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The tears of a clown

The sad passing of Robin Williams reminds us of the paradox that is true of far too many comedians; those that make us happy are often the saddest of all.

For me, this paradox hints at a deeper issue with the way we see mental health. In fact, the problem isn’t ‘mental’ at all. In most cases there is nothing wrong with the ‘mentation’ of these people. The problem is an emotional one.

Too many human beings simply don’t know how to make themselves feel happy. Even if they are supremely talented, they are often consumed by feelings of inadequacy, deficiency, guilt and shame. These feelings frequently lead to drug and alcohol problems, but those problems are just a symptom of the underlying emotional cause. The fundamental issue is our inability to regulate our emotions, to make ourselves feel worthy. Robin Williams was clearly loved by so many people and he made so many others happy, but that didn’t help him. He was aware of it, but in the end it didn’t make any difference.

The fact that other people think you’re wonderful doesn’t help. It counts for zero. It’s how we feel about ourselves that matters. Comedians are often drawn to their profession because they feel the need for the approval of others. But it fails to solve the deeper emotional problem. The problem is internal and can’t be solved by the others’ approval. The audience’s laughter at your set may make you feel temporarily great, but it makes no difference to those internal feelings.

The real saviour is not that audience, nor our colleagues or bosses, but ourselves. We have to recognise that depression is an internal emotional issue and not ‘mental’ illness. Once we understand that, then it’s clear that the real focus should be on learning to change how we feel.

It’s important that as a society we understand the true nature of the problem. Too many great ‘clowns’ have been taken too early, not just as a result of suicide, but also as a result of drug and alcohol abuse.

Comedians should be the happiest of all. This is not an unrealistic ambition. With internal emotional regulation, they not only have the ability to bring joy to others, but also to themselves.

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Dr Alan Watkins

Alan is recognised as an international expert on leadership and human performance. He has a broad mix of commercial, academic, scientific and technological abilities.


One Response to “The tears of a clown”

  1. dukundaneDukundane Damas
    November 23rd, 2014 @ 10:35 pm

    Hello , i agree that sometime getting fun of yourself can be a temporary remedy , but i do believe also that mental incapacity to deal as normal as others with depressing or emotional defect exist. Not everything is conscious , if the natural way fail the conscious and the trained mind can only fix some.

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