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Famous people, bad decisions: When celebrities falter

Why do the rich and famous falter?

The publicly humiliating scandals experienced by men ranging from Tiger Woods to Anthony Weiner, including other notables such as Brett Favre and Dominique Strauss-Kahn (not to mention Bill Clinton) raise important questions about why people make decisions that ruin their lives. Similarly, the tragic ending to Michael Jackson's life reminds us that some of the most talented entertainers in the world have the most tragic endings to their lives. Why do people who have everything going for them commit such huge blunders, ruining not only their public images but also their family lives, career, and, ultimately, the way in which history remembers them.

It's not only men who get in such collosal trouble, of course. Lindsay Lohan is just one of many celebrities in the entertainment world who fall hard and often. Sadly, Amy Winehouse joined the "27 Club" upon her death on July 23, 2011.

There may be something about reaching that bubble of success that makes people feel impermeable to failure. When they fail, they can't figure out why or how this could happen to them. However, I think the pattern shown by these tragic stories fits more closely with the research I conducted for my book, The Search for Fulfillment. Famous people who fall are classic examples of the life pathway I've labeled "Downward Slope." People on this pathway may be outwardly successful but inwardly they lack a solid sense of identity. They make poor and self-defeating decisions that cause their lives to implode.

Lindsay Lohan being arrested

How do we know someone is on the Downward Slope? Here are three of the criteria:

1. Major decisions that you regret. People on the Downward Slope believe that they have taken too many wrong turns and that their lives have spun hopelessly out of control. They live in a past filled with feelings of personal remorse and get stuck in the conviction that there's nothing they can do about it.

2. "Selling out" on your dreams of youth. Some of the participants in my study who fit the Downward Slope criteria were highly successful and seemed to have it all. Inwardly, however, they were miserable because they had left behind their youthful value systems. Perhaps these highly successful men had lost touch with their true selves-- the ones that inspired them to pursue the careers they did.

3. Feeling that your life was harmed by random forces outside your control. People on the Downward Slope believe that they are where they are because of something that occurred over which they had no control. In his press conference, Weiner stated that he has a sex addiction. Rather than taking the responsibility for the poor decisions they make, people on the Downward Slope tend to blame outside forces rather than their own personal failings.

Can you ch

1. Enjoy your successes:One of the ways that we get on the Downward Slope is by engaging in what I call "shoot yourself in the foot syndrome," otherwise known in professional terms as survival guilt. People who are incredibly successful sometimes believe that they don't deserve to do so well. They may feel that their success makes others in their family look bad. Once you recognize that you are on this pathway, you can work toward appreciating your success without feeling guilty.

2. Learn from your mistakes.You can avoid bad choices if you don't enact decisions based on survivor guilt. Make your choices based on what you know is right and will lead you upwards, not downwards. If you're not sure which way to go, ask someone who can give you good advice so that you get a reality check on what might head you in a direction toward from fulfillment.

3. Gain self-confidence. People on the Downward Slope don't believe in themselves. Once you start to develop a stronger inner identity, you won't feel the need to make decisions that reinforce your inner lack of faith in yourself.

People can leave the Downward Slope and work their way toward what I call the Authentic Road. No matter what pathway you're on, you can learn about how to be as fulfilled as possible:

Follow me on Twitter @swhitbo for daily updates on psychology, health, and aging. Feel free to join my Facebook group, "Fulfillment at Any Age," to discuss today's blog, or to ask further questions about this posting.

Copyright Susan Krauss Whitbourne, Ph.D. 2010