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Will Work For Love: Workaholism

“There is a shadow side to over-working and workaholism that often goes unnoticed as the ‘worker bee’ gets more and more efficient at their busyness…the painful trade offs of missing out on true joy, well being and connection go totally unrecognized.” – Traci Ruble

Ever drop everything to pick up a kid from school for another parent only to find out that it wasn’t an emergency?   Ever volunteered for something only to realize that you are over extended and feel resentful? Raised your hand to help a friend move and then were exhausted and grumpy later?  Felt compelled to be the life of the party so you got some attention?  Say yes repeatedly at the expense of your own well being?  

Behind many “worker bees” are life experiences that set one up to offer up too much of one’s heart and soul to their jobs, their families, their communities and they appear amazingly selfless.  We celebrate their doing, envy them sometimes and feel like we have to be just like them.   How do they do it all?

There is a shadow side to over-working that often goes unnoticed as the “worker bee” gets more and more efficient at their busyness.  Often the “just slow down” wake up call comes when one’s body gives out, a relationship ends, a loss of some kind or even an inspiring vacation.  Most of the time, the busy busy busy strategy works so the painful trade offs of missing out on true joy, well being and connection go totally unrecognized.
Where does over working come from?  Many places.  
  • Having a childhood where one is only paid attention to when you have achieved something or a childhood where a parent or sibling is in constant competition can stir up a workaholism habit.  
  • Circumstances of parental neglect because of parent illness, divorce, family size can induce a child to act like a little grown up way before their time.  The end result,  they don’t ever shake doing more than they are capable of and in fact all their survival instincts are wired to “do do do” to “survive survive survive”.  
  • When parental love is the currency for what a child achieves rather than who they are the inner world of that child forms around “I am lovable for what I accomplish”.   
  • Then, of course there is gender training which hurts both men and women.  I know many women who feel they must selflessly give up everything for their family and many men who would love to not have to be sole breadwinners but the fears of losing the love of their partner is too great should they risk asking for what they really want.  
  • The soup stewing all this up is a socio-political climate producing policies and dogma that encourages competition, consuming and shames being down and out.   
  • Social media provides many places to get tripped up. We have opportunity after opportunity to compare our accomplishments at the other end of our Internet connection bc they are all on public display.  Facebook, Linked In, Twitter, Instagram all are so fun and useful and also not great for abating the “working for love” wound.

Did you know that we start monitoring our surroundings for our lovability way before the age of three?  We are casing out how to stay in a good place with mom and dad so we aren’t left to fend for ourselves.  Clearly this drive was very adaptive a long time ago but little kids still do it today.  They start even when they are babies.  If, along the way, they concluded that working and performing got the kind of response they were looking for, they continue to do more and more until it is a way of life.  What is the self-belief though way way deep down under there?  “I am not lovable for who I am” or “I am not good enough”.  

Here is the rub.  As adults this workaholism takes its toll.  Fewer and fewer good things are received in its return.  The payoff of childhood isn’t as satiating.   Bosses are not interested in spending a lot of time and money loving you.  They give appropriate accolades or in not so good work environments none.  So a worker bee will either work harder or get mad and become disgruntled.

Not all of us do this “working for love” to this degree but for nearly all of us it crops up in moments.   What can you do?

  1. Notice a general speediness and elevated heart rate.  It has a tinge of fear in upper chest and belly.  Sometimes a shortness of breath goes with it and very quick thinking.  Your social media trigger may also be fast on the “status update” button.
  2. Notice a longing for attention and how that longing lives in your physical body.  A kind of grasping and a pulling in.  Do you notice this in your chest?  Your throat?  Your belly?  What do you notice?
  3. Once these are familiar, stop what you are doing and put one hand on your heart, close your eyes and speak to that part that is wanting love and give it love.  “Hi sweet heart.  I love you just for being you.  I see you are wanting some attention.  I am right here.”

You may think this sounds goofy but for ten years now, I have had grown men and women report to me how miraculous this is.  Just a quick hello to that part of oneself that doesn’t feel loved and needs reassurance that it is indeed loved makes a world of difference.  I forget to do this for myself and start doing doing doing and then settle in and do this exercise and am always amazed at its transformative power.  Give it a try.  You so deserve it, just for being who you are!

Traci Ruble

Traci Ruble

Traci is a therapist and the CEO of PSYCHED & Managing Director of Sidewalk Talk. Her therapy work is centered around working with couples and individuals working on their relationships. Her many years in corporate life make her a good match for executives and leaders.

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