Individual Psychotherapy: A Golden Age of Workaholism 3
In individual case studies for workaholism, it’s a matter of key importance to understand what it is in the person as a whole that underlies this dangerous and destructive pattern of behaviour.
As with almost everything in case studies, we can predict that this addictive pattern emerges in part from the individual’s story, and in part from the broader social and collective forces at work around the individual.
The Golden Age: Our Culture Glorifies Workaholics
Without saying so in so many words, our culture glorifies a workaholic attitude.
The people that inspire us as heroes in our culture are very often people we would characterize as “driven“: relentlessly single-minded in their pursuit of some goal, and as hard on others around them as they are on themselves. Such larger-than-life figures, like Steve Jobs and Elon Musk, captivate us, and, with their laser-like focus, can attain an almost god-like status.
Pullitzer Prize winning social scientist Ernest Becker in The Denial of Death described this type of obsession with the heroics of achievement as “a blind drivenness that burns people up; in passionate people, a screaming for glory as uncritical and reflexive as the howling of a dog.”
When Working Is Easier Than Facing Myself
Our culture is full of exhortations to this kind of heroic/obsessive goal-directedness. This drug is readily consumed: its fantasy dimension can take us away from hard-to-deal with aspects of our personal lives. Individual case studies often shows that the workaholic hamster wheel can be easier than facing feelings of conflict or emptiness in our closest personal relationships. It can be easier to immerse ourselves in work than to face who we are and what we really want in life.
Workaholism: What are We Looking For?
What is it that we are really looking for, from our work? Certainly, we need work that provides for our own needs and those of our families. In a time of increased economic insecurity, that need can drive us excessively hard all on its own. But when it gets mixed up with the heroic idealization of work, it can be easy for work to take over an inhumanly large part of our lives. Yet the truths remain true:
- Work is not going to meet my deepest social needs, nor my need for love;
- Work, on its own, is not going to provide me with real meaning in my life;
- Work cannot function as the root source of my self-esteem; and,
- Work is not going to enable me to escape the necessity of being who I am, and living my own life.
Self-acceptance is a key element in the process of moving beyond workaholism. It is tied up fundamentally with the process of journeying towards a sense of wholeness and completeness in my life. I am, at base, an ordinary human — but unique, and that’s what’s precious about me.
The exploration of the uniqueness that we each possess is the only solid basis for a life, and it is the heart of meaningful individual case studies.