While Richard Nixon–diagnosed as mentally healthy was ill equipped to deal with Watergate crisis. Similarly, the leaders like Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill, Mahatama Gandhi and even George W. Bush were bracketed as manics.
By Dr Ghayur Ayub
Three hormones – Dopamine, Prolactin and Oxytocine – play an important role in one's emotional make-up and crisis management. Individually, they swing our mood up and down according to their properties in sexual or asexual ways. Thus, separately or in combination, they are responsible for making us feel good and high or vice versa. In this way, we enjoy the pleasure of power control and the associated feeling of grandeur. When such feeling declines because of fall in the relevant hormone, we go into aloofness or even depression which in turn effects our sense of judgement.
Dopamine is known as the reward hormone. It's excess causes anxiety, compulsion, unhealthy risk-taking, sexual fetishes, gambling, aggression, psychosis, schizophrenia, and addiction, while its deficiency causes depression, aloofness, poor libido, loss of remorse about personal behaviour, antisocial behaviour, lack of ambition and poor drive. When it is within a normal limit or in stabilised form, we stay motivated, are satisfied with feelings of well-being, seek appropriate pleasure from accomplishing tasks, maintain bouncing libido, have good feelings towards others, keep healthy bonding, select sound choices, take rewarding risk-takings, believe in realistic expectations, and experience real maternal/parental love. Dopamine is the precursor of Adrenaline, Noradrenaline and has interrelationships with Cortisol. The three hormones are known to rise in fright, fight and fear. Dopamine also inhibits the release of Prolactin from the anterior lobe of the pituitary.
Prolactin is known as the hormone of satiation and resignation. The symptoms associated with its excess is slightly different in man and woman. In woman its excess causes loss of libido, anxiety, hostility, headaches, weight gain and depression. While in man, in addition to the symptoms mentioned above it's excess causes impotence and infertility. So in many ways the effects of Prolactin excess are antagonistic to Dopamine excess.
Oxytocine is known as the cuddle and love hormone and is considered an anti-stress hormone. Its excess causes feelings of calm and connectedness. Though it increases curiosity, facilitates learning and enhances positive feelings, it also lessens cravings and causes addictions. The latter can be taken as positive element by some equating it with addiction to religious beliefs. In the physical aspect, it diminishes the sense of pain and is known to lower blood pressure, protect from heart diseases and help in the healing process. Lastly, it is known to increase sexual receptivity. It is this aspect which created enthusiasm in the West and opened windows of interest in certain Tantric practices of Hinduism and Buddhism.
It is important to know that these hormones, like other hormones, do not act in isolation. Their actions are interlinked through transmitting media formed of proteins. This means that the antagonistic and agonistic hormones work at the same time. The result depends on the hormone which is more potent quantitatively and shows its qualitative effects. In other words, the diverse actions keep us high or low in our moods, positive or negative in our make-up and wise or rash in our decisions.
It is also important to understand that the duration of a hormonal peak is short because of pharmacological nature of a hormone. Soon, another hormone, usually the antagonistic, takes over and an opposite effect sets in translating into mood swing from positive to negative or vice versa. For example an excessive shower of Dopamine will give us a kick but soon it is countered by the rising Prolactin level bringing our mood down pushing us into despair. These swings make us moody and unpredictable.
So, is there a way out of such mood swings to bring stability in personalities on a permanent basis? Yes, there is. A hormone that antagonizes the emotional roller-coaster effects of excess Dopamine is Oxytocine which also counteracts fear and stress associated with high cortisol level. Being a pair-bonding and mood soother, it brings solace in personality and contentment in behaviour. In animal experiments, it is shown that after mating, the Oxytocine minimises the roller-coaster effect of Dopamine and the rise of Prolactin ensuring that both the parents cooperate for the survival of their offspring. In humans, this practice is not possible. What is possible is to keep the Oxytocine at optimum level which not only have sobriety effect but also stabilises Dopamine levels adding to the aforementioned effect of the latter. The combination also facilitates relaxation.
There are two ways of keeping optimal levels of the desired hormones; first, by taking appropriate medication; second by using unorthodox methods. The first needs repetitive administration which has its side effects and probably developing resistance. The second is non-medicinal and is related to paranormal phenomena as in parapsychology or spirituality. The latter methods are based on various meditative non-religious or religious procedures which are gaining support in the west in recent years. The aim is to control the release of these hormones and thus bring solace and stability in our personalities. Interestingly, such practitioners are termed 'fathead' by the philosophers, physicists and mathematicians because they do not fall into their 'cause and effect theories', or the 'experimentation, addition, subtraction and result equations'.
As part of Neuroscience research in recent advances in the neurochemistry of the limbic system of the brain, it is found that leaders with manic make-up somehow do well when put under stress. The research is nowhere near being able to scan a leader's brain but, “it studied some of the building blocks of what leaders do – making decisions under pressure when solving complex problems, negotiating a transactions, or trying to persuade others.” The research, after studying some 60,352 books in the 'leadership' category came up with “huge gaps in its understanding not knowing if it's more about traits, attributes and competencies, or about what followers need. In that way, leadership development still involves a lot of guesswork.” As a result, it came up with some big surprises as some of the leaders do some pretty unintelligent things.
Nassir Ghaemi, a professor of psychiatry at Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston, argues that psychiatric disorders were the making of some of the great world leaders. He argues that the best leaders, during troubled times, are those with mood disorders, since their illness enhances the very qualities that crisis management demands. In times of crisis, he concludes, "we are better off being led by mentally ill leaders than by mentally normal ones". Some experts claim that leaders who are successful in peacetime are often failures in war, and vice versa, For example, JFK's success in crisis is put down to his use of steroids and amphetamines, which may have made him manic. The drugs are closely linked to the hormones mentioned above. While Richard Nixon–diagnosed as mentally healthy was ill equipped to deal with Watergate crisis. Similarly, the leaders like Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill, Mahatama Gandhi and even George W. Bush were bracketed as manics. The history of all such leaders tell us that either these leaders were hooked on drugs or practised meditation. The ongoing hormonal research in neuroscience suggests that important hormones played a pivotal role in creating the world leaders.
Finally, it will not be out of place to bring Asif Ali Zardari into the discussion. After all, authentic medical certificates confirmed that he has some serious mental health problems. And yet when we see him tackling the most difficult political problems in crisis he comes out unscathed and palmy. Should we count him among those world leaders with mental health problems? His ever-smiling face indicates he is keeping Oxytocine level optimum and Dopamine level stabilised. We are told that Mahatma Gandhi used eastern techniques and Churchill applied self-hypnosis to regulate these hormones and kept themselves calm in times of crisis. What about Asif Ali Zardari? Does he maintain calmness by taking medicine, or is he practising meditation? Also, there is one point which does not fit in the equation; unlike Gandhi and Churchill he is diagnosed as suffering from dementia.