“In the name of God, stop a moment, cease your work, look around you.” ― Leo Tolstoy
Signs and Symptoms of Work Addiction
People who suffer from work addiction are incapable of setting appropriate boundaries around their careers. They often create demanding schedules. Work addicts rely on work to be esteemed. The main source of satisfaction in their lives is their work. Typically, family members are neglected because of the addiction. Spouses report feeling lonely because although their partner may be home, he or she is always on the computer checking work email or returning phone calls. Children of work addicts suffer and often feel unimportant with a deep sadness. The need to be receiving attention from an active listener is not being met. Sometimes a work addict will enter therapy saying she really doesn’t see a problem but her husband is complaining. Or, he doesn’t want to change his work habits because he has to make a living and his job provides security.
Who becomes a work addict?
Studies show a correlation between work addiction and OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder). Ironically, people who are work addicts are not efficient nor are they effective. They may believe they are doing excellent work but so often the quality of their work deteriorates as the quantity of time spent devoted to the work increases. It is as if their vision becomes myopic. What makes matters worse is that they cannot self-report accurately. Plus, our society congratulates people who devote their lives to their work. When a work addict is given a promotion or applauded by colleagues or clients, you can bet that his children and spouse are not receiving the time and attention they need and they are neglected. You simply cannot find balance if you are an addict.
Work addicts often suffer from low self-esteem. They feel empty inside and want to fill that emptiness. Work supplies a method to do this. The work addict finds comfort and satisfaction at work. Colleagues also provide positive feedback that it is difficult for an addict to resist.
How Intimacy Disorders pair with Work Addiction
Addictions are connected to intimacy disorders. Addiction insures a distance is created and maintained between people. This insures a sense of safety to the addict. Let’s say intimacy is a problem for Jason. He grew up in a strict middle class home where achievement in school was prized most. Jason’s parents were not very affectionate with each other and ran the household more like a business than a loving family. However, each time he brought home a paper with an A, his parents would become animated, smile at each other and give him a big hug. Most of the time, his family did not really engage with each other. They ate dinner in silence, whereas other families find mealtime an opportunity to share their inner lives and experiences. But in Jason’s family the TV was on and there was little affection or attention. Neither parent was demonstrative with their emotions. They clearly loved Jason and supplied him with clothes and school supplies. His father worked a lot and talked about how much he would like to attend Jason’s soccer games and school events, but could not because he needed to support the family. Jason’s father reiterated that Jason needed to succeed in school so that he could go to a good college and have a better job than his own.
Fast forward. Jason becomes a high achiever, attends a great college, continues to graduate from a wonderful law school, becomes an attorney, meets his wife, and has children. Jason begins working late at the office. When his wife complains, he uses his laptop at home to finish work projects. Often he does not participate in conversations with his family. He buys expensive cars, boats and even a Rolex he never thought he could afford. At each promotion, he works more and more hours. He also finds himself elated, dialing his parents to tell them the good news. They are happy for him but he is left feeling deflated. He is always is searching for a feeling he cannot find. Jason becomes infuriated when his wife suggests he works too much and he is neglecting the family. He feels criticized and unloved and after all, he is working so much so that he can create a nice life for his family; he is sacrificing for them! When she tells him there’s more to life than work, he does not understand her or empathize.
Why this Happens
As human beings, we naturally want to be esteemed. This esteemed feeling is quite positive. We build mastery at our jobs, we become bonded to our work colleagues (often these are superficial connections though we are convinced they are significant at the time). We want to hear that we are good at something. Intimate relationships with genuine intimacy means that people see our dark sides or our shadows. They do not consistently supply compliments or esteem us often. But they truly know us and feel love for us. For people with intimacy disorders and low self-esteem, this is too risky a gamble. These people, like various addicts, search out other avenues to find esteem like work.
Consider Jason again. If, as a child, we don’t experience modeling of a healthy relationship and a functional family life, we have no template for how to create it as an adult. A healthy, satisfying, fulfilling and functional adult, family life is out of reach for Jason. Working feels good to Jason’s brain because he is an addict and achievement has been the only place he has experienced positives from his family of origin.
Treatment for Work Addiction
There is hope! Just learning about this topic can help make a change. Often people are surprised to hear that work can even become an addiction. The idea that you could lose yourself in your work is too foreign. Therapy will provide the work addict with information and support. You won’t be judged for your addiction. In fact, you will begin to understand your addiction and yourself much more deeply and learn why you lean on work to esteem you and build you up. If you are a work addict there’s a good chance there is crossover into other addictions. I will help you locate what other areas of your life are deficient and you will attend to those areas more fully to create balance. For instance: do you have friendships? Hobbies? Spirituality? Exercise? Learning?
Work addiction doesn’t leave much room for a real life. You are missing out on intimate relationships. Please call me if you or somebody you love is a work addict. You can makes changes in your life and feel whole again.