Jay B. Rohrlich

Wall Street and Psychology

VTR Date: May 21, 1981

Guest: Rohrlich, Jay B.


Host: Richard D. Heffner
Guest: Jay B. Rohrlich, M.D.
Title: Wall Street and Psychology
VTR: 5/2/81

I’m Richard Heffner, your host on THE OPEN MIND. A few months back, I did a program that focused on a most intriguing new book, Work and Love: A Crucial Balance. My guest was Dr. Jay Rohrlich, Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry and Attending Psychiatrist at the Cornell Medical College and New York University. Now, obviously many of our viewers were quite taken with Dr. Rohrlich’s insights into what seems to be a natural, necessary opposition between work and love. Obviously too, a lot of others were also taken by this dichotomy between work or love. The Wall Street Journal did a piece on Dr. Rohrlich, which seems quite appropriate, since his private psychiatric practice is on Wall Street, and it may be both cause and effect of his professional interest in the work of men and women who are sometimes hugely successful at work, but whose loves and whose lives at home do not reflect the same level of achievement. Then New York magazine did a special Valentine’s Day issue on love and work, quoting what it correctly calls Dr. Rohrlich’s elegant book on the self-centered nature of work and the capacity of love on the other hand to dissolve boundaries between ourselves and other people, places and things. So I’ve asked Dr. Rohrlich back to continue this discussion on THE OPEN MIND.

Thanks very much for coming back, Jay. I…

ROHRLICH: Thank you very much, dick, for inviting me back.

HEFFNER: …did get a lot of reaction to what had been said. And toward the end of the last program we did, I got to the question of, that you raise, about women in the work force. And you had said, “Furthermore, because unconscious fear of their own potential castration persists from infancy into adulthood in many men, women represent a continuous threat. They symbolize the fact of castration as a real possibility. For this unconscious reason, women are often not welcome in the phallic work world dominated by men. To take on a woman as a wife is one thing; but to have her as a colleague is another. For many men this leads to a kind of shame by association”. I asked whether this was seriously an issue, and you rather felt that it was. But I want to develop a little further today. Is it something that is prevalent in the world of work, this concern about working with women?

ROHRLICH: I have found it to be quite a common thing, except you have to scratch the surface sometimes in order to get it or to get at it. I think it can be concealed and camouflaged by other issues, by rationalizations, by dodges of one sort or another that avoid addressing the issue directly. But there is some fundamental antagonism that I have found often in terms of men’s attitudes towards women in the work force working as equals, side by side.

HEFFNER: Instinctive, related to psychoanalytic observations of the nature of mankind?

ROHRLICH: I think there are fantasies and ideas that are, that take root very early in our psychological lives and in the first couple of years of life that then develop into prejudices of one sort or another and remain in a kind of unconscious by very effective and powerful state and governing our adult behavior. There was a book that was written a couple of years ago about racism, white racism, and the associations between the color and our attitudes about people of color. And early infantile associations between the color of Negro skin and what it means. And it’s a similar kind of thing that becomes a kind of cultural neurosis.

HEFFNER: What happens then, when a woman enters the world of work and becomes as involved with that world and as devoted to it, perhaps to the exclusion of a satisfactory involvement with love, as the other side of that dichotomization? How can one explain when her presence in that role when she doesn’t bring those instinctive attitudes towards maleness as opposed to femaleness? Can she, in your estimation, can she bring to the world of work the tools that are necessary to be as successful as many men are?

ROHRLICH: Absolutely. She can absolutely bring the necessary tools and competences. The fact that there are forces that are operating in our unconscious minds from the earliest phases of lour lives doesn’t mean that we are absolutely and blindly dominated by these things. I mean, if we know them and we know that they maybe there, we can overcome them. I think there are…And it doesn’t necessarily mean that women can’t work effectively side by side with men. I think that there are problems though those need to be overcome and addressed. Prejudices. I sometimes, with patients who bring these kinds of problems into my office, a man who may say, “We hired a…a woman became a partner of mine yesterday, and I feel funny. There’s something strange. I’m uneasy about it. I feel awkward about traveling wither, about what kind of assignments to give her, share with her, the kind of, how we participate in decision-making process”. And when you sift through some of the reasons why he feels the way he does, the unconscious meanings can become conscious, and that can dissipate the tension and the difficulty and make for a very effective working relationship.

HEFFNER: Conscious or unconscious. How do you, to what do you describe the seeming very great interest now on the question of work and love? Suddenly. It’s not just the Wall Street Journal piece about you or the New York magazine. But this does seem to be something so very, very compelling in our society. How so?

ROHRLICH: I think that, I attribute a fair amount of it to the women’s movement, and the role that the women’s movement has playing in endowing work with the kind of ultimate value and dignity in the self-esteem of a woman. That a woman who cannot have a career that generates all the symbols of success is half a person. And I think that that attitude was extremely powerful until a short time ago. And I think we’re beginning to see a reaction to that where there are a great many women who are saying, “I bought that. It worked for me up to a point. But there’s more to my destiny as a woman than that”. And I think women have spearheaded this balancing act and are forcing us to address the deeper meanings of working and loving and trying to put it all together in our lives an not just emphasize one or the other.

HEFFNER: You say some women are saying that “There’s more to my destiny”. Does that go back to biology is destiny?

ROHRLICH: Yes, biology, whatever it is that represents our identity, that can make us a complete person, a whole person, the biological fact is that women bear children. And that’s not a fact that is to be discarded. And I have seen a number of women…In fact, in The New York Times a couple of months ago there was an article about women who are graduating from college now and deciding about professional schools and business schools, and there is a reaction now to immediately jumping into the work force. And there are many women who are quite serious about their self-respect who are saying, “My self-respect will be incomplete if I repudiate mothering and family in the service of a career”.

HEFFNER: Is that because there is a recognition of this dichotomization that you write about in Work and Love, that it’s, in our other program I asked you whether it really meant, whether you really meant work or love. And the answer seemed to be cast in the affirmative, that you were urging a crucial balance between the two, but that they seem to go off in different directions, they seem to tap different aspects of the human spirit. And I wondered whether it is this phenomenon that you are describing, newer attitudes on the part of some women at least, was a reflection of the recognition that there is this dichotomization between work and love. Too difficult to put together?

ROHRLICH: No. I think there is this recognition. If I understand you question correctly. I think that we have come just to a kind of higher level of awareness of our human potential in that we don’t have to pigeonhole our energies and go only in one direction or another. But we are…I’m very happy about this turn of events, that people are saying, “Well, we can do both, and it’s a difficult proposition”. And people are addressing the task in a way that is very gratifying to me to feel that I may have had something to do with that.

HEFFNER: Your book, The Crucial Balance…are you satisfied that more and more people are striking the balance, or that more people are recognizing the differences between the energies that go into work and love and, more realistically, investing themselves in one or the other? Are you suggesting that there is this more crucial balance that has been developed?

ROHRLICH: Yes. And people, as a result of having read the book and having a lot of what’s going on in society now seeping into them, I’ve gotten calls from people who are saying, “I have been imbalanced. And I recognize that I’ve been single-minded about my energies. And I could lead a richer life, even though it may be somewhat more difficult to do, if I address both of these areas”. And I think people are addressing it more. One of the things that having written this book and studying the whole issue more carefully has brought home to me is that maybe balance isn’t the proper word for it, because it has a kind of mechanical quality that, you know, if you put so much on this side, and so much on that side. It’s really not that easy, because there’s a tension that is really the crucial issue. The tension between work and love. They don’t mix. You can’t simply mechanically put a little bit of work and a little bit of love and mix it all up and you have a proper balance. There will always be a tension. There are all sorts of dichotomies in our lives, and this is a very basic one. There’s a dichotomy that pulls us in opposite directions that represents a kind of…And tension is a good thing. Tension is what being alive is all about. A flower that’s growing sticking up in the air has a certain kind of dynamic tension. When it dies it gets limp and it falls over. And all of these tensions in our lives, like the tension between work and love or objectivity and subjectivity, quantity and quality, body and mind, to lead the richest life I think we have to accept the natural tensions that exist between these dichotomies and work to try to harmonize them. There will always be a pulling and a tugging. And I think that’s one of the things that energizes our lives and makes them exciting.

HEFFNER: Isn’t it also crazy-making?

ROHRLICH: There are all sorts of good things in our lives that, if we do too much of a good thing it’s going to turn sour in some way. I think tension is a good thing. It has its limits. I think we can exhaust ourselves if all we are is sort of embroiled in this tension. That can make us crazy, sure. But I’m willing to take the chance.

HEFFNER: You know, reading the letters that I received after we did that program, time and time again it was made clear that the letter came from someone who was, or more frequently was related to a workaholic, someone who is inordinately, enormously, totally involved in the world of work, and for whom, I guess, the world of love, of the kinds of emotional investments that you’ve described, otherwise, that there was no real room for that. I wondered if you get the same kinds of reactions that what your, or what the people who reply to you and that respond to you are those who are beset by a life in which they’re bothered by the brother, the husband, the father who is so much involved with work that he has no room for the other side of the equation.

ROHRLICH: I have gotten a lot of calls. And one of the saddest things, I get a great number of calls from people who have said, “Is there some way that you can suggest to me – I’ve read your book – is there some way that you can suggest to me to get my husband”, and in one or two cases it ws, “My wife – some way to trick them, to cajole them to come in and see you, or to see any, a psychiatrist who can deal with this problem? It’s killing me. He seems to be…has no recognition that there is a problem here. How do you make somebody believe that it’s a problem?”

HEFFNER: Well, how do you? And is it a problem? For that person?

ROHRLICH: You know, I just came up here from my office, and someone who was sitting in the chair was asking me the very same question.

HEFFNER: You won’t charge me for asking, will you? (Laughter)

ROHRLICH: (Laughter) It’s a fascinating question. And I think you’re dealing with the question of addiction, and whether or not an addiction is, by definition, a problem. You know, can we be addicted to good things? My feeling is that no addiction can be a good thing, because it’s you are, by definition, a victim if you are an addict. You are not in control. Something has control of you. It just, as a basic concept that’s a feeling that I have. Furthermore, I think most addicts, if they’re truly going to gratify their addiction, have to live alone. Because your primary relationship is with whatever addictive substance or experience that you have. And I think there are some addicts who can manage okay, but they lead relatively solitary lives. Those people who want to have relationships with family, wives, children, husbands, parents, cannot be addicted if they want truly to have the kinds of relationships that are rich ones and good ones.

HEFFNER: But that’s sort of, you know, creating your own question and then answering it. If they want to have that kind of relationship. But what about those many people who contribute to the gross national product as hugely as they do because of their single-minded involvement in work? You’re not writing them off. They may still have families. They may still have ones who are called loved ones. Is there an indication in your practice – that’s not fair – in your lifetime, in your involvement with the kinds of people you come to know, that we depend upon as a society, that we depend upon to some considerable extent the person who is single-minded in his or her devotion?

ROHRLICH: Depend upon and exploit.

HEFFNER: Well, okay. As a nation we may exploit them. But do we depend upon, do we need the person who is not in balance? You talked about a crucial balance. You might change that word. But who is not in balance? Do we need that kind of person?

ROHRLICH: I think in certain structures those people are indispensable. The corporate structures for example, where the employee must be married to the company, where the primary relationship is with the company, and I think the larger some corporations get the more that is the mandate. And it certainly can have a dehumanizing effect on people who are not in control of their jobs.

HEFFNER: Okay. Dehumanizing effect, granted. But I’m asking about the contribution that’s made. For instance, some years back on THE OPEN MIND we did a program on creativity and neurosis. And Isaac Stern and the late Lionel Trilling and Nathan Kline, your colleague in the field of psychiatry, discussed this. Well, the opinion came down on the negative side, there wasn’t any negative connection between neurosis and creativity. In fact, they decided there was a negative relationship in the sense that if you were neurotic you weren’t plumbing the best of your depths, you weren’t being as creative as you could be. A lot of response to that. A lot of people said, “Nonsense. I create because I’m not like all the rest”. And I wonder if men and women who have been inordinately successful in the world of work, upon whom we depend, might say the same thing.

ROHRLICH: Yes, I absolutely agree with that. I think that to say that someone, something may be the outgrowth of a psychological problem doesn’t denigrate the product. I think Picasso, for example, no one could say that Picasso was a mediocre artist or a minor contributor. He was probably the major contributor to twentieth century art. I recently finished Francois Gileaux’s autobiography. Obviously a somewhat biased presentation, but the picture that we get from that and from other writings about Picasso is that this was a man who had to be in control at all times, of everything. Control of himself, of his instincts, of his women, of his materials. And as a result of this need to control, he was remarkably and brilliantly productive.

HEFFNER: As a result.

ROHRLICH: As a result, yes. And I mean, in my terminology he was a work addict of the most…I think Benjamin Franklin also. When I was, during the bicentennial celebration, I was down in Philadelphia visiting some friends that there was a movie about Benjamin Franklin. And it talked, it showed excerpts from his career and little vignettes. And when he was named ambassador and moved to, to…

HEFFNER: France.

ROHRLICH: …France, he stayed in Europe for, I think, over ten years. And there were pictures of his wife and children back in the United States getting one letter every couple of years from him. His son was in jail. That Franklin had virtually abandoned his family. And there was, in terms of a balance, I mean, Franklin, one of the great men in the nation’s history, but he had really neglected, and I think perhaps ruined some other peoples’ lives.

HEFFNER: So, so much for the crucial balance. Two strikes, perhaps: Picasso and old Ben Franklin. Had there been that crucial balance in their lives we would not, presumably, have had the kinds of creative activity on their part. Is that unfair?

ROHRLICH: I think you’re absolutely right. I am…it’s the kind of…

HEFFNER: So you’re not even pushing a balance.

ROHRLICH: I’m not pushing a balance. And that’s just what I want…I’m not trying to legislate something, or pushing, or proselytizing for something. The people who come to me – and I pointed this out to you in the last program – people come to me…

HEFFNER: You don’t go to them.

ROHRLICH: …I don’t go to them. People who read this book are people who already want to try to do something about their lives. And it’s their own needs that motivate them. No one is forced it in them. Really, people can’t be made to do things against their will. The single most critical factor in the success of psychotherapy is the motivation of the patient. If the patient wants something, you’re 90 percent there. So I mean, it would be foolish for me to try to push anything on anybody. I still believe it’s an ideal that this kind of balance and tension, I don’t think, I’m sure that there are artists who may not have been able to fill three museums with their work but the quality of their work would have been quite good. Maybe not quantitatively as great as Picasso’s. And I think Franklin probably could have made a few more trips home and perhaps invited his wife and kids to come and stay with hi in Europe, and still would have been as productive as he was.

HEFFNER: But you know, that’s the, that comes back to the question that I raise in terms of your work with people from Wall Street. I really wonder whether, in that crucial area, our economic life, whether we would find – I’ll be cute about it – the diminution of the gross national product if there were more people who felt subjectively the necessity to strike a better balance in this business of work and love, or whether we’d start to go downhill in terms of our economy.

ROHRLICH: That’s an excellent question.

HEFFNER: I guess the question I’m asking is: When you find people who have come to you and whatever compulsive behavior there has been that has led them to have an imbalance in this relationship, and they begin to work that out and they begin to find a better balance, does their productivity decrease, increase, stay the same?

ROHRLICH: I have never seen a patient who h as regretted, a person who had been, let’s say, work addicted, and where the addiction becomes cured, for want of a better term, regretted that change. Not one person has been fired, degraded in any way in his work. I think that there may be less of a quantitative output of work, but it is usually compensated for in quality. And I cannot talk about things on a larger scale because all I do is deal with individuals, and it’s very difficult for me to generalize. It’s impossible for me to generalize. But no individual has regretted a trade-off between quality and quantity.

HEFFNER: I guess the real question was: Would others, would society regret that, that trade-off? Not the individual, but would society?

ROHRLICH: You know, another factor that’s involved…

HEFFNER: In 30 seconds.

ROHRLICH: (Laughter) …in that question is the age of the person. I think we can get away with more work addiction in our twenties and our early thirties. It’s a time for it. We want more balance, and we’re probably looking for more balance in our thirties and forties and fifties.

HEFFNER: You’re telling me I’m too old to work as hard as I do.

ROHRLICH: (Laughter) I’m getting there also.

HEFFNER: Thanks very much, Dr. Jay Rohrlich.

And thanks, too, to you in the audience. I hope you join us again on THE OPEN MIND. Meanwhile, as an old friend used to say, “Good night, and good luck”.