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Election Losers -- Psychology of Defeat

Added: (Mon Dec 11 2000)

Pressbox (Press Release) - LOS ANGELES--But what about those candidates who lose? What psychological reactions do they experience? What's it like for those people who've invested their hearts, souls and possibly their own money in trying to win an election and fail?
Los Angeles psychologist Robert R. Butterworth, Ph.D., gives examples of emotional reactions that we see in the candidates as they experience defeat:
In politics, the 'F' word is failure, winning is everything, and after the end of a grueling political contest it's normal for the public to dismiss and even denigrate the loser. Few losers suffer more acutely than defeated political candidates.
"History is full of stories chronicling the shock, disbelief, depression and anger associated with loosing an election," says Butterworth.
When politicians are defeated, they suffer an emotional letdown similar to the grief and depression that follows the loss of a close friend. Psychological reactions associated with losing:

Sad and Depressive: Initially the candidate, their family and supporters put on a happy face with teary-eyed thanks as they wish good fortune to the winner. However, as the loss sinks in, the vanquished candidate becomes despondent and unmotivated, spending days and weeks in self-blame or despair with little energy or enthusiasm, trapped in self-pity.

Angry and Resentful: The candidate refuses to accept the loss and lashes out at opponents, the media, political consultants or anyone else who they feel may be responsible for their defeat. This anger blocks depression, and the revenge aspect of the loss keeps them energized, focused and away from feelings of shutting down or completely giving up. However, the bitterness and blame can lead to physical or emotional difficulties later.

Euphoria: It's almost like the losing candidate won! They're so happy to get the contest over that they talk about all the great things that they're about to embark on as a result of their defeat. It's almost as if they really didn't want the job and are relieved that the campaign is over.

Denial: Refusing to believe that they lost the election, they continue to run on their ideas. They don't go through an emotional withdrawal since they never remain out of the public eye. To them, the failed campaign was just a rehearsal for bigger and better things.

Butterworth advises the losers that though they may be feeling like it's the end of the world, "winning is not everything and the real measure of someone who's a winner is not how they handle themselves in victory but how they recover and move forward after defeat."

Dr. Butterworth's Tips for Recovering from Defeat:

Be proud of yourself -- Most people are so afraid of taking risks that they avoid any contest in which they could fail. They're cowards -- you're not. Better to have competed and lost than not to have competed at all.

Losing is a necessary part of competing -- For every contested office there are one or more losers. The odds are against you and it's bound to happen at one time or another. What a learning experience ... Many accomplished people tell us that they learned much more about themselves during defeat than in victory. They call it a transforming experience.

Don't link your self-worth to one campaign loss -- Learn from failure and win. Sometimes the people who are most successful are the ones who have come back from defeat. You're not alone ... Charles Goodyear, Richard Nixon, Mozart, Van Gogh and Hubert Humphrey all had severe failures but they are still remembered for their accomplishments.

You're not dead -- Although some believe that one's fear of losing is related to fear of the ultimate loss, death, you're still alive and kicking. Rather than going into despondency or self blame take a much needed vacation. "The ability to bounce back after a defeat is the true sign of a winner," says Butterworth.

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