Tuesday 21 November 2017

After a public and humiliating exit from office, life goes on for ex-TDs

Patricia Casey is Professor of Psychiatry at UCD/Mater Hospital. Photo: Dave Meehan
Patricia Casey is Professor of Psychiatry at UCD/Mater Hospital. Photo: Dave Meehan

Patricia Casey

By the end of today, a large swathe of our TDs will have been unceremoniously and, in some cases, unpredictably forced from public office. This spectacle is both very public and deeply humiliating.

Consider the backdrop to their entering politics. They will have wanted to make society a better place and will have convinced their community they could achieve this. Thus, they became members of an institution that demanded much of their time, that ate into their personal life and that made their private lives an open book for the public to glare at.

Having adjusted to the changes this new life demanded, sometimes resulting in the destruction of their relationships or depriving them of time with their children, they were then hastily, and some might say brutally, ejected from office.

The metaphor of death has been evoked by some former politicians interviewed for one of the very few studies on the psychological impact of losing an election ('Death at the Polls' published in the 'Journal of Contemporary Ethnography' 2005). While this study was carried out in Canada, it is highly likely that the reaction of our politicians will be no different.

It is likely that many will feel stunned and numbed by the suddenness of what had befallen them. Having committed themselves to their political career, its ending will be felt as shocking and, for many, utterly devastating. They will mourn the life they are leaving behind.

Some will feel anger and it will be projected onto various sources that will include the leader of their party, the media and an ungrateful public. They will attempt to explain away what has happened as due to the timing of the election, their own ill health, the campaign, the date of the election, the content of the campaign and an ungrateful public. All of these rationalisations will undoubtedly emerge as the results are scrutinised in the coming days.

By using these psychological strategies of projection and rationalisation, they will be able to depersonalise the situation and absolve themselves of any personal responsibility, allowing them to retain their self-esteem and self-worth in the face of defeat. Others will try to reappraise it in a more positive way, focusing on the silver lining, such as having more time with the family.

Despite these strategies, many may still question their value as people and as politicians, and have difficulty in seeing the defeat as an assault on them as a person. Many may feel lonely at the loss of social contact. Having lived with the privilege that public office offers, they are now in a new and different phase of life. Instantly recognisable nationally, they are now just ordinary 'guys'.

Adjusting to the mundane life is a huge challenge and some, for a period, withdraw from social life.

Defeat at the polls may seem like a terrifying prospect but over time former politicians do adjust to their new life. Ultimately, their innate resilience will grasp personal victory from the jaws of public defeat.

Patricia Casey is Professor of Psychiatry at UCD/Mater Hospital

Irish Independent

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