How can I help someone who is being driven to (self-inflicted) violence by the economy?
August 11, 2011 11:11 AM   Subscribe

Please advise me on how to help a friend whose reaction to the stock market situation is alarming to me.

Someone I care about confessed that he had to get stitches in his hand today after punching the wall in a rage about the stock market.

I have never seen evidence of him having a bad temper, or a tendency toward violence, in the 20 years we've known each other. I don't know the specifics about his financial situation, but clearly this is causing him great personal distress; it's not just frustration with our politicians or anything that general.

What would you recommend I do or say? I don't want to belittle his concerns, or give platitudes that this will all even out eventually and that there are so many other great things in his life to be thankful for... but I also don't want to dismiss this as a non-issue, because punching a wall that hard seems to me to be a Very Bad Sign.

We're going to talk tomorrow and I do think he trusts my judgment and views me as supportive to him, so I'd like to do as much good as I can in that call. I don't know how much he will reveal to me about the specific financial peril he may be in (he is rather proud), though obviously he has revealed plenty by his actions alone. I am not close with his wife but certainly assume that she is even more worried, and likely to do much more direct good, than I can. I really have no experience with people who handle stress in such a physical way (I realize how lucky that makes me), and I would be very grateful for any advice you can provide.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (19 answers total)
a Very Bad Sign

Agreed, but a sign of what?
- serious money troubles?
- an extreme competitive streak?
- a previously concealed violent streak? (is his wife safe?)

This doesn't sound to me like pre-suicidal behavior. That's good, one thing I don't think you need to worry about.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 11:19 AM on August 11, 2011

I don't know how much he will reveal to me about the specific financial peril he may be in (he is rather proud), though obviously he has revealed plenty by his actions alone.

Yeah, I would probably also operate under the assumption that he freaked out because he lost a ton of money.

For a friend of 20 years like this guy, I would probably initially say that I will always be there for him, I will always have his back, and if there's anything I could do for him, let me know and I will do my best to make it happen. Then I would ask him what I could do for him right then, if anything.
posted by Ashley801 at 11:20 AM on August 11, 2011 [2 favorites]

I think it is great that you are taking time out to talk to him. That is really all you need to do: Express that you are concerned, and give him a chance to tell you about what is going on. You aren't a therapist, don't try to over-analyze the situation, but just make sure that he knows that you want to be there for him.

I also wouldn't take the fact that he punched through a wall as anything other than an expression of frustration. Just because he did that doesn't mean that he is going to be violent towards another person.
posted by The Devil Tesla at 11:21 AM on August 11, 2011

I've known a few men who have punched holes in walls or other inanimate objects for various, reliably stupid reasons. None were predisposed to violence, and the act of punching a wall was a split-second decision made in a moment of impotent rage, after which they were embarrassed at how cliched their behavior had been. Hell, I once kicked a dent in the side of my Volkswagen rabbit when it wouldn't start, but I have a hard time stepping on a cockroach.

If it's not a pattern, I wouldn't worry about it too much.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 11:25 AM on August 11, 2011 [7 favorites]

punching a wall that hard seems to me to be a Very Bad Sign.

Really, of what? Professional stock traders are the sort of people who do stuff like this on a day-to-day basis. I can't say I've punched a hole in a wall, but I've harmed inanimate objects for no good reason other than being pissed off a couple isolated, rare times in the past.

If this guy is having serious financial trouble, you should talk to him, and in any case give him a "hey, buddy, are you holding up ok, these days?" But this isn't an "intervention-level" incident.
posted by deanc at 11:33 AM on August 11, 2011 [2 favorites]

Stolen from a recent work e-mail:

Do: Keep calm. This is not a new global financial crisis. Rather, it’s the global economy working through the problems that remain from the breakdown that began a few years ago.
Don’t: Start fooling with your long-term financial plans based on current events in the financial world
Do: Expect more nasty ups and downs before things settle down. The U.S. debt downgrade by Standard & Poor’s removes some uncertainty from the situation in that country, but Europe’s debt problems are evolving and more surprise bad news is all but certain.
Don’t: Fool yourself into thinking things aren’t too bad if the stock markets digest news of the U.S. debt downgrade without grievous losses. Asian markets turned in declines in the mid 2-per-cent range on Monday, while European markets have been down in the 1 to 2 per cent range. That’s serious, but not catastrophic.
Do: Consider putting a little money into the market right now. Quality blue-chip dividend stocks now offer higher yields (as share prices fall, yields rise). It’s not time for any big bets on a market turnaround, but neither is it time to head for the hills.
Don’t (for god’s sake): Sell everything. If you have a well-thought-out portfolio of stocks and bonds, you’re in a good position to ride things out. Selling now may protect you from further losses, but you run a massive risk of missing the market turnaround. You’ll essentially be selling low and putting yourself in a position to buy high later on.
Do: Confine any buying you do to stuff that is down in price.
Don’t: Chase the investments that have been doing well while share prices plunge. Gold has risen because it’s seen as a hedge against uncertainty, but if the global financial system settles down you could see gold prices move lower. As for bonds, they always rise when stocks fall. Problem is, a surge in the bond market means bond yields are falling (prices and yields move in opposite directions). Government of Canada bonds maturing in five to 10 years will likely generate yields of less than 2 per cent if you buy them from a broker.
Do: Understand that investors will likely lose more money before things get better.
Don’t: Lose heart about investing. The global economy has problems. They will be worked out.
posted by smitt at 11:36 AM on August 11, 2011 [6 favorites]

If you've known him for twenty years and this is the first time he's done anything like punching a wall then honestly this is kind of a non-issue. If it went as far as stitches then he probably feels kind of dumb about it.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 11:37 AM on August 11, 2011 [4 favorites]

Tell him he's not cut out for investing if he can't handle the downs and you're here to help, and then say something humorous about punching a pillow or a boxing bag next time.
posted by michaelh at 11:39 AM on August 11, 2011

The Dow Jones was up over 3% as of a few moments ago. Nasdaq is up over 4%. Not that that addresses his uncharacteristic wall-punching but he probably feels a little better right now.
posted by longsleeves at 11:48 AM on August 11, 2011

What your friend needs to realize is the markets go up and they go down. In between, there a magnitude of opportunities to make money. Even in a down economy.
The markets are a mix of overall emotion (see wild swings, shorts) and numbers (p/e, dividends). I recall people freaking out during the 2008 downturn and pulling there money out and cutting 401k contributions. Sure, I lost money but I realized when the markets react so wildly, it is practically a steal to pick up great stocks at cheap prices. It turned out wonderfully for me as sure enough the market rebound, and I sat back with a smug smile.
Sure things look bad right now. Yet again, there are still great opportunities and remember the stock market is a long term plan.
posted by handbanana at 11:49 AM on August 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

I had a friend over text wanting to dump his shares. I worked tirelessly with him waiting to take off at an airport half way across the country. He was literally going to dump $150,000 in equities. When he landed, he texted that he never pressed execute and thanked me for talking him down. I had the pleasure of texting him that the market swung over 600 points between the time he took off and landed and was up over 400 points at close.

the key is that you have to reinforce the fact that investing is about rational decision-making. Often these sorts of people get really high when they make a killing and don't understand that the downside of that sort of behavior is that when it goes down, it can really make rational decision-making hard.

Reinforce over and over again that these decisions need to be rational.

We have a slow-improvement situation here in the States, coupled with a potential bailout-worthy bank situation in Europe. So there are going to be swings in the weeks to come. Deep breaths are needed.
posted by Ironmouth at 11:50 AM on August 11, 2011

If we are operating under the assumption that he thinks he's lost money on the stock market, please remind him that he hasn't lost any money until he sells his stocks.

Unfortunately, this is how most people react to stock drops. The rest of us know better and going on spending sprees.
posted by InsanePenguin at 11:58 AM on August 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

"Tell him he's not cut out for investing if he can't handle the downs"

please don't tell him that.

it sounds like he overreacted and now you're overreacting about his overreaction. the best way to stop this cycle before it starts is to follow Ashley801's advice to the letter. just be a friend - pretend that you heard that he was upset and not about the punching - how would you help your friend who was upset?
posted by nadawi at 12:07 PM on August 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

If you've known him for twenty years and this is the first time he's done anything like punching a wall then honestly this is kind of a non-issue. If it went as far as stitches then he probably feels kind of dumb about it.

Exactly. This doesn't sound like a sign he's suicidal or on the verge of self-harm; it could be that he's punched walls before but just not told you about it, and he didn't need stitches before. That kind of punching or hitting or breaking something inanimate can be a healthy way to get out aggression and frustration; I used to play "air drums" on my knees when I was pissed off. It's just a little embarrassing if you injure yourself in the process (I did that too, but it was just big-ass bruises on my knees).

In terms of "what can I say to help him," it's okay to not know what to say. I sometimes find that saying simply just that can be good -- that God, I wish I knew exactly what to say that would magically make everything better because I'd absolutely say it.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:12 PM on August 11, 2011

Punching a wall over the stock market is like punching a wall over your favorite team losing the Superbowl.

What would you say to him under those circumstances? It's probably just about applicable here. If he's been drinking - or watching the news - a little hard recently, maybe get him out to do some non-drinking, non-news activities and a little fresh air. Have a nice walk in the sunshine.

There may not be a need to say anything. Sometimes people do dumb stuff and the kindest thing you can do is pretend you didn't notice.

(Or, if he's that close of a friend, I suspect that something like "Dude, are you two years old??" would suffice.)
posted by Lyn Never at 12:51 PM on August 11, 2011

I'm assuming your friend does not work in the industry, but is simply upset/angry about what he sees happening to his portfolio.

When the market took a similar plunge in '08, I kept my head by not obsessively checking my stuff, and I think that's the best advice you can give. That and avoid any impulse to meddle with your portfolio.
posted by mkultra at 12:55 PM on August 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

The market is swinging wildly right now -- I'm not watching my investments because I have the world's tiniest 401(k) and I don't know enough about gaming the system to try to make money right now, all I'm doing is keeping my investments in the safe, boring place they are currently. Messing with my investments right now isn't worth the hassle or the headache. But my boyfriend has quite a lot of his general savings invested in the stock market as well as a portion of his retirement savings, and he manages his own investment accounts rather than picking a "Lifepath Retire-By-50" type of managed plan that our investment company offers (which is what I've gone with). Over the past few days he's lost tens of thousands of dollars, then regained that money plus a little more the next day, then lost everything he'd gained plus more loss yesterday. I haven't checked in with him today about it, and he hasn't punched a wall yet, but there sure has been a lot of heavy sighing and under-breath grumblings.

I can't imagine how upsetting it would be to have more money tied up in investments right now, or what I would do if I suddenly lost thousands of my retirement dollars overnight, then regained it, then lost more, then gained some back... I'd be exhausted, emotionally drained, and probably liable to punch something or throw something across the room.

If this is the first time you've ever seen your friend react this way to anything, please cut him some slack. Offer a friendly ear if you have the time/energy to let him vent at you, having a safe place to vent when you're scared like that is so valuable.
posted by palomar at 3:02 PM on August 11, 2011

Just outside of the share issue, I just want to highlight that lots of people (guys) punch walls at times in their lives, not really considering:

a) how much harder the wall is than their hands
b) how much punching the wall will hurt
c) how punching the wall could actually damage their hand quite seriously - far out of proportion to the pedestrian concerns that motivated the initial punching.

Once they've punched the wall, and hurt themselves, they often realise how childish, ill-considered and stupid the act is, and resolve to release their tensions in a more constructive way going forward. So I've heard.
posted by smoke at 4:48 PM on August 11, 2011 [2 favorites]

« Older "Crackberry Thumb" RSI...adaptive icing...   |   How to minimize fallout from work miscommunication... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.