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The winner takes it all? Not always

December 10, 2009 12:24 IST

For alpha males -- highly aggressive men who are usually at the helm of affairs -- life is not a picnic. Deeper issues invariably plague most, which they are unable to cope with. Jayalakshmi Sengupta probes their psyche and disposition.

The death of Ranjan Das, 42-year-old CEO and MD of SAP (Indian Subcontinent) in October 2009 raised many a question. What caused Ranjan to die at his prime, especially when he was such a health freak? The news of his tragic death is being circulated on the Internet by netizens as a warning against pushing oneself too hard. Many believe it can happen to anyone who has to suffer frequent and long hours of travel between different time zones.

Described as a "smart, intelligent and an ambitious individual," Ranjan could, however, be representing a certain cluster of men -- the alpha male, who is often a victim of his own drive and habits. 'Karoshi' (literally translated from Japanese, it means death from overwork, a heart attack, stroke or stress) is common among them. They are also afflicted with sleep disorders, which adversely affect their health and cause sudden death. According to Dr Siladitya Ray, consultant psychiatrist with Desun Hospital & Heart Institute and Ruby General Hospital, Kolkata, alpha males do not always die early. Their threshold of working against stress is unbelievably high and they keep pushing it. As a result, they are often likely to suffer from various afflictions like Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, Bipolar Disorder and Sleep Apnea -- disorders that arise and perpetuate the vicious cycle of living an unbalanced life.

Who is an alpha male? How will you identify one? Simply put, in the game of the survival of the fittest, the one who takes away the grand prize. An Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Sylvester Stallone, with considerable physical prowess? Not necessarily. Survival as a human being involves subtle power games that lie more in the realms of the mind. The alpha male is someone who masterminds, pitches and wins strategic deals, maintaining a certain clout and social status wherever he goes. Despite being charming and generous, he can be extremely mercurial and aggressive. His ideas are totally out of the box. As a visionary, he can be very radical. He is capable of extraordinary courage, conviction, affirmation and yet is chased by occasional bouts of self-doubt and depression.

"Many alpha males may come from disturbed and broken families, but this is not always true," says Ray. Most are, however, somewhat introverted and reserved in their teens, with a striking confrontational disposition when demeaned, devalued or challenged. The alpha adult is otherwise the most comfortable-looking person in the room, with magnetic charm. He is also someone with a visible ego drive. This attitude helps him bulldoze through every obstacle in life and needs constant bolstering. 'I am successful, but am I noticed and am I desired?' This is a common refrain in his mind, reaching a crazy pitch when in his prime. "This emotional vulnerability or intense ego drive can be the nemesis of the alpha male if he is not suitably prepared to cope up with the stress his lifestyle naturally demands," reminds Ray.

"This man is riding the hottest steed ever; a galloping testosterone often makes it difficult to keep to the straight and narrow," says Vibha, married to a young industrialist in Mumbai. A student of psychology herself, Vibha recognises and empathises with her alpha partner. "The temptation to explore uncharted territory is undeniably strong in these men. He may go where angels fear to tread, such is his faith in himself. He may, however, find himself confronting demons hard to defeat too. These demons are created over a period of time and can't be ignored when they become full-fledged terrorists," she says. Ray adds that an intelligent, accepting companion who can understand his drive and help him channelise his energy is a blessing every alpha male needs.

It is not easy to be Numero Uno. The tortuous climb, apart from the effort to stay at the top, is a Herculean task. Not to mention how lonely it gets at the top. The alpha male is almost always a victim of this intense solitariness, that makes him literally stand apart from the melee. Love, appreciation and security in emotional bonding -- everything that keeps a person together during hard times, may be unavailable to him. The rigid lifestyle that he creates for himself, his work and his result-oriented attitude are not always conducive to building longterm relationships. He craves for them and attracts them to himself. His mindset may not allow any opportunity for meaningful relationships. Though he is capable of sharing deep love, the alpha male feels forced to create and breathe in a vicious environment of quick gratification. He fears any sort of binding commitment that traps him in regular life. Focused on keeping himself going, he may even regret becoming the opportunist and manipulator that he is often forced to become.

"Even when they are most successful, they are uncomfortable with the emotional emptiness they feel," cautions Ray. Alpha males are therefore "prone to megalomania, depressive tendencies, sexual excesses and violent outbursts," according to him. "Some of them develop Borderline Personality Disorder, characterised by extreme behaviour, impulsiveness, drug abuse, radical mood swings and unstable relationships."

The essential challenge with the alpha male is to live in moderation. Moderation may be a balanced approach to life, but it is like a dam that restricts the gusto of a flowing river. Men who take up the cudgel and make things happen have to be tremendous go-getters. "There is a huge hazard involved in taking the first leap and you need to be a risk-taker to bring profound transformation in anything -- be it a business, a company or society," says Dilip Doshi, who is in complete awe of his big brother who single-handedly established a chain of restaurants in India and is successfully running them even in this time of recession. However, he sees the pitfalls as clearly. "Sometimes, in their eagerness to expand and see their vision fulfilled, they spread themselves too thin," he says. In terms of money, time and affection, the alpha male may finally find himself beleaguered with limited resources.

"Interestingly, their sharp mental acumen makes them amazingly self-introspective. They are also capable of greater self control than any ordinary person and can live a far richer and meaningful life if they choose to, like the monk who sold the Ferrari," concludes Vibha optimistically.

Jayalakshmi Sengupta, Trans World Features