Falmouth Business

Our society’s dangerous immersion in overwork may help explain why we can’t see the water we swim in, why many therapists look blank when the spouses of workaholics complain of loneliness and marital dissatisfaction, and why the concept of workaholism is still relegated to pop psychology. There are hundreds of studies of alcoholism, substance abuse, and eating disorders but only a handful on workaholism. This is a profound omission. Overwork is this century’s cocaine, its “problem without a name.” Workweeks of sixty, eighty, even one hundred hours are commonplace in major law firms and corporations; tribes of modern-day male and female Willy Lomans, manacled to cell phones, trundle through the nation’s airports at all hours with their rolling luggage; cafes are filled with serious young people bent over laptops; young workers at dotcoms are available for work, as the slang phrase has it, “24/7”—twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. It is high time that all of us stopped relegating compulsive overwork to the pop-psychology bookshelves and took a hard look at our lives. Workaholism is the best-dressed problem of the twenty-first century. Workaholics often have comfortable incomes, and their families appear to have all the material comforts. Not only does work addiction look good on workaholics, but it also is becoming on their families from the outside. But behind closed doors workaholics are breaking down inwardly, and their families suffer in quiet desperation. On the outside workaholics are glorified do-gooders and hard workers. Our society praises workaholics, but what workaholism does to people on the inside is harmful. It cuts them off from the rest of the world, including friends and family. It causes them to work constantly without rest, to be in their own cold, dark, lonely world—all alone with room only for other tasks to be completed. Outwardly, workaholics are good citizens; inwardly, they’re dying a slow death. family members, causing them to experience a whole set of mental health problems of their own. I use an addiction model, combined with a family systems model, throughout this book to show the downside of work addiction and its impact on the individual workaholic, as well as on the workaholic family as a whole. way that cocaine and alcoholism are addictions. Progressive in nature, these addictive behaviors are unconscious attempts to resolve unmet psychological needs that have roots in the family of origin and can lead to an unmanageable everyday life, family disintegration, serious health problems, and even death. Similar to alcoholics, workaholics have rigid thinking or “stinkin’ thinkin’” patterns that feed their addiction. Because of their selfabsorbed preoccupation with work, workaholics often do not notice signals, such as physical aches and pains or reduced ability to function, that can be warnings of serious health problems. Work addiction damages the mental and physical health of the workaholic. It is physiological and chemical in nature and can lead to anxiety and depression and even to suicidal ideation. Work highs, reminiscent of the alcoholic euphoria, run a cycle of adrenaline-charged binge working, followed by a downward swing. Euphoria eventually gives way to work hangovers characterized by withdrawal, depression, irritability, and anxiety.\n

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