Self-esteem can suffer when you retire, warns consultant psychologist Michael Longhurst, but there are ways of

When we retire, our self-concept, that is the way in which we see or define ourselves, changes. If we commence retirement with a positive self-concept and feel good about ourselves, we are said to have healthy levels of self-esteem.

What are the symptoms of low self-esteem?

People experiencing low self-esteem may display a number of the following behaviours:

Low self-esteem in retirement

When people find that their self-esteem is taking a bit of a hammering after retiring, it is usually because they are experiencing some kind of loss. When we leave the workplace, it is not just our career and salary that ceases - we are also separated from a number of other less obvious work-related benefits that once contributed to our job-satisfaction. Let’s look at some of the more common areas now.

1. Loss of status

Holding down a role which is highly visible or well regarded by our peers is important to some people. Being able to say that you are the Chief Executive Officer or the National Sales Manager of an organisation rolls rather well off the tongue. On retirement, the loss of this status may impact negatively.

2. Loss of identity

It is very common for people to identify themselves with their job. You will hear them say, I am a teacher or I am an accountant. In fact, most people have many facets to their lives but these seem to take second place. In addition to being ?an accountant’ they may also be ?a parent’ and ?a pianist’ and ?a loyal friend’ and ?a superb cook’. On retirement, however, people with a strong sense of identity with their job tend not to focus on their other skills and attributes and may consider that saying they ?are retired’ does not sound very interesting.

3. Loss of structure

Not too many of us enjoy being ?chained’ to the workplace from 8.00 until 6.00. However, even though we may resent the loss of freedom at the time, a structured workplace can provide us with a sense of purpose, ready-made goals, and a set of behavioural boundaries that keep us feeling secure and purposeful. When we retire, this structure ceases and some people describe feeling lost, and concerned that they may waste their retirement years drifting from day to day unproductively.

4. Loss of social networks

The friends we make at work are typically bound to us by the commonality we share, that is, the work environment, the office gossip, and of course the work itself. When people leave an organisation it is unlikely that these ?friends’ will stay in contact for long. The commonality has gone and usually most former workmates drift apart. The loss of social networks, particularly where many of our friends have been work-related, can also bring about a loss of self-esteem; people feel lonely and cut-off.

How do I rebuild and maintain my self-esteem?

We said earlier that our self-esteem (how we feel about ourselves) is governed by our self-concept (how we perceive ourselves). Now is the time to sit down and ask yourself what areas of your life in retirement are impacting negatively on your self-concept. For example,

  1. Are you missing the cut and thrust of socialising with people on a daily basis?
  2. Are you concerned that you lack direction in life now that you have retired?
  3. Are you missing the status provided by your former career?

If you find that there are some problem areas, there are two important steps you can take:

Firstly, spend some time to identifying the attributes and behaviours that make you feel good about yourself, then write them down. For example, if you are a loyal friend, write down, I am a loyal friend to Sue and I know she appreciates our friendship. Keep adding to your list as you think of new positive attributes or behaviours.

If you regret mistakes from the past, forgive yourself as a fallible human being. Write down something such as this in your own words: Like most human beings, I have made some mistakes in the past. This does not mean I will continue to do so in the future. While I regret my mistakes, I have also done many good things in my life and am proud of them.

The second step is to identify all the work-related areas that you miss and then to explore methods of replacing them with activities in retirement. If you are missing your social networks from work, replace them by joining clubs, enrolling in study groups, joining a daily walking group or whatever links in with your interests. You will soon find that the commonality of your particular interest group will result in you making new social contacts. If you find you are missing the structure of the workplace, buy a diary or daily planner wall-chart. Mark in the regular activities that you attend now and add new ones. Have something on the chart for each day of the week - Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays are the walking group, Tuesdays are Art Studies at U3A, Thursdays are lunch or coffee with a friend…

If you find you are missing the status of your former role, look around for groups or organisations that will be grateful for your talents. For example, if you are an accountant, offer to look after the books for your club or group. If you have been in sales or marketing, offer to design a membership or publicity drive for your club.

Whatever it is that you may be missing from your former workplace, you can find in retirement – the key is to identify just what it is that you are missing and go about finding new sources from the limitless opportunities retirement offers us.

These article and many more, were in the
(15th edition) of Your Retirement, Your Life.

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