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by
Helen Smith

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March 31, 2012 - 6:30 am

I read with interest John Hawkins’ informative piece on the Lifetyle blog entitled “7 Ways Wildly Successful People Screw Up Their Lives.” He offers some good advice such as don’t marry poorly. Good idea. However, I had to stop and think about the advice he offered on Howard Hughes by saying he screwed up his life by “Withdrawing into Mental Illness:”

But physical injuries from an airplane crash ruined his health, he began to give in to mental illness, and eventually Hughes withdrew from the world and surrounded himself with “yes men” who did whatever he asked, no matter how weird. Over time Hughes, who was one of the most famous and important men in the country, grew so isolated that many people concluded he was terminally ill or even dead. To the contrary, Hughes declined further into mental illness, paranoia, and quirkiness. In time his wife, supposedly the only woman he ever loved, filed for divorce. She could only talk to him by phone for years. After Hughes died, one of the most admired men of the last century looked so unrecognizable that investigators needed fingerprints to identify him because his 6’4″ frame had withered down to 90 pounds and he had a shaggy beard along with grotesque, long fingernails.

After a bad marriage or a betrayal from a friend, it can be easy to lose faith in people and withdraw to keep from being hurt. Big mistake. You can listen to all the songs you want telling you that you’re a rock, but that doesn’t make it so. Human beings are social animals and we need connections with others for health and happiness.

First, I don’t know that people want to “withdraw into mental illness.” I think sometimes, it takes them over. But I get the gist of what he is saying, reach out and get some help. However, one of the problems with the mentally ill is that the help they need is sometimes hard to find. Reaching out to the wrong friend or acquaintance can sometimes make a person worse, so it makes sense in that case not to reach out to those people.

And okay, to some degree we are social animals, but some of us are more social than others. For example, in books like Introvert Power: Why Your Inner Life Is Your Hidden Strength, the author makes the point that a private homelife can sometimes provide comfort and inner peace. I remember in graduate school (at the New School for Social Research in New York), I had one class where we discussed whether it was healthy for people to be hermits. Some people said “yes,” and some “no” but it wasn’t a unanimous consensus that people were social animals. Even the psychologist professor wasn’t so sure. Today, everyone is told to interact with each other because it’s “healthy.” Maybe yes, maybe no, but for those with demons in their head, the wrong kind of interaction may make things worse, not better. The right kind with a person they can trust to help? Usually priceless.

(Thumbnail on Lifestyle blog homepage based on a modified Shutterstock.com image.)

Helen Smith is a psychologist specializing in forensic issues in Knoxville, Tennessee, and blogs at Dr. Helen.
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