Work addiction is the compulsive drive toward spending most of your attention and material and emotional resources toward work at the expense of other important aspects of your life such as your health and time with your loved one. Here are some warning signs of work addiction: You spend most of your waking hours thinking about your work and your job. Do you spend more than 10 hours a day working, responding to emails, answering work calls, and planning for work the next week? You might be running your own business or you’re on a leadership ladder in your company.
Maybe you spend most of your time with work colleagues. You’ve done late nights and work trips with your colleagues and you are frequently in touch. You have a Whatsapp group or you’re cc’d in more than 20 emails a day. Boundaries between home and work are very very blurry.
You wake up checking your phone and work emails. You do the same before you go to sleep, on your way to the bathroom, while stopped behind a traffic light, while on your child’s playdate. Just before and after meals. Your day starts with work and ends with work.
You pride yourself for having a great work ethic and being conscientious. You keep working to earn a reputation, or to make money, or to become a leader, and mostly all of these.
The vicious cycle of habit
Let’s say you have actually reached the above, you live a comfortable lifestyle, you are a leader in your field. Does that mean you will stick to a limited hour work week and be more present for yourself, your friends and your family? Probably not. By now, your brain has been wired to believe that your worthiness is dependent on your paycheck, your title, and the number of people who report to you.
Head hunters contact you and you get a little boost of self-worth. You close a deal and you get another boost of self-worth. So what’s the problem with this? You potentially have a deep rooted insecurity that you are not healing. Instead your job is a temporary drug that calms your pain but only temporarily.
Your partner complains that you’re not present both physically and mentally. They have lost interest in your career and barely ask questions anymore because the cost of your absence has made them feel resentful. Your children only come to you to ask you for money. When things are going well with work you’re in a good mood and when there are problems you are irritable and it’s a blow to your self-esteem every time there is a risk of downsizing, you lose a deal, and then the bottom line is not where it needs to be.
What are the three lies you are telling
- “I work so hard to provide for my family.” I am making sacrifices for them. In fact this is your answer every time your friends and family have complained about your work.
- “I love my job. I am passionate about my job.” The literal definition of passion is “strong and barely uncontrollable emotion” toward something. You are confusing your work addiction as a good virtue. There is nothing mature and healthy about an extreme emotion such as this. It is not realistic to maintain this level of emotion toward your work. You can be committed to your work and make healthy choices. But being passionate about work is far from useful.
- “I am what I do.” Work is what you do, not who you are. You are many more things and you have many parts worthy of attention and care. Your role as a partner, as a friend, as a parent. The need to play and relax and to be creative. Worthiness is based on your humanity and your job is only a very very small part of that.
You can still make conscious choices
Now, you still have a choice, you can choose to spend day and night at your desk or endlessly travel for work, but if you do these things, then you need to remember that you cannot have it all. You also need to own the fact that you have a choice. And if this a life you want to lead then you must consciously own it and be honest with yourself and those around you.
Alternatively, you can find a middle ground that works for you:
Maybe you can say no to work sometimes because you know that being fully there with people you care about will have long term positive implications for you and your relationships.
Maybe you could carve out a pocket of joy or two in your day that doesn’t involve work. Even if it’s just going to your local coffee shop without your phone and emails.
Maybe you could make time for a long lost hobby of yours that you used to love and enjoy.
And maybe you could catch yourself when you’re telling yourself or others the above 3 lies around your work addiction. Remind yourself that yes you could work hard and do wonderful things for your loved ones but there is no need to be a martyr. You could like your job and still have some control of your life. And most importantly you can separate your worthiness as a human being from your resume and your paycheck.
Mindful journaling can help you increase your awareness of values, intentions and motives in life. Download our free workbook and turn a new leaf in your life.
Dr. Ava Ghasemi (Holdich) is a licensed Psychologist with 11 years experience in the U.S., Canada and the Middle East. She has a practice of individual and couples therapy at the MapleTree Center in Dubai.