The Curse of the Capable: The Hidden Challenges to a Balanced, Healthy, High-Achieving Life

The Curse of the Capable: The Hidden Challenges to a Balanced, Healthy, High-Achieving Life

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Why high achievers so often struggle to find true happiness—and how they can learn to balance performance with inner peace.
When we look at outwardly successful, capable people, we often presume that they must experience satisfaction with their lives. We can make the same mistake when we view ourselves—wondering why we’re plagued by anxieties, self-doubt, exhaustion, or even addictions and health problems when it seems like we “should” be happy.
This insightful book shows how the stories we create about ourselves early in life—stories that can often include some fictional elements—can have a dramatic impact on our current situation. The beliefs and habits we’ve developed can even lead into a downward spiral, as feelings of being overwhelmed or disappointed start to affect our performance in life, causing a crash in self-esteem.
With The Curse of the Capable, you can start to untangle the hidden hardships that plague so-called high achievers—and find the crucial balance between taking care of business and taking care of yourself.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781614482024
Publisher: Morgan James Publishing
Publication date: 11/03/2009
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 285
File size: 1 MB

About the Author

Arthur P. Ciaramicoli, Ed.D., Ph.D., is a licensed clinical psychologist who has been treating clients for more than 30 years. He is a member of the American Psychological Association and the Massachusetts Psychological Association. Currently in private practice, Dr. Ciaramicoli has been on the faculty of Harvard Medical School for several years, lecturer for the American Cancer Society, Chief Psychologist at Metrowest Medical Center, and director of the Metrowest Counseling Center and of the Alternative Medicine division of Metrowest Wellness Center in Framingham, Massachusetts. In addition to treating patients, Dr. Ciaramicoli is a consultant to the Johns Hopkins Civility Initiative, and has lectured at Harvard Health Services, Boston College Counseling Center, the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore as well as being a consultant to several major corporations in the Boston area. Dr. Ciaramicoli is also a seasoned media expert. He has appeared on CNN, CNNfn, Fox News Boston, Comcast TV, New England Cable News, Good Morning America Weekend, The O’Reilly Report, and other shows. He has been a weekly radio guest on Your Healthy Family on Sirius Satellite Radio and Holistic Health Today, and has been interviewed on The People’s Pharmacy, The Gary Null Show, and more than two dozen other radio programs airing on NPR, XM Radio, and numerous AM and FM stations.

Read an Excerpt


The Story You Wrote with a Biased Pen — Your Novel

The nature of your thinking and how you feel about yourself determines how you live.

We are born spirits that soar — light, playful, joyous and blissful. But inevitably, many of us are dragged down by the nitty-gritty of life. We take on roles and responsibilities, overload on stress and worry and crumble beneath the weight of experience and circumstance. By the time we reach adulthood, our personal gravity can become so strong that we can lose sight of our own capacity for happiness and fulfillment. When peace of mind diminishes, we forget what it feels like to feel free; we are overwhelmed with the responsibilities we have assumed and our lifestyle follows suit.

Henry David Thoreau once wrote, "The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them." I echo this sentiment; it feeds everything I do in my personal and professional life.

Desperation (quiet or otherwise) is the psychological antithesis of liberation. It is born of early experiences that bind our feelings, needs and drives through guilt and shame, thus creating tension and anxiety. This all inhibits the ability to genuinely relate with others and promotes a downward trend in various ways.

These experiences compromise our development and limit healthy relationships with others and ourselves. And the cycle goes around and spirals downward until the story changes or willpower runs out.

Is Your Story Supporting You?

Each of us has a story about ourselves that we have written (so to speak) that defines our experience and for most people defines who we are. This story is just that — a story.

For some, this biography is more accurate and positive, based on what actually happened in genuine relationships with others; and from it they learned to interpret events in a constructive way. Even if a particular event is not positive and seemingly negative (as many events in our lives can be), the story created is supportive as it is viewed as a situation in life, not as a self-reflection. This enhances how a person thinks and relates. In other words, bad things can happen and not be a reflection of who we are or what we are worth.

For others, the opposite takes place, and these unfortunate life experiences are interpreted negatively, greatly influencing how a person thinks and relates to others. Because they don't have supportive people helping them to see the difference between situational and personal causes, they create a biased story that does not support a balanced, healthy, high-achieving life.

A positive, self-reinforcing story requires that the key people in our early lives have consistently provided us with empathy — the ability to understand and respond to the unique experiences of another. The result of many empathic interchanges is an understanding self-voice. However, if we are not provided with this type of relating, the story written becomes a novel — a fictional story that we use to cope with difficult circumstances.

The Key to a Supportive Story

One of the central themes of this book is the value of being in genuine relationships with others, and for one simple reason: experiencing empathy in relationships with others is the means by which we grow and get to know ourselves.

Empathy is an ability that is absolutely essential in being able to understand others and maneuver through the minefield of relationships. When received, it allows us to form a truthful picture of ourselves, thus being the key component in developing a resilient sense of self.

If empathy was or is still not present in our lives and we are not in authentic relationships with others (and ourselves, for that matter), the likelihood of a fragile sense of self is high. This brings with it emotional challenges, because emotional fitness (which develops in relationships with others) never developed with enough strength to cope effectively.

To compensate for this, we build a cover-up story to relate and appear stronger than we really are which leads to the cultural addiction discussed in the next chapter.

Each chapter in a fictional story about ourselves leads to more inaccuracy and becomes the seeds for low self-esteem, poor self image, errant thinking and perceiving and, inevitably, what you'll come to know as "the downward trend."

The downward trend happens when dynamics like these, lead to negative consequences that accumulate to the point where it becomes progressively more difficult to change course — like a plane going into a downward spiral.

Living overwhelmed leads to exhaustion and fatigue which often result in the overweight condition and health complications. This typically happens emotionally and manifests physically, depending on the circumstances.

The central point of this chapter is this: your story, how you are thinking, is the driving force behind how you live your life. A false or unsupportive story does not serve you, because what is in doubt haunts you and drives you — particularly the unresolved emotional experiences that you cope with by creating more chapters in your novel which reinforce your lifestyle.

The concept of "story" is as powerful as it is because contained within it is the entire idea of identity — your drives, wants, desires, needs, emotional pains, traumas, etc. Even your values, beliefs and rules about life and who you think you are all wrap up nicely in your story.

As a novel, these character aspects of your personality don't get fair representation. They become skewed, exaggerated, minimized, repressed and, in some cases, downright denied. All this becomes your shadow, and for many it's a dark shadow. Addiction is born out of this disorder as the need to cover up grows.

Your Story Determines How You Think and Live

Change your story and you can change how you think, feel and live. This can happen in subtle ways every moment of every day as you interpret experiences accurately and positively with exciting and varied outcomes.

To identify your story, listen to yourself speak about anything in your life — about yourself, others, situations, events, your family, past experiences, your health, etc. These are all parts of your story.

What you hear will reveal your values and beliefs, your rules about life, past emotional pains and traumas, needs, wants and desires. Even greater, you'll begin to notice how you've positioned yourself in life and how your experiences are based on those fixed perceptions. In other words, your story is reinforcing the very position you either want to move away from or move toward.

One of my clients, a former professional athlete, uses a simple athletic metaphor to help visualize the process of changing his novel to a nonfiction story. He says it is akin to coaches preparing a team for a football game. The coaches create a story based on assumptions of how the game will be played and won (fiction) beforehand. At halftime, they rewrite the story based on the actual experience of playing the game (the truth,) essentially editing the plan based on actual experience. My client views the process as first-half thinking vs. second-half thinking.

Getting free of your novel story and giving life to a more accurate and joyful view of you, in spite of the seemingly ugly truths you may believe define you, is the purpose of this book. My goal is to help you establish greater peace of mind so you can actually live a balanced, healthy, high-achieving life.

Your Story Determines How You Take Care of Yourself

The reason we achievers tend to not take care of ourselves very well is ultimately based on our stories about who we are and how we are. Achievement gives us a feeling of control and personal power and seems to deliver the love and respect we all want. Yet, it's easy to understand why there is never enough time and space to take care of ourselves. Given the hectic pace of modern-day life, we can't navigate effectively if we're constantly driven to perform

High achievers in particular don't want to be seen as weak. Meanwhile, nothing will strengthen their sense of self, abilities and capabilities more than having an honest and authentic story about themselves that is relatively balanced and healthy, which they can continually refine and share with others.

The pace of life today is a cultural force that greatly influences our stories and whether or not (and how) we take care of ourselves.

Have you ever noticed your tendency to push on in the face of exhaustion? What aspect of your story drives you to press on that is clearly wearing you down? What needs to change?

Ironically, true strength is the seemingly paradoxical combination of vulnerability and confidence. This combination is attractive because it's honest and authentic. Nobody is perfect (or close to it), and we all have needs that must be met to a reasonable extent — or else we descend into a downward trend. This requires that we acknowledge our needs, which also requires that we reveal our vulnerabilities. We all know this as a basic truth.

Yet those who are driven by an unsupportive story, covering up what seems to be weakness, will drive themselves incessantly until they are forced to stop. Their story reinforces this way of being, and it stems from a fragile sense of self.

You Are Not Alone

Many people have stories based on the dysfunctions of the past caused by a lack of empathic resonance from the important people in their lives and the inevitable fact that they didn't always have access to the support they needed (and many still don't have today). The consequences of this prevent them from forming a true picture of who they are and what they are realistically capable of..

Men in particular (who stereotypically do not express their emotions, or better said, those aspects of their story that are emotional — the truer story) suffer from lack of authentic expression and therefore have greatly biased novels.

Conventionally, women tend to relate with greater emotion and empathy toward one another and therefore experience more authentic expression. This cultural story which reflects our beliefs about women gives them this permission, even though as a gender they are not free of the hidden challenges that make up the curse.

Women tend to cover up because of other personal and cultural stories that say they must take care of everyone else first and be the people-pleaser. These gender stereotypes embedded in our culture cause much pain, guilt and tension, as you will see in my client stories throughout this book.

There is value in a great story. Embellishment is part of the human condition and adds spice to life as well as communication. But we must balance the cost of maintaining a story that does not have its roots in an acknowledged reality that is not serving us or those around us.

Your Story: It's What's Driving You

Even if you are famous, it's likely no book has ever been written about YOU. I am not talking about your achievements, but about your true essence.

Remember, our experience of the past is all a story, and our stories represent the many aspects of us listed above (and more). The question is, whether you are relating a novel or a biography to yourself and others. What sense of self do you want to live with? You are in control of the pen.

You can author your story any way you want. But it's best as a biography, not as a novel, and it's best to do so in a way that enables you to live in as balanced and healthy as possible in order to realize your aspirations.

If we don't express our own needs, wants and desires in genuine relationships with others, the disease to please others to make up for what we are not getting becomes rampant. Covered-up emotions lead to heightened sensitivity, and our neediness is hidden but never far behind. It then fuels overachievement for the love and respect we feel we're not getting. Ultimately the story you are creating will determine and form your personality.

A fictional story will create a negative experience. If you have low self-esteem or a poor self image, think for a moment about how this will affect your lifestyle — how you think and live in the process of achieving your goals.

If the internal story you are telling yourself says something like, "I need to be the best, the most, the prettiest, the fittest, etc.," so that you'll gain the love and respect you crave, your lifestyle will likely be unbalanced, perhaps obsessed in a particular area of your life at the great expense of others.

Chances are good you will over or under achieve depending on how you seek the love and respect you want. Underachievers often seek love and respect through sympathy; overachievers seek it through the awe their achievements inspire from others, yet neither way fulfills us. Since achievement in our culture is rewarded so highly, it is no surprise that we choose overachievement more times than not. It has become the story of our culture, but it's also part of the societal cover-up. It is also why addictive living is so rampant.

Your story reflects what's driving you. So if you have unmet needs, wants, desires, covered-up emotions and unresolved issues, look no further than your story to discover why you are thinking and living the way you are.

The Deeper View of Yourself — How Our Stories Emerged

The emotional trials we experience in our lives form the prism through which we remember our past, experience the present and anticipate the future. If that prism is distorted, we lose our ability to accurately view our lives. For example, a person who is unable to resolve the challenge of regret, is more likely to feel pessimistic about the future and less likely to take advantage of opportunities if he or she believes there is a potential for additional regret. Rampant expectations can lead to workaholic tendencies, which can corrode into weak relationships with a spouse, children, or friends.

As we grew up, we looked to the only mirrors we had in our lives, foremost our parents, our siblings, early teachers, coaches and extended family. With each experience, we took account of ourselves. Slowly, but surely, we composed a story, chapter after chapter, based on the ideas we formed about how we believed these important people perceived us.

If our parents' emotional needs went unmet, it's likely our emotional needs went unmet too, particularly in early childhood. In essence we became hardwired in a manner that biased the way we learn about and perceive ourselves, largely through the eyes of others.

We formed deep-seated views of ourselves, partly dependent on the clarity or lack of clarity of others. This is precisely why attractive people believe they are fat and unappealing; intelligent people think they're less than bright; athletic people think they are not gifted; and the beat goes on.

We grow up not realizing that our personal story is partly based on fiction, a novel consisting of ideas about ourselves, created by the biases we absorbed from the people around us. The father who wanted to be the star athlete becomes overly critical of his son's attempts to throw a ball; the mother who wanted to be celebrity beautiful can't help critiquing her young daughter's attire over and over again. The first chapter of our novel reads, "I am less than" and this results in trying "to be more than" which is often where our stories around achievement emerge.

In this age of achievement, where the focus on performance is pervasive, if we are operating from a fragile sense of self, performance and achievement become an addiction, a cover-up and futile attempt to get what we long for to feel whole.

They Are, in Part, Paid Forward

We are all born without a sense of self. Our sense of self emerges as we experience the world. Our view of ourselves is created through mirroring. If our parents' needs, feelings and drives were bound by shaming experiences in their own lives, the way they related to us was affected.

Essentially, the guilt and tension was paid forward and passed on (most of the time unconsciously and without any negative intent) by our parents.

Despite the likelihood of their best intentions to do right by us or what's best for us, we were nonetheless looking at a cracked mirror and were getting a distorted view of ourselves.

If we looked in a less dysfunctional mirror, based on healthier relationships early on with empathic communications between people, our perception of ourselves would have been more accurate and clear. But few of us had that luxury.

Our parents had parents too; whatever their experience was, chances are it was passed on to us.

Early on in life we can't see for ourselves, and by the time we can, our eyes are biased so that we can't or don't see objectively. Michael, a client of mine, recently came to a session quite dejected.

He was very disappointed in his fourth flying lesson. "I just messed up the takeoff. I can't regulate the plane the way the instructor taught. It felt humiliating. I couldn't move my feet fast enough or in the right direction."


Excerpted from "The Curse of the Capable"
by .
Copyright © 2010 Dr. Arthur P. Ciaramicoli.
Excerpted by permission of Morgan James Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

FOREWORD by Phil Simms, Super Bowl MVP, NFL Sports Analyst, Former New York Giant,
INTRODUCTION — What Is Wrong With Me?,
CHAPTER 1 The Story You Wrote with a Biased Pen: Your Novel,
CHAPTER 2 How to Achieve for the Right Reasons: Performance Addiction,
CHAPTER 3 A Chemical High: Expectations,
CHAPTER 4 Liberate Yourself from the Past: Regrets and Unfulfilled Dreams,
CHAPTER 5 Loosen the Reins and Lift the Burden: Control,
CHAPTER 6 Moving Forward in the Face of Despair: Fear,
CHAPTER 7 Learning to Read between the Lines: Intimacy,
CHAPTER 8 The More You Love, the More You Get: Community,
CHAPTER 9 Your Best is Good Enough: The Religion of Perfection,
CHAPTER 10 Relax; You Don't Have to Have All the Answers: Pathological Certainty,
CHAPTER 11 How Your Longings Pick Who You Love: Image Love,
CHAPTER 12 Winning the Balancing Act: Exceptional Mediocrity,
CHAPTER 13 It's Not All About You: The Barriers to Empathy,
CHAPTER 14 How to Be What the Situation Calls for: The Dimmer Switch,
CHAPTER 15 Courage in the Midst of Fear: A Resilient Sense of Self,
CHAPTER 16 With an Open Heart and Open Mind: The Spiritual Learner,
CHAPTER 17 Final Thoughts,

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