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The Power to Change One’s Mind: The Case of George Sanders

“The mind is its own place, and in itself, can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven…” John Milton, Paradise Lost

Many claim they have no regrets but this assertion begs the question as to whether it’s possible to be human, with the errant tendencies we have, and not experience some degree of regret. This would be like claiming that there was never an basis for saying ‘I’m sorry’ – words we are all disposed to using to get ourselves out of a difficult situation or to find relief from the stain of guilt or shame. Regrets can come in many forms – we can regret what we did, what was done to us, what didn’t happen and the consequences of what we did. Because we are human and fallible, regrets are unavoidable.

George Sanders was an actor best known for his role in films ‘Rebecca’ (1940), ‘All about Eve’(1950) and Ivanhoe’(1952). He won an Oscar for his performance in ‘All about Eve’ which catapulted him to the heights of fame. 

a question worth considering is whether the desire to act masks a desire to suppress or even destroy the self? We tend to heap praise upon those who excel at this artform, yet it may be indicative of a broken self-image. It may seem idealistic and  therapeutic – to be paid to assume the minds of others, though temporarily. It may seem to make living in your own mind, with your own thoughts, more tolerable. but you cannot escape yourself forever; it would be far more effective to do the work of changing one’s own mind.

To be fair, the fact that he had seven psychiatrists, provides ample evidence that he was aware of his need for such inner work through self-analysis. In his memoirs, he described himself as a “professional cad” – an eminently disagreeable person. But a disagreeable person who is not concerned with the impact his behaviour has on others and on his own life, would not take a bold leap into talking therapy in the first place.

Behind the cool, calm and collected veneer was a man in extreme inner turmoil. In his memoirs, David Niven wrote that Sanders had confided in him in 1937 that he would kill himself when he was 65. Born in 1906, he would only have been 31 years at the time.  [https://brothers-ink.com/2016/02/george-sanders-35-year-planned-suicide/#:~:text=He%20was%20found%20dead%20in,worries%20in%20this%20sweet%20cesspool] . Did this deep knowing stem from a fear of getting old and fear of loss of health – identified by Napolean Hill as two of the six primary fears. Was his suicide a self-fulfilling prophecy? Later in life, he would suffered from dementia, declining health including a minor stroke shortly before his death, depression triggered by recurrent losses of love ones – he was faced with the death of his wife, mother and brother within a year, failing investments, and all his four marriages had failed. In the months leading up to his death, he consumed alcohol in excess.

Could it be that when he saw what life was like, he made a pact with death – that unless life improved, he would indeed take his own life? Indeed, life will always supply endless reasons to kill oneself. There will always be challenges, crises and disasters. As trite as it may sound, it is not what happens on the outside that matters, but what happens on the inside. john Milton, the author of ‘Paradise Lost’ wrote, “the mind is its own place, and in itself, can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.”

He wrote in one of his suicide notes – “Dear world, I am leaving because I am bored. I feel I have lived long enough. I am leaving you with your worries in this a sweet cesspool. Good luck.” Apparently he wrote three of them. This was an indication that he was a man who wanted to be heard. But is it really possible to be bored to death? Consultant Psychiatrist, Raj Persaud, would nod in the affirmative as he contends  that boredom may be a pathological condition. He writes, “boredom is more profound that simply a lack of stimulation…The problem is not finding something to do but finding a reason for doing anything at all.”

Dr. Joseph E. Barmack, psychologist an pioneer in human engineering and systems analysis, defined boredom as, “a tendency to revert to sleep due to inadequate motivation to stay awake.”( ‘A Definition of Boredom: A reply to Mr. Berman’, The American Journal of Psychology, Vol. 52, No. 3 (Jul., 1939), pp. 467-471) “A state of boredom is caused principally by a physiological reversion to the sleep level due to inadequate motivation during the operation of a task set”

There are certain personalities who are prone to boredom. The fact that he framed his reason for suicide as boredom suggests that it took a lot to stir his emotions. From the outside looking in, his life seemed anything but boring. In reporting on his death, entertainment Weekly described him as a “a man who had everything…” at least on the surface; yet happiness obviously eluded him.  

Suicide ideation does not have to become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Really motivated people think they are not doing enough. Sanders may have been one of these high achievers whose achievements just never satisfied him. When high fliers and celebrities are lauded for their achievements yet they remain unfulfilled, it can create a cognitive dissonance that becomes hard to resolve. They may tell themselves – ‘Here I’m with everything that most people want, yet I am not happy. what else is there? Perhaps the answer for Sanders would have been to give it all up, and start from scratch. He may have cherished inner hopes and dreams that he did not have the courage to pursue. Fame can stigmatise and pidgeon-hole the famous such that they feel helpless to break free from the cage of public expectation. The fact that Sanders went on a binge-drinking escapade in the months leading up to his suicide reveals the heightened inner conflict  he experienced prior to his demise.  No doubt he toyed with whether or not to go ahead with his suicidal plans. Even at the eleventh hour, just moments before he downed an overdose of Barbituates, he had the power to change his mind. Perhaps, having made a mess of his own life, he could have resolved to live for others, or simply walked away from his fame and its trappings of wealth and status, and started life afresh. His legacy is a sobering reminder that we all have this power. 

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AeroSlim
5 months ago

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