No other addiction is so willingly adopted, rewarded and praised by society as the addiction to work. It can prove quite a complicated issue, as the individual may only be looking after their family, and trying to meet all their needs. As children grow up, of course, their needs seem to get more and more expensive. What good, however, is a worn out mother, father or partner? What good if the relationship breaks up? When did a bleeding ulcer become a sign of success? Is a seventy-hour working week a sign of efficiency?
The person may be too set in their ways to slow down, not secure enough in themselves to say no, and/or find it difficult to delegate or ask for help. Even Jesus Christ needed helpers and time away to rest and relax.
Workaholism, overwork or overdoing it is a big problem, nowhere more so than in Japan where around 10,000 workers/year die from working 60-70 hour working weeks.* This is now known in Japan as Karachi, meaning death from overwork.
Society measures us by what we do, rather than by who/how we are and what we believe. Our job is more important than our view on global warming for instance. Clearly some occupations are considered in a different class than others. Sadly all this can lead us to believe that the predetermining factor to our sense of self worth is measured by what we do. This can lead us to become detached from who we really are.
Other myths, which make it difficult to recognize that overdoing it or workaholism is a major problem in our society today are that: overdoing it is a positive way of life; it is not physically or psychologically addictive; it is not harmful to health, physical or mental; that it is always caused by high pressure jobs or demanding family life of the 21st Century; that it is motivated by job loyalty or by our desire to provide a decent living for our family or to make a worthwhile contribution to society.*
Workaholism is an addictive pattern like any other addiction. Some people get an adrenaline high from juggling four or five commitments, taking care of others or simply of being busy or of being the first person in the office in the morning or of being the last to leave in the evening. Maybe they think that this is what the company expects of them, sadly this is sometimes true. Common symptoms may also be forgetfulness or inattention, with awareness impaired by stress and fatigue.
So what is behind this desire to push ourselves to the very limit, sometimes risking all we have – health, family, friends. The roots are common to all addictions, not within our fast culture or the way we were brought up, not even within our boss, or our family. They may contribute to and/or reward our self destructive behaviour, but the cause lies deep within us. The roots are often in our, unfulfilled or unmet needs. The feeling within us is that we have to achieve a certain standard, or amount of work before we can become accepted as a person. The belief is that we are of little worth as we are, on our own. Taking the responsibility ourselves, not leaving it with others, and finding out what is pushing us gives us the tools to change. We may have feelings of low self esteem, or of inadequacy, believing nothing we ever do will be good enough, the result is that we keep striving trying to do more and better. Work may also provide us with temporary relief from pain from a broken relationship, or from boredom or guilt or many other feelings we may want to avoid.
Are you a workaholic? The following test was devised to help you evaluate.
Score: 1 = never true; 2 = sometimes true; 3 = often true; 4 = always true. Total up your score, then look at the scale below.
Work Addiction Risk Test1
1. I prefer to do things myself rather than ask for help
2. I get very impatient when I have to wait for other people, or am in slow moving queues
3. I seem to be in a hurry and racing against the clock
4. I get irritated when I am interrupted while I am in the middle of something
5. I stay busy and keep many ‘irons in the fire’
6. I find myself doing two or three things at once, such as eating and writing a memo
7. I over commit myself by biting off more than I can chew
8. I feel guilty when I am not working on something
9. It is important that I see the concrete results of what I do
10. I am more interested in the final results of my work than in the process
11. Things just never seem to move fast enough or get done fast enough for me
12. I lose my temper when things don’t go my way or work out to suit me
13. I ask the same question, without realizing it after I have already been given the answer
14. I spend a lot of time planning and thinking about future events, forgetting the here and now
15. I find myself continuing to work after my co-workers have finished
16. I get angry when people do not meet my standards of perfection
17. I get upset when I am in situations where I can not be in control
18. I tend to put myself under pressure with self imposed deadlines
19. It is hard for me to relax when I am not working
20. I spend more time working than on socialising, hobbies or leisure activities
21. I dive into projects to get a head start before all the phases have been finalised
22. I get upset with myself for making even the smallest mistake
23. I put more thought, time and energy into my work than relationships with other people
24. I forget, ignore, minimise family celebrations such as birthdays or holidays for example
25. I make important decisions before I have all the facts and have thought them through
Well how did you do? If you scored:
25 – 49 = You are not overdoing it
50 – 69 = You are mildly overdoing it
70 – 100 = You are highly overdoing it
The work addiction, like any of the other addictions is a difficult cycle to break. Like all the other addictions, however, it is possible. The first and most difficult step is acknowledging that we are responsible and the problem is within us, which must be resolved.
The Bible has much to say on addiction to work (for our own good). For instance:
‘Do not wear yourself out to get rich; have wisdom to show restraint. Cast but a glance at riches, and they are gone, for they will surely sprout wings and fly off to the sky like an eagle.’
Proverbs 23 v 4 & 5. New International Version. By permission.
The implication here of course, like all addictions, is that we will never be satisfied and will always be wanting to earn more money to buy that special item, like a butterfly that we never can quite catch, so will be our desires here.
To help guide us in our recovery, there are the Twelve Suggested Steps of Workaholics Anonymous. Because our work addiction is so entrenched in our lives, the process seems overwhelming. How much time will recovery take? We are already too busy! What do we do with our commitments and responsibilities?
As our pain intensifies, we begin to gain willingness—willingness to admit that we are addicted to work, that our lives are unmanageable, and that our way hasn’t worked; willingness not to have all our questions answered immediately or to expect a quick fix; willingness to say, “I’m sick. I want to recover and I need help.” In Workaholics Anonymous, this admission of powerlessness is Step One. We have found it helpful to take this Step and those that follow with others in W.A. From this initial willingness comes more willingness. Step Two tells us that a power greater than ourselves can restore us to sanity. This power can be God, Higher Power, the Universe, the W.A. group—whatever is our source of strength. Step Three involves making a commitment to turn our will and our lives over to God as we understand God. Letting our Higher Power guide us requires giving up control, not being irresponsible. Our will now becomes a tool to turn self-will into willingness. For those of us who pride ourselves on being self-sufficient and strongwilled, taking this Step involves a new way of thinking.
In Step Four we make a written inventory of ourselves in relation to our workaholism. We include both our shortcomings and our assets. We ask a W.A. member for help on how to do Step Four. By taking a close look at ourselves, we become acquainted with the lovable person we truly are, the person we have lost in busyness.
Because many of us feel shame about how our work addiction has hurt ourselves and others, it is healing to do Step Five and talk to an understanding person. This person can be anyone we choose. When we share our secrets, we often find that others have had similar experiences.
Steps Six and Seven ask us to prepare ourselves inwardly to make amends to those we have harmed. In Step Eight we list those people and in Step Nine we make amends prudently. After these Steps are completed, many of us discover that a great burden has been lifted, that we have a sense of freedom and peace. Recovery from workaholism is not a cure, but a lifelong process. We are granted only a daily reprieve contingent upon our maintaining our abstinence and growing spiritually. In Step Ten, we continue the process begun in Step Four — awareness of our feelings and taking responsibility for our words and actions. Taking Step Eleven strengthens our conscious contact with our Higher Power, begun in Step Two, by having us stay in touch through prayer and meditation.
Step Twelve tells us we can maintain and expand the spiritual awakening we experienced in doing all the preceding Steps. We can do this by carrying the W.A. message of recovery to workaholics and by practicing these principles at work, at home, on vacations—everywhere. The best way for us to keep from sliding back into old habits is to share about our W.A. recovery with others. “We can’t keep it unless we give it away.” We carry the message by being an example of a recovering workaholic in our daily activities as well as by giving service in W.A.
Following the Steps brings us in touch with our inner wisdom and our spirituality. As we learn to accept ourselves as we are, we experience a new attitude toward work and activity. We enjoy our work more and find ways to work more effectively. When work has its proper place, we find time to have fun and to nurture our health, relationships, and creativity.
We welcome you to our program and wish for you the recovery, serenity, and self-enjoyment we have found.
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