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Work Addiction & Workaholism

The term workaholism was coined in 1971 by psychologist Wayne Oates, who described workaholism as “the compulsion or the uncontrollable need to work incessantly” (Oates, 1971). Since then, research on workaholism has been plagued by disagreements surrounding how to define and measure workaholism. The definition of workaholism has shifted over the years, but understanding why you’re overworking can help you unlock ways to deal with it.

Much like drug and alcohol addiction, a person with a work addiction achieves a “high” from working. This leads to repeating the behavior that gives them this high. People with workaholism may be unable to stop the behavior despite the negative ways it may affect their personal life or physical or mental health. Workaholism is a mental health condition. Like any other addiction, work addiction is the inability to stop one or another type of behavior. It often stems from a compulsive need to achieve status, success, or escape emotional stress. It’s common for people to describe workaholism as perfectionists.

LifeScape Recovery Mental Health Services Work Addiction and 'Workaholism

Workaholism – Does personal development justifies workaholism?

Working on our personal development is a great initiative – but have you heard someone telling you that you might be suffering from personal development burnout? Or becoming a workaholic in a not-so-positive way?

Workaholism, by definition, is a compulsive need to work. For some, work is nourished in the womb of life. Upon birth, work brings something important to their life. Like birth, there is necessarily labor, oftentimes painful. Whereas, others are still searching for what work means for them.

If you are searching for what “work” means for you, you must read David Whyte’s thought-provoking definition: “Work, after all, is intimacy, where the self meets the world.”

Positive workaholism vs. Negative workaholism

Positive workaholism and negative workaholism are often confused. However, if you think you are a workaholic because you love to work on personal development – and if your statement is true then you are more likely a positive workaholic.

Positive workaholism refers to a positive, fulfilling work-related state of mind that is characterized by rigor, dedication, and passion. If you are really into your work then you are a positive workaholic. In other words, not just your skin is in the game; it’s your soul that is in the game.

Whereas, negative workaholism has always been about burning out; you put your foot on the gas pedal and do not let up until your engine catches fire. Self-love, contrary to popular belief, is overrated. Things you do during self-love, such as eating comfort food and watching F.R.I.E.N.D.S., are unhelpful; pushing yourself during difficult times may be hard for you, but in the process, a new you will arise and evolve.

Being a positive workaholic entails acknowledging that you cannot rely on your past achievements and must therefore think about the future to see what you can accomplish.

You must keep going!

Passion is both the love and the pain of our existence. You can’t just pick one without the other. Some people, such as burned-out activists and overcommitted helpers, drown in their sorrowful struggles, forgetting how much they love what they do. Others, such as daydreaming artists and wannabe entrepreneurs, seek out superficial rewards such as fame, fans, and fortune without going through the pain, and thus miss out on the super-rich fulfillment of soulful work.

The large majority of individuals are feeling the walls that stop them from understanding what life is all about, or they are drinking their worries away. But that is not how life works, so you must jump in and flap your hands around until you learn how to swim. You must keep the faith. Workaholics, hustlers, and GaryVee types represent that group of people who aren’t concerned with what the other person is doing but are concerned with what they are doing

Workaholism: treatment options

If you suffer from workaholism, you may not need the same level of treatment as someone with drug and alcohol addiction. However, it’s possible that initially, you will require an inpatient or outpatient rehabilitation program to manage the behavior.

While a rehabilitation program is more common in drug and alcohol addictions, severe work addictions can also be helped by this intensive approach. Inpatient treatment requires you to stay at a facility during recovery. Outpatient treatment allows you to live at home while attending classes and counseling during the day.

Many people with a work addiction find help through 12-step groups and other therapy programs. Options for group therapy are available through organizations such as Workaholics Anonymous. This kind of program allows you to connect with other people going through similar struggles and provides a healthy source of support.

Work addiction can result from a coexisting mental health condition, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) or bipolar disorder. The addiction could also cause mental health issues, such as depression or anxiety.

Because of the reasons mentioned above, it may be helpful to have a mental health assessment and design a treatment plan. The plan will address the issue itself and its underlying causes. One-on-one therapy, and even medications, could help control symptoms, anxiety, or stress.

Concluding thoughts

Even if personal development provides valuable ways to help you get through challenging times, if you consider yourself becoming anxious, frustrated, and trapped in a cycle of guilt, it’s time to recover, reevaluate, and transform what you’ve been doing so that it works for you. After all, this is your personal development, not anybody else’s. It must work for you. This brings us to the last note, a practical reminder for you: “To begin with, we take only those steps which we can do in a heartfelt fashion, and then slowly increase our stride as we become familiar with the direct connection between our passion and courage.” — David Whyte

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Published: May 09, 2022

Last Updated: November 07, 2023


Natalia Golenkova


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