Holding on to suffering: the Martyr Syndrome – Part 1

Why is it that the last thing people are willing to give up is their suffering?

I used to be a member of the Chicago Board Options Exchange. I was a market-maker and traded on the floor of the exchange. I was there on October 19, 1987 when the market crashed.

This is the story of two traders, neither of which was me.

Trader A rode the downtrend profitably and made over $700,000. Trader B stubbornly refused to get out of losing trades and lost just over a million dollars that day.

At the market close, two different people had staggeringly different experiences of the same event.


It’s a fairly common problem traders have. Their trade turns against them and instead of getting out of the loss; they hold on and use all kinds of wishful thinking to justify staying in a losing trade. (I’ve done it numerous times)

Sometimes they’re right and the market turns around and the trade becomes profitable. But more often than not, the loss gets bigger and bigger and no amount of rationalization can justify holding the position because it is just too damn painful and the loss has become too damn BIG!

That moment is called a forced realization.

This facet of behavior always intrigued me. Amazed me in fact.

Ashen faced and on the verge of tears, Trader B could only sit in shock after what had happened. While Trader A was all happy and chuckly but had the good sense to keep it to himself or I’m sure the others would have beaten him up if he dared to gloat.

Trader B sabotaged himself by holding on to a losing position and refusing to believe that he could be wrong. Instead of getting out of the trade and stopping the pain, he just held on to it.

You have to ask yourself what was the difference in the psychology of the two traders. What was going on in their subconscious minds? What were their beliefs? What enabled one trader to successfully and profitably trade that day while the other, seeing the same circumstances and data, couldn’t admit being wrong, didn’t have a plan if he was wrong, insisted on holding on to his suffering, and lost a ton of money in the process?

Why is it that the last thing people are willing to give up is their suffering?

To be continued…

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