‘Wealth can be pretty isolating’: Problems that rich people face, according to therapists

Depressed young male smoking cigarette, drinking alcohol and holding his head in hand.
Mixmike | E+ | Getty Images

Can money buy happiness? Contrary to what some may think, a million-dollar paycheck does not necessarily come with a problem free pass.

While wealth can bring with it some unconventional problems — such as being denied an invite-only Ferrari and accidentally destroying swathes of coral reefs with a 300-foot yacht — most other problems that the rich face may not be as esoteric as we think.

According to therapists that CNBC spoke to, more often than not, the super-rich struggle with feelings of isolation, depression, and paranoia, amongst others — a spectrum of emotions that many others tend to share.

“Most people can’t understand how rich people can have problems. They dismiss rich people’s mental health concerns as insignificant and of diminished importance,” Paul Hokemeyer, a clinical psychotherapist who treats the ultra rich, told CNBC.  

1. Feelings of isolation

A top problem that Hokemeyer’s clients suffer from is chronic isolation. 

“They live in such a rarified place of the top 1% where there are very few people who share the realities of their world,” said the founding principal of Drayson Mews clinic, who shared that the super rich often cannot be fully certain if people like them for who they are, or for what they have.

Their relationships become defined for what they can provide to others rather than for who they are of themselves.
Paul Hokemeyer

“People tend to see you as lucky and happy — neither may be true,” said Amanda Falkson, a psychotherapist versed in wealth counseling at Psychotherapy City.

She noted that they too face the gamut of emotions such as grief, trauma, losses and challenging relationships. But in addition to that, pressure on how the money is spent, and who to trust.

“Wealth can be pretty isolating … sometimes all eyes are on you to see what you do with your money,” she said, noting that some clients face the pressure of how they hope to be remembered, and where the money should go — whether it be investments, philanthropy, or legacy building. 

2. Paranoia and distrust

Wealth can cause people around the super rich to view them as objects, Hokemeyer observed.

People who are rich tend to be of higher social status, and those who live in diminished states of power are often drawn to them. The latter could see the wealthy as ladders to elevate them into more powerful positions, he said.

The psychotherapist shared that his clients are often bombarded by a never-ending stream of requests.

“Their relationships become defined for what they can provide to others rather than for who they are of themselves,” he added. Against this backdrop, the super rich tend to become more suspicious of people’s motives in associating with them.

Woman in a hot tub.
Maria Korneeva | Moment | Getty Images

As a result, it can also be difficult to calibrate relationship dynamics of wealthy individuals whose partners may not have equal wealth or income, said Hokemeyer. 

Often, the spouse who is more well-off may feel they are “being used” for their money, and the partner with less financial power can sometimes be stereotyped as a “gold digger” or looked upon negatively.

3. Distorted sense of purpose

There is also a difference between those who earned their wealth compared to those who inherited it or suddenly came upon a large sum of money.

People who became rich as a result of their own achievements have what is known as a strong internal locus of control, said Hokemeyer. They feel in charge and responsible for the trajectory of their lives, and are confident in their ability to make money again should they lose it.

Conversely, those who suddenly acquire wealth — be it through an inheritance or selling of a business — may find it harder to adjust to their new spending power, status and circumstances, the psychotherapists said. They are also less confident in handling and maintaining their wealth.

The sudden influx of wealth can often lead to existential identity challenges and strains on relationships, said Falkson. 

“When there’s no need to work, where do you get your sense of meaning and purpose and structure? Do you become a walking dollar sign? Where do I fit in socially now that I’m not part of my old world anymore?” she said, voicing some of her clients’ concerns.

“Wealth doesn’t take away our human needs. And having meaning and purpose in life are very important needs.”

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