Berlin psychologists Aurelia Sète and Vivian Birchall analyze the topic of resignation from a psychological perspective.
Berlin. Resignations occur wherever there are offices and positions – whether in a skat club, a booster club, a company works council or a parents’ board. Resignations affect corporate leaders just as much as high-ranking politicians, athletes or national coaches. Depending on how well known the person is and how big the fall is, the public likes to discuss resignations. Psychologists Aurelia Sète (36) and Vivian Birchall (33) from the Mental Health Institute Berlin (MHI) explain what happens when someone resigns from a psychological perspective.
Berliner Morgenpost: Why can it be difficult for a successful person to resign from a position?
Aurelia Sète: Basically, it’s similar to interpersonal relationships. The principle is: the more I have already invested, the harder it is for me to part with it. At the same time, prestige and recognition play a major role here. Often, people in such positions are fundamentally very performance-oriented and perhaps define themselves in terms of professional success. A job like this then also becomes an important pillar for self-worth and is identity-forming.
What does a resignation do to you psychologically? Can you still feel like a winner despite the successes you’ve had – or does that feeling come later?
Aurelia Sète: That depends on various factors: On the one hand, certainly on the personality structure, because, as I said, resignation can be a great threat to one’s self-worth. But also on the circumstances of the resignation. That is, whether it is voluntary or not. Another factor is the question of what comes next, or how the “hole” that has been created will be filled: Will I remain in a successful position or not? It is also possible that a balance sheet will be drawn up – and a realization will be made of all the things that have perhaps been missed during the intensive professional period – for example in relation to family or friends. A benevolent attitude toward oneself can have a protective effect here.
Vivian Birchall: A stable private environment is always helpful. Remembering past successes and appreciating them appropriately, as well as developing a meaningful perspective, also has a stabilizing effect. Basically, our brain tends to focus on negative things. This is called the “negativity effect” or “negativity bias”. This socio-psychological phenomenon must be counteracted here in particular.
After all, the saying goes: Thou shalt quit when it’s at its best. Isn’t it very difficult for the individual to decide when it is most beautiful? After all, it can always get more beautiful?
Vivian Birchall: That’s right. Every success has a reinforcing effect – and often tempts people to want more and more. Not for nothing are there enough prominent examples of this.
And how important is the right time to step back so that you go down in history?
Aurelia Sète: You can’t give a general answer like that. There are many reasons why one can go down in history; these include, for example, promotions as well as scandals. But it is certainly difficult for individuals to assess the impact of a resignation at a certain point in time. There are simply too many unknown variables at play here.
Is there a golden rule for a withdrawal?
Vivan Birchall: In terms of self-efficacy, it is definitely helpful to choose a moment when you can still decide to resign.
So how do you manage to decide on a resignation yourself?
Aurelia Sète: In any case, you have to be clear about it beforehand. This certainly requires a good ability to introspect, i.e. to be able to observe oneself well internally in order to be able to assess one’s own performance.
Should one build up a successor so that a resignation is successful? Or is it part of the psychology of power that you quickly see an adversary in it?
Vivian Birchall: That depends primarily on personal motives and personality structure. If the focus is primarily on the personal power motive, it is rather difficult to endure seeing another person in one’s own position. If the focus is more on the thing itself, for example a company that has been built up, then the identification of an appropriate successor – in one’s own eyes – is quite expedient for the resignation.
Do you have to hand over everything in an orderly fashion when you step down? Or is it precisely not in order to open up opportunities for the successors?
Aurelia Sète: That, in turn, varies depending on the personality profile. If there is a narcissistic accentuation, for example, there may be an impulse not to give anyone else the chance to become as good as you are – you want to stay in the mindset of being irreplaceable. At the same time, of course, it can be self-esteem-enhancing to share your knowledge and know your project or company is in good hands.
Who should you consult about stepping down?
Aurelia Sète: If there are professional advisors in the professional environment, then certainly with them. Alternatively, there is also the possibility of exchanging ideas with coaches. But it can also be helpful to involve your private environment, since major changes often occur there as well.
Thoughts of resignation are generally considered a weakness. Is it okay to express this publicly? Or how should you prepare for a resignation?
Vivian Birchall: Basically, it would be nice if such thoughts were not interpreted as weakness. We are experiencing a change, albeit a very slow one, with regard to the acceptance of one’s own limits and new prioritization, for example in terms of work-life balance. In many cases, however, old ways of thinking are still prevalent, so it is important to be aware of the consequences here in advance. There are also still gender-specific differences in evaluation. For example, the decision to shift priority to the family in the future would certainly be more acceptable to a woman than to a man.
A resignation can also come as a surprise – is that strategically better?
Aurelia Sète: That depends. It is strategically better if I want to avoid my environment having a long time to prepare for it. Or if I don’t want to be influenced by a long public discussion. In addition, it can of course also be interpreted as a final demonstration of power along the lines of: “See how you get along without me.”
Die Klinik für Psychiatrie, Psychosomatik und Psychotherapie inmitten des Villenviertels Berlin.
Das Mental Health Institute (MHI) Berlin ist eine Privatklinik, die Menschen mit psychischen Problemen und Leiden moderne und wissenschaftlich seriöse tagesklinische und ambulante Behandlungen anbietet.
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