Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Economy and self-concept

Not only have many individuals taken a financial hit in recent months, but many have taken a psychological hit as well:

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."

Over-identification with work is one of many culprits in the epidemic of recession-related anxiety and depression that mental-health providers are reporting. Fear of losing one's house or failing to find another job are likely bigger contributors. But unlike those problems, the identity dilemma is within the individual's power to address, requiring no lender mercy or stroke of job-hunting fortune. One approach can require mental exercises, lifestyle alterations and a new set of acquaintances. But the science behind cognitive behavioral therapy, a psychotherapeutic approach that aims to change self-destructive thinking and behavior, suggests that that work can bring long-lasting rewards.

Reminds me of something Dmitry Orlov wrote a few years ago:
Certain types of mainstream economic behavior are not prudent on a personal level, and are also counterproductive to bridging the Collapse Gap. Any behavior that might result in continued economic growth and prosperity is counterproductive: the higher you jump, the harder you land. It is traumatic to go from having a big retirement fund to having no retirement fund because of a market crash. It is also traumatic to go from a high income to little or no income. If, on top of that, you have kept yourself incredibly busy, and suddenly have nothing to do, then you will really be in rough shape.

Economic collapse is about the worst possible time for someone to suffer a nervous breakdown, yet this is what often happens. The people who are most at risk psychologically are successful middle-aged men. When their career is suddenly over, their savings are gone, and their property worthless, much of their sense of self-worth is gone as well. They tend to drink themselves to death and commit suicide in disproportionate numbers. Since they tend to be the most experienced and capable people, this is a staggering loss to society.

If the economy, and your place within it, is really important to you, you will be really hurt when it goes away. You can cultivate an attitude of studied indifference, but it has to be more than just a conceit. You have to develop the lifestyle and the habits and the physical stamina to back it up. It takes a lot of creativity and effort to put together a fulfilling existence on the margins of society. After the collapse, these margins may turn out to be some of the best places to live.
In other words, stay out of debt, get used to living on a less-than-steady income, get away from the whole workaholic scene (instead maximize free time - think of that valuable time spent with the kids, etc., instead), minimize participation in the current economy. Don't identify too heavily with your vocation, and don't contribute to the present system any more than is absolutely necessary for survival.

No comments:

Post a Comment