Entrepreneurial Psychopathologies

by Arlen Meyers

Entrepreneurial Psychopathologies

The US Armed Forces has a problem with soldier suicide and depression.

In early 2013, the official website of the United States Department of Defense announced the startling statistic that the number of military suicides in 2012 had far exceeded the total of those killed in battle—an average of nearly one a day. A month later came an even more sobering statistic from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs: veteran suicide was running at 22 a day—about 8000 a year.

The situation became so dire that the U.S. Secretary of Defense called suicide in the military an “epidemic.”

Medicine has it’s problems too. It’s estimated that at least 400 U.S. doctors kill themselves every year. Many are struggling with depression, anxiety, or addiction.

Now, add to the list entrepreneurs. Depressed serial entrepreneurs are coming out of the closet and advocating for awareness and change.

Contrary to popular belief, poor self esteem is a component of some entrepreneurs that drives compensatory behaviors that are misinterpreted as egotistical, self-centered or narcissistic. The results are isolation, depression and loneliness or a feeling that they areimposters.

The commonality of these groups seems to be a “warrior mentality” that encourages soldiers, doctors and entrepreneurs to suck up and repress feelings of anxiety, inadequacy or depression, to “fake it till you make it” or to hide things for fear of retribution or adverse consequences. The military,medical and entrepreneurial cultures see those with self doubt as weak or cowardly.

In addition, at least for successful serial entrepreneurs who thrive on success, like to drive fast, take chances , make money and learn something along the way, their innate make up might make them susceptible to breakdowns. Few want to talk about the loneliness of success, but it is pervasive and the head count seems to be rising.

However, there are at least four personality types of entrepreneurs, and we all have a fall back pattern.

On the other hand, hypomanic, ADHD entrepreneurs are also coming out and turning their behavior into the ADHD Advantage. You can also be more creative is you stop paying attention so much. Research is finding that greater distractibility and a reduced ability to focus—what scientists call decreased cognitive control—is often associated with greater creativity in problem solving. But, being married to an ADHD entrepreneur can kill a marriage, so here are some coping tips for you both.

Here is how one CEO with dyslexia and ADHD runs his company. Here’s another.

If you think you have ADHD, here are some tips on how to deal with it.

If you have Asperger’s Syndrome, Peter Thiel wants to hire you. In her book, The Autistic Brain, Temple Grandin explains the positive side of autism and those with austistic spectrum disorders (ASD) or high function autistics (HFAs): 1) attention or an obsession to detail, 2) being able to see the forest from the trees and patterns others don’t see and 3) creativity that disregards and frequently challenges the convention wisdom or status quo.

In her new book, Andy Warhol was a Hoarder: Inside the Minds of History’s Great Personalities, medical and science journalist Claudia Kalb looks at twelve famous figures and weighs the evidence suggesting that each suffered from a different kind of mental health condition. The table of contents could be mistaken for the diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders.

One common way of assessing the presence of psychopathic traits in people is to use an assessment known as the Hare Psychopathy ChecklistHere’s a look at some of the traits it lists to see whether they can cause destruction or promotion in a work environment.

Or, maybe you are suffering from Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN).

Do You…

  1. Sometimes feel like you don’t belong when with your family or friends ?
  2. Pride yourself on not relying upon others ?
  3. Have difficulty asking for help ?
  4. Have friends or family who complain that you are aloof or distant ?
  5. Feel you have not met your potential in life ?
  6. Often just want to be left alone ?
  7. Secretly feel that you may be a fraud ?
  8. Tend to feel uncomfortable in social situations ?
  9. Often feel disappointed with, or angry at, yourself ?
  10. Judge yourself more harshly than you judge others ?
  11. Compare yourself to others and often find yourself sadly lacking?
  12. Find it easier to love animals than people ?
  13. Often feel irritable or unhappy for no apparent reason?
  14. Have trouble knowing what you’re feeling ?
  15. Have trouble identifying your strengths and weaknesses?
  16. Sometimes feel like you’re on the outside looking in ?
  17. Believe you’re one of those people who could easily live as a hermit ?
  18. Have trouble calming yourself ?
  19. Feel there’s something holding you back from being present in the moment?
  20. At times feel empty inside ?
  21. Secretly feel there’s something wrong with you ?
  22. Struggle with self-discipline ?

And then there is loneliness and workaholism. A workaholic is a work-obsessed individual who gradually becomes emotionally crippled and addicted to power and control in a compulsive drive to gain approval and public recognition of success. These driven men and women live a Gerbil-wheel, adrenalin-pumping existence rushing from plan A to B, narrowly-fixated on some ambitious goal or accomplishment. Eventually, nothing or no one else really matters.

In addition, there are other other unsung heros. One of the most critical (and most unsung) roles in an entrepreneurial company is not the founder or owner—it’s the role of that person’s significant other or spouse. This has always been true, but the challenges (and importance) of these individuals is even greater and more crucial in the challenging business climate we currently face.

“If an entrepreneurial company fails, it can often take the family’s finances down with it, which can lead to marital troubles or even trigger divorce.”

Everyone pays the price for their choices, whether they accept it or not. But, our infatuation with successful entrepreneurs comes at a price we would rather not see, let alone accept and the results are soldiers fighting the business wars and medical students coming home in body bags.

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Arlen MyersArlen Meyers, MD, MBA is the President and CEO of the Society of Physician Entrepreneurs at www.sopenet.org

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