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Status Anxiety


Status anxiety is our anxiety over our position in the world. We worry that the world does not value us. That we have achieved little of significant worth. That we are in societies’ eyes a “nobody”. And that we will die unnoticed and unmissed.

It is a worry, capable of ruining extended stretches of our lives. We worry that we are unable to meet the ideals of success laid down by our society. That we are without dignity and respect. We worry that we are not earning enough, are too low down in society. That our current position is tenuous and unstable.

That recession or redundancy are around the corner. Or your colleagues promotions will leave you behind. Or that family, and friends and colleagues don’t seem to care about your non-material worth. Certainly the media, the wealthy, and society at large do not.




Like confessing to envy it is unacceptable to reveal the extent of this anxiety. Needing love from the world is a shameful dirty secret that if confessed to is frowned upon. Yet our self-conception is dependent on what others think of our position. And so the anxiety stirs.

An inner drama, hidden away. Limited to vague feeling of sadness, to wonders at why you haven’t achieved so much. To envy. And to obsession with celebrity. And to an over-extended pause after news of another’s achievements.

We rely on signs of respect from the world to feel tolerable to ourselves.

Yet status is hard to achieve. 

Even harder to maintain over a lifetime. 

Except in the rare cases it is fixed by birth (Prince William and Harry).

For most of us achieving a high status depends on what we can achieve .

And those achievements depend on many things. Many of which are not in our control. We may fail due to stupidity or an absence of self-knowledge. But we can also be brought down by luck or macro-economics.

And from failure will flow humiliation. An awareness that the world does not believe in our value. An awareness that the world does not care. And we condemned to consider the successful with bitterness and ourselves with shame.


This essay draws on the work of Alan de Botton, particularly his book Status Anxiety. To learn more click here.

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