC SUCCESS, a term he uses to describe a condition that comes from the notion that to be successful it’s necessary to get things done quickly, to be number one and to win. He contends certain people are killing themselves with success.

Dr. Pearsall conducted a 10-year clinical research project focused on 100 people considered to be highly successful. He discovered that “not one of them was happy.”

They were all afflicted with a pattern he dubbed “Toxic Success Syndrome” (TSS), in which the trappings of success conceal a disassociated personality characterized by someone who is unable to enjoy their success, unable to give their full attention to the present, and incapable of true intimacy.

These aggressive go-getters had achieved recognition for their creativity and daring but seemed unable to reap the rewards of their achievements. The major problem, according to the study, was the constant drive to get more and never be happy with what one had obtained. This leads to a “mass affection deficit disorder, too busy to love, too tired to care.”

This is different than being a type-A personality or a workaholic. It’s a matter of being in the present.

Those with Toxic Success Syndrome were found to be distant, detached and distracted individuals. At work, they felt guilty for not being at home, and when at home, they felt guilty for not being at work.

Toxic success is the kind of success that leaves you drained and tired and sick, where there is always something better around the next corner, as compared to the type of success that makes you feel good and energizes you.

According to Dr. Pearsall, one way to tell if you suffer from toxic success is to ask yourself if the person who knows you the best would consider you a joy to live with every day.

Personally, I’m not so sure that’s a valid test. I know lots of people who aren’t a joy to be with but the only success they could claim would be successfully tying their shoes.

Plus, I'm apparently not often such a joy to be with either. I live alone, with no neighbors, in the boondocks miles from a small town in the middle of nowhere. There's a reason for my self-imposed exile (the serenity of solitude) but it has nothing to do with my overwhelming success in life.

The antidote for toxic success is not to change your behavior but to change your mind.

You must put an end to psychological absenteeism.

You must go with the flow and always live within the present moment.

You must Be Here Now.

I’ve never had a problem with toxic success. I learned long ago that success was basically a function of personal contentment. If you're happy you're successful, not the other way around.

When I worked long hours, full-speed ahead, made lots of money and had lots of nice things, I was mostly unhappy.

When I gave up the rat race, mellowed out, lived a simple life and struggled to become a writer, I was mostly happy. Broke but happy. I was doing what I wanted to do, at my own pace, answering to no one.

Basically, I’m a non-toxic pseudo-success. A struggling writer is a struggling writer, occasionally doing other things to survive such as teaching college computer courses. Just because the rest of the world hasn’t discovered my writing doesn’t make me a loser, it just means the rest of the world hasn’t caught up with me.

In the eyes of the rest of the world, I’m probably a failure. But in my mind, most of the rest of the world is insane and I’m a success. I've followed my bliss and made it work, while the rest of the world is caught in the never-ending trap of credit and consumption, feverishly toiling at an unpleasant job in order to acquire things they mostly don't even need and/or can't afford.

Follow your bliss.

Live within the now.

The sacred journey of the soul across the universe of existence is a journey inward.

Quote for the Day – "My purpose is to be awake in this dream of life; to be free from the unnecessary suffering that arises from compulsive thinking and the limits of the conditioned mind; to be open to the infinite creative wow of every now! I accept this as an impersonal but completely intimate directive from my spirit. This awareness has given my life a sense of mission...." Intiana (Technician of the Sacred Channel of Attunement)

Bret Burquest is a former award-winning columnist and author of four novels. He lives in the Ozark Mountains with a dog named Buddy Lee and enough success to be free from debt. His blogs appear on several websites, including

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