Who knew there was a word for the mixture of “anxiety and unrealistic optimism”? According to an article in USA Today it’s called ‘hypomania’ and the current generation suffers from it. According to the article, the young people suffering through the Great Depression may have had it rough, but at least they had their mental health. Today’s high school and college students, on the other hand, are supposedly 5 or 6 times more likely to suffer from some sort of an anxiety or depression disorder. And a quarter of those surveyed had what might be called an attitude disorder–they didn’t think ‘the rules’ applied to them.
There are probably all kinds of reasons for the results found by the study cited in the article, including, perhaps, today’s young people being more willing to be honest about how they feel. I’ll focus on the astrological reasons only.
In 1969, a man named Nathaniel Braden published a book called The Psychology of Self-Esteem and started the self-esteem movement. (It wasn’t a very good book, by the way. My mother got it for me and I was not impressed.) The timing of Braden’s book wasn’t a coincidence astrologically.
In 1970, shortly after the book was published, the skies ushered in the Long Era of Sagittarius, patron sign of unrealistic optimism. From 1970 to 2008, with a short break in the 1990s, one of the big outer planets (Pluto, Neptune or Uranus) was in Sagittarius. These planets glommed right on to the notion of self-esteem because it fit their Sagittarian bias toward believing that failure either doesn’t exist or is irrelevant. So for 40 years almost, American children (perhaps children worldwide, the phenomenon was not limited to the US) were fed on a steady diet of self-esteem and unrealistic optimism. No wonder they’re anxious.
Unrealistic optimism is a recipe for anxiety as it is, by its nature, unrealistic. Much like the financial system was, children were taught to balance themselves on a house of self-esteem cards they knew could not stand forever. Another study, summarized in this article, explains why unrealistic self-esteem is so anxiety-provoking. The Pluto in Leo parents of these children fed the phenomenon because the sign of Leo places a great premium on confidence, assertiveness and even, one could argue, on a sense of entitlement.
After 40 years of almost non-stop Sagittarius influence on our culture, we were probably all a bit hypomaniac by 2007 (when the hypomaniac students were surveyed). We’d have been weird if we weren’t. We may have subconsciously known that the Pluto in Capricorn era was coming, that the center wouldn’t hold, that we had to get our piece of the pie before the pie disappeared.
The pie has disappeared now or at least gotten a lot smaller. A new sign is the Big Man on Campus for the moment, Capricorn. Capricorn loves to think about failure and is suspicious of success. I read an article in Vanity Fair this summer about an elite girls school, and the new headmistress summed up the new regime. She takes the attitude that we’re all a bunch of softies, afraid to hurt each other’s feelings.
Her name is Kate Windsor and she says “This idea of a structure of hierarchy or power has been really dismissed as being not part of the American way or the American Dream. We can all do, we can all be, and we’re all successful.” Ms. Windsor dislikes the idea that we can all be successful. She is in favor of formality, matter-of-factness, losers as well as winners, traditions, and purposely making people anxious so they can learn to be tough.
She could be the PR spokesflack for Pluto in Capricorn. Capricorn is hierarchy and Pluto is power. Ergo, Pluto in Cap is all over the concept of a hierarchy of power. It loves formality, unsentimentality, tradition, fear, and toughness. Given that the hypomania-inducing concept of self-esteem has been apparently scientifically discredited now, Ms. Windsor’s view will probably become increasingly widespread.
So I suppose we should all learn that the self-esteem idea was idiotic and that the people who bought into it were equally stupid? I’m not so sure.
The idea was of the times. The Great Depression was long gone. Things were, in many respects, undeniably economically and socially better than they had been a few short decades ago. It would have been foolish to retain the Depression-era stoicism in an era of abundance. People needed to adapt to a new reality.
It was only natural to attempt to articulate a psychology of feeling good in a set of circumstances in which there was every reason to feel good. How foolish would it have been to force an ethic of ‘don’t enjoy anything and don’t be optimistic’ when there was lots to enjoy and seemingly good reason for optimism?
The self-esteem idea and the hypomania that accompanied worked for quite awhile and then it didn’t. The Ms. Windsors of the world with their Capricornian attitudes will work for awhile and then they won’t. Times change and so do our maladies. I’m not entirely sure the Sagittarian generations didn’t get a good deal out of the bargain–hypomania may be a more pleasant malady than a grindingly depressing world in which there are far more losers and far fewer winners.