History is filled with tales of great men and women and their triumphs. But rarely do we get a look into one of the largest factors that made them great, their struggles. Specifically their internal, lesser-known struggles, that shaped how they saw the world around them and thus, allowed them to approach changing the world in a unique way.
Dr. Gail Saltz has devoted countless hours to examining some of history’s most prominent figures from the inside out in what is known as a “psychobiography”. Dr. Saltz is a Clinical Associate Professor of Psychiatry at the New York Presbyterian Hospital Weill Cornell School of Medicine and a psychoanalyst with the New York Psychoanalytic Institute. Her work has been featured on CNN, Good Morning America, The Oprah Winfrey Show, and more! Recently Gail sat down with The Science of Success Podcast with Matt Bodnar and shared some of the results of her “psychobiographies” to give us a look inside some of history’s most well-known figures heads.
“Close to half of Americans struggle with some sort of mental health issue” explains Gail. “In my psychobiography series, we look at iconic figures and sort of what made them tick…what shaped them into the person that they ultimately became.” By studying these figures in this way we get a peek into their view of the world. Not only that but “normal” people can find comfort in the idea that even these great figures were far from perfect. “These struggles, not only did they overcome them, but often what they are remembered for in history that we find so astonishing is in some ways a direct result of the thing they struggled with.”
Many do not know this but one of our country’s greatest presidents Abraham Lincoln waged a lifelong battle with depression. His melancholy and quiet reflective nature is well documented throughout his life. It was this internal battle however that gave him the ability to empathize and be more accepting of others, just as he had had to learn to be more accepting of himself. “The ability to really tap into what other people are thinking and feeling and being very sensitive to that helped Lincoln to be the kind of president that he was,” notes Gail. It was learning to be accepting and forgiving of himself that helped Lincoln guide our country through one of the hardest times in the history of our nation.
Gail points out, “People with depression are often seen as kind of romantic figures, really pondering, really thoughtful…but it really can cause terrible suffering as well. But on the flip side, Lincoln’s ability to tap into what other people were thinking and really be attuned to that allowed him to bring in political partners and work with other groups and not erect a wall but instead extend himself and stand in other people’s shoes in a unique way”
History is filled with figures whose internal struggles in some ways helped them to change the world from Einstein, Vincent Van Gogh, and even Leonardo Da Vinci. Gail is quick to point out that while these figures were able to use their struggles to their advantage, they lived in a different time. If you are struggling with something serious be sure to seek medical evaluation and potential treatment.
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