Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Losing Confidence

It seems like people who measure their self worth by their net worth are losing it. A psychiatrist discusses one patient who went from high anxiety (understandable) to feeling like a loser.

He came in one day looking subdued and plopped down in the chair. “I’m over the anxiety, but now I feel like a loser.” This from a supremely self-confident guy who was viewed by his colleagues as an unstoppable optimist.

He was not clinically depressed: his sleep, appetite, sex drive and ability to enjoy himself outside of work were unchanged. This was different.

The problem was that his sense of success and accomplishment was intimately tied to his financial status; he did not know how to feel competent or good about himself without this external measure of his value.

He wasn’t the only one. Over the last few months, I have seen a group of patients, all men, who experienced a near collapse in their self-esteem, though none of them were clinically depressed.

Another patient summed it up: “I used to be a master-of-the-universe kind of guy, but this cut me down to size.”
You would think he lost two inches off of a major appendage. The ladies seem to be taking it better.
I have plenty of female patients who work in finance at high levels, but none of them has had this kind of psychological reaction. I can’t pretend this is a scientific survey, but I wonder if men are more likely than women to respond this way. At the risk of trading in gender stereotypes, do men rely disproportionately more on their work for their self-esteem than women do? Or are they just more vulnerable to the inevitable narcissistic injury that comes with performing poorly or losing one’s job?

A different patient was puzzled not by his anxiety about the market, but by his total lack of self-confidence. He had always had an easy intuitive feel for finance. But in the wake of the market collapse, he seriously questioned his knowledge and skill.

Each of these patients experienced a sudden loss of the sense of mastery in the face of the financial meltdown and could not gauge their success or failure without the only benchmark they knew: a financial profit.
He goes on with a lot of psychobabble about self esteem. What he misses is that his patients need a hobby where success or failure is measured by results that are not monetary but self satisfaction in a job well done. Is the 10 ring of the target suitably perforated? Does that '67 Chevy look like new and run better than the day it came off the assembly line? Can you pick up Radio Netherlands on the regenerative receiver you built from your own design? Can you tie a perfect fly lure? Can you mix the perfect martini (very useful in down times)?

I wonder if the shrinker has a hobby? Probably not. However, with so many people in a mental funk his bankable self esteem is no doubt on the rise. He should watch out though. Nothing lasts forever.

H/T Anxiety Insights

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