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Ask Dr. Helen: Are Men Who Lose their Jobs Really ‘Addicted to Success’?

As if it's not bad enough to be laid off, men often get criticized for being upset and depressed by it.

Helen Smith


February 13, 2009 - 12:03 am
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The Wall Street Journal recently ran a piece entitled “You Might as Well Face It: You’re Addicted to Success,” in which the author, Kevin Helliker, finds a few mental health “professionals” who chastise men for losing their jobs (hat tip: Stuart Schneiderman). I say men because a full 82 percent of the job losses in this recession have befallen men. Why are therapists and others chastising men? Because rather than understanding why recently unemployed men are upset, these paragons of empathy say that men are just “addicted to success”:

The deepening recession is exacting punishment for a psychological vice that masquerades as virtue for many working people: the unmitigated identification of self with occupation, accomplishment and professional status. This tendency can induce outright panic as more and more people fear loss of employment.

“It’s like having your entire investment in one stock, and that stock is your job,” says Robert Leahy, director of the American Institute for Cognitive Therapy in New York. “You’re going to be extremely anxious about losing that job, and depressed if you do. …”

Like a drug, professional success can induce a feeling of ecstasy that quickly feels essential. Recapturing that feeling can require greater and greater feats, a phenomenon that — more than simple greed — explains the drive for ever-larger bonuses and conquests. “With riches, success and fame … you find that greater and greater doses of your ‘upper’ are needed to become ‘high,’” David Burns, a Stanford University psychiatrist and pioneer of cognitive behavioral therapy, writes in his 1980 book Feeling Good.

So let’s get this straight.

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