How the New Jobless Era is Driving the Irritable Male Syndrome and Destroying Families: 5 Things You Must Do Now to Save Yourself and Those You Love

We are told that we are finally moving toward economic recovery, that a “Great Depression” has been avoided. Yet, unemployment remains a fact of life and job security is a thing of the past. According to Don Peck, writing in March issue of The Atlantic, “The Great Recession may be over, but this era of high joblessness is probably just beginning. Before it ends, it will likely change the life course and character of a generation of young adults. It will leave an indelible imprint on many blue-collar men. It could cripple marriage as an institution in many communities. It may already be plunging many inner cities into a despair not seen for decades. Ultimately, it is likely to warp our politics, our culture, and the character of our society for years to come.”

I had read the statistics on job loss, but I had no idea how devastating it could actually be until I lost my job. It was a part-time job and one I had grown tired of having. I joked that it would be great if I were fired so that I could get out and move on. But when I was told on a Thursday afternoon, a day I still remember vividly 5 years later, that they no longer needed me, I couldn’t believe it. I did everything I could to change their mind, including hiring a lawyer to fight the termination.

Once I was gone, I fell into an agitated depression. I was angry one minute, depressed the next. I didn’t want to eat and when I did I stuffed myself with food. My wife, Carlin, tried to be understanding, but she grew tired of my moody silences and angry outbursts and gradually withdrew. I finally overcame my resistance to seeing a therapist and went back to a woman I had seen years before.

Even though I was a therapist and told clients that there was no stigma in reaching out for help when needed, I didn’t fully believe it myself. Deep down I still had the old beliefs about being a man: A man is not a man if he doesn’t have a job. A man always, always, finds a way to support his family--no matter what. Even after seeing a therapist, which was a life-saving decision, there were days that I was suicidal. I became obsessed at the injustice of losing my job and could understand those men who went “postal” and shot up their job site before killing themselves.

I gradually developed my private therapy practice to fill in the hours I had lost. Fortunately I was highly skilled, with years of experience, and I could heal the wounds from my job loss. But I wondered how others, less fortunate would deal with this kind of crisis. As a therapist specializing in men’s health issues I’ve had ample opportunity to learn as our broken economy continues to disgorge its victims.

Unemployment is a Reality for Millions

The unemployment rate hit 10 percent in October, 2009 and there are good reasons to believe that by 2011, 2012, even 2014, it will have declined only a little. But as Peck points out in his article, “All of these figures understate the magnitude of the jobs crisis. The broadest measure of unemployment and underemployment (which includes people who want to work but have stopped actively searching for a job, along with those who want full-time jobs but can find only part-time work) reached 17.4 percent in October, which appears to be the highest figure since the 1930s.”

There’s lots of talk about recovery and “green jobs,” but that could be more wishful thinking than reality. The New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, who fears a lost decade, said in a lecture at the London School of Economics last summer that he has “no idea” how the economy could quickly return to strong, sustainable growth. Mark Zandi, the chief economist at Moody’s, told the Associated Press last fall, “I think the unemployment rate will be permanently higher, or at least higher for the foreseeable future. The collective psyche has changed as a result of what we’ve been through. And we’re going to be different as a result.”

Although the economic collapse hits everyone, it is often the men who are impacted the most directly and the women who become collateral damage as the men “act out” their frustration and rage. One recent survey showed that 44 percent of families had experienced a job loss, a reduction in hours, or a pay cut in the past year.

“There is unemployment, a brief and relatively routine transitional state that results from the rise and fall of companies in any economy, and there is unemployment—chronic, all-consuming,” says Peck. “The former is a necessary lubricant in any engine of economic growth. The latter is a pestilence that slowly eats away at people, families, and, if it spreads widely enough, the fabric of society. Indeed, history suggests that it is perhaps society’s most noxious ill.”

The worst effects of pervasive joblessness can take years, even decades, to incubate. They can erode our confidence, shake our stability, and cause millions of men to become chronically irritable, angry, and depressed. If it persists much longer, this era of high joblessness will likely change the life course and character of us all. “It will leave an indelible imprint on many blue-collar white men—and on white culture,” suggests Peck. “It could change the nature of modern marriage, and also cripple marriage as an institution in many communities. It may already be plunging many inner cities into a kind of despair and dysfunction not seen for decades. Ultimately, it is likely to warp our politics, our culture, and the character of our society for years.”

Irritable Male Syndrome (IMS): The Dis-ease of Our Times

In my 2004 book, The Irritable Male Syndrome: Understanding and Managing the 4 Key Causes of Depression and Aggression, I offered the following definition of IMS: "A state of hypersensitivity, anxiety, frustration, and anger that occurs in males and is associated with biochemical changes, hormonal imbalances, stress, and loss of male identity."

For most men, our identity is inexorably tied in with our jobs. Without a job we have increasing difficulty feeling like real men. If we don’t feel real as a man, we live in a state of chronic tension and dis-ease. In her excellent book, Stiffed: The Betrayal of the American Man, social scientist Susan Faludi described the impact of job loss on men.

One of the men Faludi interviewed for the book, Don Motta, could be speaking for millions of men in this country today who have been laid off, downsized, or part of a company that has gone under. “There is no way you can feel like a man. You can’t,” says Motta. “It’s the fact that I’m not capable of supporting my family…When you’ve been very successful buying a house, a car, and could pay for your daughter to go to college, though she didn’t want to, you have a sense of success and people see it. I haven’t been able to support my daughter. I haven’t been able to support my wife.

“I’ll be very frank with you,” he said slowly, placing every word down as if each were an increasingly heavy weight. “I…feel…I’ve…been…castrated.” Motta is clear about the connection between manhood, work, and sexuality. “A man who can’t work and support his family is a man without balls—not really a man at all.”

The Jobless Era May Last for Generations

One of the tenets of our modern industrial society has been that the economy is cyclic. There may be a few down years, but they will always be followed by an upswing. People may lose their jobs, but there will always be newer, better, more interesting jobs we can be trained to occupy. Although the growth of the economy may go through stagnant periods, it will always rebound. But what if the rules have changed? What if we are living in a period where the trend is downwards not upwards? What if employment as we know it were a thing of the past?

I believe that Richard Heinberg is one of the most consistently perceptive and optimistic social scientists in the world. I’ve followed his work for the last 25 years and he knows his stuff. In a March 3, 2010 article, Life After Growth: What If the Economy Doesn’t Recover (15 pages), he makes the following observations:

“In late 2009 and early 2010, the economy showed some signs of renewed vigor. Understandably, everyone wants it to get "back to normal." But here's a disturbing thought: What if that is not possible? What if the goalposts have been moved, the rules rewritten, the game changed? What if the decades-long era of economic growth based on ever-increasing rates of resource extraction, manufacturing, and consumption is over, finished, and done? What if the economic conditions that all of us grew up expecting to continue practically forever were merely a blip on history's timeline?

“It's an uncomfortable idea, but one that cannot be ignored: The "normal" late-20th century economy of seemingly endless growth actually emerged from an aberrant set of conditions that cannot be perpetuated.

“That ‘normal’ is gone. One way or another, a ‘new normal’ will emerge to replace it. Can we build a different, more sustainable economy to replace the one now in tatters?

“Let's be clear: I believe we are in for some very hard times. The transitional period on our way toward a post-growth, equilibrium economy will prove to be the most challenging time any of us has ever lived through. Nevertheless, I am convinced that we can survive this collective journey, and that if we make sound choices as families and communities, life can actually be better for us in the decades ahead than it was during the heady days of seemingly endless economic expansion.”

Will Men Survive the Transition?

I’ve been a psychotherapist focused on men’s health since 1965. One of my colleagues, Dr. Herb Goldberg, author of the 1976 best-seller, The Hazards of Being Male said,

“The American man, an endangered species? Absolutely! The male has paid a heavy price for his masculine ‘privilege’ and power. He is out of touch with his emotions and his body. He is playing by the rules of the male game plan and with lemming-like purpose he is destroying himself—emotionally, psychologically, and physically.”

When I first starting talking about male vulnerability, most people didn’t take me seriously. In 1965 or even 1976, the idea of men as an endangered species seemed a long way from our consciousness. But times have changed and our awareness has been awakened. Recently, the prestigious British Journal of Medicine published an editorial written by Siegfried Meryn, M.D. titled “The future of men and their health: Are men in danger of extinction?”

“Although there is still a long way to go in most societies around the world, it is clear that women can perform (and on most occasions outperform) pretty much all the tasks traditionally reserved for men,” says Dr. Meryn in his editorial. “In most of the developed world women are starting to outnumber men in medical schools and making rapid gains in terms of equality in compensation and opportunities in the workforce. With the advent of sperm banks, in vitro fertilization, sex sorting techniques, sperm independent fertilization of eggs with somatic cells, human cloning, and same sex marriages, it is also reasonable to wonder about the future role of men in society.”

Men and the Family in a Jobless Age

In The Unemployed Man and His Family, Mirra Komarovsky vividly describes how joblessness strained—and in many cases fundamentally altered—family relationships in the 1930s. During 1935 and 1936, Komarovsky and her research team interviewed the members of 59 white middle-class families in which the husband and father had been out of work for at least a year. Her research revealed deep psychological wounds. “It is awful to be old and discarded at 40,” said one father. “A man is not a man without work.” Another said plainly, “During the depression I lost something. Maybe you call it self-respect, but in losing it I also lost the respect of my children, and I am afraid I am losing my wife.” Noted one woman of her husband, “I still love him, but he doesn’t seem as ‘big’ a man.”

Children described their father as “mean,” “nasty,” or “bossy,” and didn’t want to bring friends around, for fear of what he might say. “There was less physical violence towards the wife than towards the child,” Komarovsky wrote. In my own work with men and their families, I’ve found that men become increasingly irritable, angry, and withdrawn. Some turn to alcohol or drugs. Other’s spend endless hours on their computers. The impact of joblessness can wreck families.

Andrew Oswald, an economist at the University of Warwick, in the U.K., and a pioneer in the field of happiness studies, says no other circumstance produces a larger decline in mental health and well-being than being involuntarily out of work for six months or more. It is the worst thing that can happen, he says, equivalent to the death of a spouse, and “a kind of bereavement” in its own right. Only a small fraction of the decline can be tied directly to losing a paycheck, Oswald says; most of it appears to be the result of a tarnished identity and a loss of self-worth. Unemployment leaves psychological scars that remain even after work is found again, and, because the happiness of husbands and the happiness of wives are usually closely related, the misery spreads throughout the home.

I’ve found that middle-aged men are often the most hard it. They have long been accustomed to the routine and support of the office or factory. When they lose their jobs, they not only lose their support systems, but they lose faith in themselves. This loss was perhaps captured best by American playwright Eugene O’Neil in his play Long Day's Journey into Night. The play was autobiographical and although it was completed in 1940, it wasn’t produced until 1956, three years after his death. The play itself captured the desperation felt by many men caught in the depression. The following lines from the play speak to the internal devastation so many men faced then and still face today:

“It was a great mistake my being born a man. I would have been much more successful as a sea gull or a fish. As it is, I will always be a stranger who never feels at home, who does not really want and is not really wanted, who can never belong, who must always be a little in love with death.”

How Can Men Choose Life in a World Without Work?

We may be going through the most difficult transition that humans have ever experienced on earth. These are strong words, I know. But the truth is that we have been living out an addictive fantasy for some time and we must change if we are going to survive. We can not continue to have a growing economy, one that takes more and more of the earth’s resources and turns them into garbage. We have to live more sustainably if we are going to live at all.

Daniel Quinn, the visionary author of Ishmael said, “The problem is that man's conquest of the world has itself devastated the world. And in spite of all the mastery we've attained, we don't have enough mastery to stop devastating the world, or to repair the devastation we've already wrought." He reminds us that if humans are going to be around in 10, 20, or 100 years, we will need to change our ways. It is often the ones who are most devastated by the present who lead the way to the future. Here are 5 things that men can do now.

Accept that this is the end of an era. Despite what many will tell us, the economy as we know it is never going to recover. The sooner we face that fact, the better. Here’s how Heinberg puts it: “We have reached the end of economic growth as we have known it.” The "growth" we are talking about consists of the expansion of the overall size of the economy (with more people being served and more money changing hands) and of the quantities of energy and material goods flowing through it. The economic crisis that began in 2008 was both foreseeable and inevitable, and that it marks a permanent, fundamental break from past decades—a period in which economists adopted the unrealistic view that perpetual economic growth is necessary and also possible to achieve.

When I work with alcoholics and drug addicts in recovery, the first step is to acknowledge powerlessness. It’s paradoxical, but we gain power the more we accept the things we cannot change. One of those things is that the world of employment we have known is over. When we accept that fact, rather than fighting it, we can move on.

Define “being a man” in new ways. If we continue to define our manhood based on our ability to work in the old economy, we set ourselves up for failure. It would be like holding on to the horse as a symbol of manly transportation. “Real men ride horses. Choosing any other way to get around means you’re not a man.”

In the new era, manhood will be defined less on what we do than by who we are. Are we kind, compassionate, understanding, supportive? We’ll have to learn to take on qualities that have been traditionally more associated with women. For some men, they’d rather die than do that. Others will find it a relief to let go of the old macho constraints and learn to live in new ways.

Learn that feelings are manly. Most of us have grown up believing that real men stuff their feelings. We were told that real men don’t cry. Real men don’t complain. Real men aren’t afraid. The only feelings we grew up being allowed were anger and lust. We would spend endless hours talking about who we were pissed at and who we wanted to have sex with.

But men experience a whole symphony of feelings, but have only learned to play two notes. Here’s a list of a few feelings. Which ones do you express openly and often? Which ones would you like to learn to express more fully?

Understanding, playful, calm, afraid, worried, hurt, courageous, delighted, overjoyed, festive, affectionate, tender, guilty, considerate, enthusiastic, ashamed, secure, optimistic, brave, liberated, thrilled, gleeful, and ecstatic.

Help others. Find the path with a heart. It’s easy to sit around a feel sorry for ourselves. Yes, we were promised a better life and yes, we feel entitled to more. But, let’s face it, the party’s over. We’re not the only ones who are hurting. Believe me, there are many others out there who are suffering. No matter what your situation, there is a lot you can do to help.

We have longed based our identity on material success. But the era of earning more money to buy more “stuff” is over. We don’t have to have stuff in order to be a success. Some of the best people who have ever lived shared their gifts with others and had little material wealth to show for it.

Mahatma Gandhi died possessing only a pair of sandals, a robe, a staff, a spinning wheel, his spectacles, and a prayer book. Yet, he helped millions.

Mozart was buried in an unmarked pauper’s grave. His music has touched the hearts of the world.

Confucius was a failure as a bread-winner and was dependent on his small band of disciples for his sustenance. His philosophy has lasted thousands of years.

Rembrandt ended his life in austerity, as did Beethoven, Bach, and Van Gogh. Jesus died leaving only a robe for which the Roman soldiers cast lots.

This is a great time to be alive. The economy may be going under, but there’s still a lot that needs to be done. Find someone you can help. Find something you can do. Opportunities surround us. “Wherever a man turns he can find someone who needs him,” said Albert Schweitzer.

Join a men’s group. Throughout human history men have congregated in support groups. It was recognized and understood that men needed time to be with other men, just as women needed to be with women. Women still spend time with their sisters, but men have lost connection with brotherly love.

I have been in a men’s group that has been meeting regularly since 1979. We came together as a way to support each other through the changes we were experiencing in life. We’ve stayed together because we’ve come to love each other and depend upon each other for mutual support.

We just returned from a four day extended weekend at a ranch in Arizona. As usual, we ate well, went on long walks together, caught up on our lives, and just shared the pleasure of being men and being alive. Here’s something I wrote to the 6 other guys in the group at a time I was facing a life-threatening operation and wasn’t sure about my future: “I’m thinking of you all with love and affection, a sly smile, and a deep sense of gratitude for all you have meant to me. You are my brothers, my friends, my teachers, my playmates. I honor you and us and our group. I love you.”

Ultimately it all gets back to love. As author Sam Keen says: “The radical vision of the future rests on the belief that the logic that determines either our survival or our destruction is simple:

1. The new human vocation is to heal the earth.
2. We can only heal what we love.
3. We can only love what we know.
4. We can only know what we touch.

If this article has touched you, I look forward to hearing from you. I can be reached through my website at

©2010 Jed Diamond

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Wealth can't buy health, but health can buy wealth. - Henry David Thoreau


Jed Diamond is the internationally best-selling author of eight books including Male Menopause, now translated into 17 foreign languages. Other books include Looking for Love in All the Wrong Place, The Irritable Male Syndrome: Managing. The 4 Key Causes of Depression and Aggression and his latest book Mr. Mean: Saving Your Relationship from the Irritable Male Syndrome. For over 45 years he has been a leader in the field of men's health. He is a member of the International Scientific Board of the World Congress on Men’s Health and has been on the Board of Advisors of the Men’s Health Network since its founding in 1992. His work has been featured in major newspapers throughout the United States including the New York Times, Boston Globe, Wall Street Journal, The Los Angeles Times, and USA Today. He has been featured on more than 1,000 radio and T.V. programs including The View with Barbara Walters, Good Morning America, Inside Edition, CBS, NBC, and Fox News, To Tell the Truth, Extra, Leeza, Geraldo, and Joan Rivers. He also did a nationally televised special on Male Menopause for PBS. To receive a Free E-book on Men’s Health and a free subscription to Jed’s e-newsletter go to . If you are looking for an expert counselor to help with relationship issues, contact Jed at E-Mail.

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