Quite simply YES, but what does this actually mean and how do you know if you are in the middle of it? Firstly it’s important to understand that addiction is a spectrum that we are all on and we all have different ways that we, the majority of the time subconsciously, manage some internal discomfort by attaching to other objects to ease that discomfort.
Obvious ones are alcohol, drugs and gambling and they undoubtedly carry more shame than other addictions such as work but nevertheless, the internal system of managing internal emotional distress, for me, is the same.
The best description I have found over the years that can be used to describe addiction is that by Gabor Mate:
‘Any behaviour, that is done for a pleasurable outcome, that subsequently has a negative impact on ones live, whereby the individual returns to time and time again’
I find this can give us all a starting point to ask ourselves important questions such as ‘does this behaviour negatively impact my life or that of others?’ and ultimately ‘does it make me content?’
The fact that substance addiction carries more shame than work addiction can be both a positive and negative thing. There is a great deal of reward for working and it’s a vital part of our social culture which for me can make it harder to spot and as with any addiction, denial can play a big part. ‘Well, I’m working for the family!’ ‘If I just get this next piece of work completed it will all be ok!’ are just a couple of examples of how we cleverly keep the narrative and game alive.
I have learned through my journey that addictions are not simple and easy structures to break down. For me, fear of abandonment and rejection are the foundations for addictive behaviour and if work is the activity keeping those feelings at bay then it isn’t something that is easy to let go. The words of abandonment and rejection, may not be words that you would associate with high performing, high flying people operating in the professional or business world but that sense of ‘who the hell am I if I’m not this?’ and the subsequent fear that goes with it both creates high performing people and damages high performing people and their families. For their offspring, a five-year-old boy or girl simply doesn’t understand that mummy or daddy are working for the good of the family, they just experience the abandonment and can potentially internally believe that they may be the problem, which may very well be the generational systemic trauma of the family they are being brought up in.
So how do you spot it?
1. There is part of you that already knows you’re working too much. This voice is important and the invitation is to listen to it closely. What is it telling you? What is its purpose? How do you move closer to it?
2. There will be a louder voice, telling you that this is what you do? You need to get on and push further, be more, work harder. This voice is equally as important and the invitation is to listen to it. What is it telling you? What is its purpose? We must understand with addiction and mental health in general, that trying to get away from the critical voices in our heads doesn’t work. In fact this voice, at some point in your life served you well and helped you survive childhood it was there to protect you. It needs nurturing and understanding, compassion and empathy. You can’t simply rip these roots out without new foundation in place which is where psychotherapy would come in.
3. Listen to others around you – we cannot see everything going on in our lives. If we can find the courage to open up to others perspectives and listen to them, it can lead to change.
4. Cognitive, Emotional, Physiological, Spiritual – To understand that we are made up of all of these:
Cognitively – Noticing the internal civil war between what you really need to do and what your telling yourself you can’t do.
Emotional – Anger, Sadness, Shame, Fear
Physiological – Where do you feel it in your body? Chest tightening, Shoulders, Stomach?
Spiritual – When our negative emotions are driving our behaviour we become spiritually bankrupt. Loss of interest, feeling soulless.
What do I do about it?
Well telling an addict to ‘go for more walks’ and ‘take more breaks’ is like telling a Labrador to stop eating food! It will fall on deaf ears. We need to train ourselves and the first step of this is:
1. Through self-awareness, to accept that you have found yourself in this place and that you are working more than you want to but you feel you can’t stop it.
2. Be kind to yourself. You’re not here because you’re a bad person, you here because you have a will to be alive and survive
3. Call to the part of you that wants you well – Ask yourself what do you really need right now and if you wasn’t working what would you be doing?
4. Understand that courage and vulnerability are the antidotes and your keys to a more content way of being.
5. Set about changing. Be pro-active, take accountability, understand that growth is up for grabs.
6. Set boundaries – If you feel this is difficult it’s probably why you have found yourself in this place and it is doing this that will be part of your solution.
7. ASK FOR HELP – Mental health can be an isolating illness. We can feel that we are the only ones in the world going through this right now and subsequently this cuts us off from what we need which is connection and understanding.