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

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.

Men are constantly being told that they are providers for women. Even so-called “feminists” who pretend that they are for equality expect men to pick up most of the burden of child support and pay women off in a divorce. They even think women should be paid for their services at home — apparently by men who go to work all day to support their families so the wife can stay home. And now that many men are out of a job, we’re told that they are just getting the punishment they deserve for chasing the money they need to provide for these women and their families. Does anyone see the hypocrisy here?


Let me give some advice to men who have recently lost their jobs. First, I am sorry this happened to you. It’s not easy having a good job and being able to provide and having that yanked away. Second, take care of yourself and keep up those things that make you feel better, like exercise, eating right, and engaging in hobbies you enjoy. Third, make some plan of action for how to get back in the work world (if this is what you want) by networking, contacting friends and acquaintances who may be able to help, and tweaking your resume should you need to. Finally, if you feel that you may be clinically depressed because of your situation, seek treatment. Search for a mental health professional by getting a recommendation from someone whose judgement you trust or by word of mouth that the therapist understands the issues men are going through.

And some advice to the friends and family of those men who have recently lost their jobs. Be kind. Let the man know that you are behind him and ask if there is anything you can do. If you feel the man is clinically depressed, then professional help might be necessary. But make sure it is with a therapist who has some real understanding of men, not some inhumane theory about how he got his “just desserts.” And finally, under no circumstances tell a man who has just lost his job something as earth shattering as he is “addicted to success.” This would be like telling someone who lost a loved one that they were “addicted to love.” See how cruel it sounds?


PJM readers, if you have any better advice than “stop being addicted to success” for the recently unemployed or for their family members, please share it with us or add any other comment about this article below.


If you have a question you would like answered, please email me at [email protected]. Your questions may be edited for length and clarity. Please note that your first name only or no name at all will be used to identify your question — if you want me to use your name, tell me; otherwise you will be referred to by your first name or as “a reader,” etc.


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