Finding balance: The Four Burners Theory and Mental Illness

Stencil Art by Eclair Bandersnatch
Eclair Bandersnatch

This is in response to a post that I read on ParParV about the Four Burners Theory of Success.

According to the Four Burners theory the “Four Burners” are like the burners of a stove.

Each burner represents an essential part of life.

One is family, one is friends, one is health and one is work.

According to this theory a really successful life requires that a person shut off or turn down two of the burners.

How does this apply to someone with a physical or mental illness; with two or more burners shut down by his body or his past?

The first question is, what does the word success really mean?


a :  degree or measure of succeeding

b :  favorable or desired outcome; also :  the attainment of wealth, favor, or eminence

3 :  one that succeeds

I find it curious that that the second definition of success is a favorable or desired outcome illustrated by this clarification: the attainment of wealth or eminence; or stated another way, hoarding more money and resources than one needs.

Success is defined as a material outcome based on the standards of our current media culture which mandates and normalizes self-indulgent consumerism.

I consume mass quantities therefore I am–a success.

By this definition 99 percent of us are not “really successful” in a rather successful way, meaning that if our goal is to continue to live on this planet without dying from any of the millions of random events that may happen any second we are a success even if we have not gathered multiple billions of dollars and multiple millions of “fans” who worship our ability to hoard money in envious anonymity.

The first definition of success is a bit vague; a degree or measure of succeeding.

Does one shut down one’s family and health burner for a degree of success that falls short of really successful”?

The third definition is equally vague; one that succeeds.

Does one abandon one’s friends and family to merely succeed?

What is success for someone with a grave physical or psychiatric disability?

What is success for a man with Dissociative Identity Disorder?

Today I am a success because

I didn’t wake up and spend the entire day in a dream in which I watched myself play with toys

I did not let a snide accusation in my email flip me into an uncontrollable rage. (for the entire day)

I walked to therapy despite the worst series of panic attacks since Spring.

I remembered to tell my partner I love him.

I looked at my WordPress stats and saw that I’ve blogged at least one post a day for the past 25 days. That’s a huge success for a man who believed he couldn’t blog at all a short year ago.

I was not hospitalized at all this year.

I am no longer involved with a pathological narcissist. This is the first time in my life that I am completely free of feeling obligated to please someone.

I have a circle of friends on Word Press whom I am proud to know. I am honored to collaborate on projects with the Public Blogger, I am honored to have the respect of Danica, Linda, Erica, Kendall, and a host of other people who read and comment on my work. I hope that you know who you are.

I have a therapist who genuinely cares about my health and whose work heals my life and my relationships.

I have not stopped writing.

For people with severe, disabling psychiatric disorders, just having enough gas to light those burners is a success.

This is especially true in a culture that reserves it’s most savage treatment for people with mental illnesses.

Today I am not sitting on a street as the people of my city treat me like an animal.

Today I am not in a squalid hotel room where the local crack dealers have stripped me of the little cash that I have.

Today I am not in a filthy, underfunded residential facility under the threat of discharge because my thirty days are up.

Today I am not in a hospital surrounded by a staff group that is dangerously under-trained and skeptical of my diagnosis because they don’t understand how someone as ‘smart as you’ can have a mental illness.

Today I am not begging a Randian bureaucracy to give me back the money I gave it when I worked so that I can eat.

Today I do not feel helpless and suicidal.

Today I feel loved.

Today three of my burners are up and running and my health burner still flickers.

By my definition I am really successful.

How do you define success?


Blog for Mental Health 2015

17 thoughts on “Finding balance: The Four Burners Theory and Mental Illness

  1. Hey Pa.. great one on this topic, I really appreciate your passion for writing..
    I think success is functional.. the idea another man carries about success could be completely different from mine, as long as the goal to trying as much as possible to bring humanity to sound reasoning..

    I love what you do with words Sire 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Robert!! Wow what a wonderful post, I really enjoyed what you did the analyzing the 4 Burners theory. The analysis of the definition of success was very thought provoking. And I think you are right, the definition is so vague and applies to ones perspective in many ways. Your own struggles and triumphs are what really brings it all back to perspective. Success then for me becomes (as you mentioned) growing and building on yourself. Improving everyday, little by little regardless of any setbacks. You are an inspirations.

    Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. My pleasure.

      This was an enlightening exercise for me because this is the first time I’ve agreed to write on a specific topic.

      I didn’t know if I could do it; but I did.

      So taking on the challenge and showing myself that I can discipline my mind in this way is a huge success for me.

      I’m really glad you liked my approach. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. That was an amazing post, Robert! Really AMAZING!!! Success has so many definitions depending on the subjective perspective. But however others state it, it is only important what it means to the individual. Your understanding of success is simply wonderful and shows the awareness, gratitude, and respect for you and your own achievements. That is exactly it – or actually as I see it too. Success to me is realizing that today I am further than I was yesterday due to my own power. Oh, and thank you so much for the mention. That was very lovely and I appreciated it a lot. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I mention you because your generosity of spirit really stands out for me; it shines through your writing. If I were to describe your writing I would say radiant.

      I love what you say here: “Success to me is realizing that today I am further than I was yesterday due to my own power.”

      I find it a bit shocking that the conventional definition of success is still so beastly….

      It’s almost as if the leaders of our culture really want most of us to believe that we are nothing but animals, driven to greed by instincts that no longer really apply to us as a species.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Thank you, that is so nice of you 🙂
        Yes, the common statement of success unfortunately is that the more money you make the more successful you are. But success is the happiness and contentment we feel about what we see unfolding due to our actions or sometimes just of our perceptions. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Exactly. The sad truth of our current definition of success is that it is altered to prop up the 1 percent. Most people don’t seem to understand that words are great ways to imprison the mind and the soul. To define success as the ability to hoard excess resources to the detriment of others is to also define greed as good. I noted that the ‘archaic’ definition of success is the accomplishment of a goal.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Thank you Erika…I think we here on WordPress are gifts to each other. Also, thank you for challenging my thoughts.

        It’s what we are supposed to do to help each other to learn.

        So much of what is wrong on this planet is that so many are afraid to be wrong.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. You said that very well, Robert. Many people (I was not exception) don’t dare to start something because they are afraid of failing before they even tried.

        Liked by 1 person

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