Don MacLeod: A win leads to a crisis – the negatives come as a surprise

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The Independent Online

Many people who win the lottery like to think that the money will not change them, that they will remain the same. But they need to accept the reality that their life has changed forever and that they will never be the same person again. I've known people to try and carry on as normal and it never seems to work – although the people I come into contact with have been troubled. Some people simply absorb their good fortune and go on with their lives unaffected, but we never hear from them.

I did a lot of work with trauma victims and the principles are surprisingly similar. Much in the same way as the loss of a person's entire family is considered a crisis, winning the lottery is also a crisis. It redefines someone as the person after the event – a different identity to the person before the event. It is life and identity changing.

After a tragic event people constantly ask: "Why me? What have I done to deserve this?" When people are visited by good fortune out of the blue, they ask the same questions. They try to rationalise it and that presents problems and fears that are sometimes irrational. I once dealt with a person who had won a large sum of money and was convinced that she was going to contract some sort of disease in order to balance out her good fortune.

In a "positive" crisis, such as winning a large sum of money, the expectation is that it is all positive and the negatives sometimes come as a surprise. One of the most immediate problems with a lottery win is how to look after your friends and family. People are keen to look after their loved ones, but all of a sudden they need to decide who to give to and how much to give away. The strain of such decisions can be enormous. Then there is an issue of trust. They will have difficulty meeting new people or making new friends, forever wondering if people like them for who they are or for what they are – very rich.

People who win large amounts of money need to embrace their new situation, not pretend it hasn't happened. I would advise finding a place of refuge for a short while – go somewhere familiar, but different, and take stock. Think about what dreams and ambitions you want to realise and how you want to use your new found wealth.

I have come across people who say they wish they had never seen the money and that their life was back to the way it was before they were rich. But that is not to say you cannot live with the money. You just need to accept that you will never be Joe Bloggs again.

The author is a psychologist who specialises in life-changing experiences

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