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My secret love affair with Harry Selfridge

Aisling FitzGibbon

It must have been the cold winter months when I normally cocoon in front of the fire that I was drawn into the seductive world of Harry Selfridge. His smouldering brown eyes lit by the twinkle of a rogue caused me to fall in love with this rebel of a man who changed forever the retail world. Yes I know he’s dead, well the real one is anyway, and I’m engaged but feelings are feelings. I blame Netflix. Who wouldn’t love Harry’s creativity, his energy, his utter self -belief? I was mesmerised by this colossus of a man who linked pleasure to shopping and who encouraged women to shop unchaperoned for the first time. Harry’s character, immortalised by the TV network series Selfridges has captured the imagination of the public (I’m not alone) who are left wondering how a man who once had it all could have ended up destitute at the end of his life. 

Maybe you know someone like Harry- incredible entrepreneurs who when things are going well make rash impulsive decisions and risks that negatively affect their business. What causes men like Harry to find themselves embroiled in destructive dalliances or who addict so much to work that their home life suffers? Is there an underlying biochemical issue that propels them away from the empires they create, causing them to risk it all?

Harry Selfridge was a man who was highly driven and motivated. He was also very competitive and wanted his emporium to be the best in the UK. Harry was what we would call a classic undermethylator, one who is driven by perfectionistic traits and a strong desire to succeed. Dr Bill Walsh, author of Nutrient Power,  found that 38% of people with depression were undermethylators and he also stated that there are plenty of people who are undermethylators who are not depressed but who are driven by their inner biochemistry to succeed at all costs. Harry Selfridge had a high libido (an undermethylators trait) as evidenced by his relationship with the Dolly sisters who cost him a considerable fortune by gambling 5 million pounds by today’s standards. It was reported that he once offered one of them 10 million dollars to marry him! A fit of madness you might think, but addicts care little for doing the sensible thing. At a time when he should have relaxed to enjoy the fruits of his labour Harry was rushing to clubs and casinos. His nickname of “a mile a minute Harry “ really suited him.

Addiction is fuelled in part by a biochemical craving for a dopamine hit. Scientists have looked at the link between lower levels of dopamine and ADHD. ADHD behaviour can cause impulsive behaviour and a tendency to acting first and thinking later. There can be lack of attention to detail. Low levels of dopamine are linked to high copper levels and low zinc. I would imagine that Harry Selfridge had lower dopamine levels that made him prone to take huge financial risks and gamble his fortune. He also did not attend to the fine print of his spending that soon went out of control.  

Our dopamine levels are drained by stress. Toxins of all kinds such as air fresheners, perfumes, cosmetics and  soap also decrease dopamine levels.  Dopamine is released in high amounts with sugar, alcohol, nicotine and gambling(2-10 times higher than normal) The greater the surge of dopamine the more you feel pleasure and the more driven you are to do it. This is what creates the addiction cycle. Unfortunately the dopamine receptors downregulate when over stimulated, leaving a person needed more and more outside stimulation. 

Dopamine is the celebrity of brain chemicals and one of its functions is the pleasure pathway. Unfortunately the dark side of pleasure is addiction. David Linden PHd, a neuroscience professor at John Hopkins School of Medicine and author of The Compass of Pleasure: How our Brains make Fatty food, Orgasm, Exercise, Marijauna, Generosity, Vodka, Learning and Gambling Feel so Good said that most people are able to achieve a certain degree of pleasure with only moderate indulgence but those with blunted dopamine systems are driven to overdo it. In order to get to the same set point of pleasure that others get so easily with two drinks at the bar and a laugh with friends they need 6 drinks at the bar to get to the same thing. Although drinking gives a temporary hit of dopamine overtime you can develop a progressive tolerance of alcohol. Alcohol depletes zinc and this starts a downward cycle of craving more alcohol.

Harry Selfridge who had clawed his way up from being a 14-year-old stockroom boy in Chicago to becoming an international retailer, eventually blew his 60 million fortune on reckless gambling, womanising and out of control spending. The sad thing about Harry is that he could never enjoy what he had as he was constantly leaping ahead to the next thing in the constant drive to needing more and more. Could he have been governed by his biochemistry that eventually had him ousted from the empire he had served to create? Did his quest for a dopamine hit lead him to take more and more risks? Did his undermethylation issues, that predisposed him to being highly motivated drive him eventually to addiction. 

I am lucky to be able to offer blood tests in my practice that test for methylation status and zinc levels. This takes away the guess work and provides a scientific baseline for clients to see where they are at and where they need to be. Depending on whether you are under or over methylated will determine your prescription for nutrients. I offer individualised plans that are tweaked on my weekly coaching programme.

If you want to work with me please fill in my clarity call application.