The Workaholic Breakdown – The Loss of Spirituality

The Workaholic Breakdown – The Loss of Spirituality

The Loss of Spirituality Makes It Doubly Hard to Recover From Workaholism

When work becomes the “sacred cow,” personal and often professional values change. Faith often weakens because little energy is left over to pursue and find the spiritual side of life.

For those who have lost their spirituality, or never had it, this is a grim picture indeed. It is impossible for workaholics to give up control and power if they have no faith that letting go and allowing themselves to trust God will only thrust them back into more chaos. Opening up Pandora’s box to take ownership of their dark Shadow traits is just too scary.

Barbara Killinger, Ph.D., was an author and clinical psychologist in Toronto who specialized in workaholism.

Editor: Nadeem Noor

In January 4, 2011, I received an official invitation from Christopher Kennedy Lawford to be interviewed as the recognized pioneer in workaholism. He originally was to fly to Toronto to interview me in person, but we ended up doing a long interview on the phone instead. At the time, his new book was called Heal Any Addiction. A Multimedia Learning Experience. Christopher interviewed 100 experts in the world, so publication was delayed.

He himself battled drug and alcohol addictions in his early years but has now been in recovery for more than 26 years. He works around the world raising global awareness of addictions in non-profit, private, and government circles, serving as the goodwill ambassador for drug dependence treatment and care for the United Nations. (See jacket cover of his new book for more information.)

This week I received a copy of Christopher’s new book, Recover to Live. Kick Any Habit, Manage Any Addiction.  (1) The essence of Christopher’s belief under the title You must believe you can change. (p. 298-301.) is that you must be able to believe that you can change and that there is meaning and purpose in your life to recover and be capable of living a healthy, productive life.

Marianne Williams, author of many inspirational books, (2) goes even further. She feels that there should be a deeper inquiry into the nature of human existence involved in recovery and that recovery should be a spiritual quest. Found under the title: Recovery should be a spiritual quest. (p. 301-302)

My interview with Christopher is covered under the title Workaholism Can Hinder Long-Term Recovery. (p. 287-289)

I believe that those in recovery have to learn to love and nourish their authentic Selfbefore the search for spirituality is possible. Self-love is eroded by gnawing fears and self-doubt, haunting obsessions, and the many losses and character changes that occur when feelings are numb and flat, and one’s conscience barely works. Mr. Hyde is not lovable.

Self-loathing, the polar opposite of arrogance, is ordinarily repressed, but when the strong defenses of denial, repression, projection of blame, dissociation, etc. no longer work, fragile workaholics are suddenly threatened by any unwelcome challenge; people who disagree with them; or their fixed plans are thwarted. At such times, these soulless people can suffer periodic psychotic bursts of rage which frighten others. Later, workaholics will deny their loss of control, as if nothing at all happened.

As the breakdown progresses, fatalistic workaholics expect the worst because it appears that their decisions no longer make a difference. If things do work out well, it is a result of luck, accident, or odds. Both positions reveal a splitting-off of the Self, a projection of blame onto someone or something else. It is an abandonment of personal responsibility for one’s own role in a given situation.

Religious affiliation may play a role in the workaholic’s life, partly because it may be part of the Mr. Nice Guy or Gal’s need to be seen as a respectable pillar of the community. Some workaholics do recognize the need for spiritual support and are physically present at their house of worship. But many cannot concentrate because of fatigue or are lost in work-related thoughts. Some still perform good deeds for others, but a “do-gooder” philosophy can end up being a form of self-aggrandizement, or a way of controlling other people by placing them in your debt.

Self-made Controller-types who still experience themselves as independently powerful and omnipotent, often find the idea of letting go of control to anyone, even God, particularly offensive. However, when depression and acute anxiety hit, this means that there is no spiritual guidance to ease the pain and fear, to assist the troubled individual to find a more meaningful existence.

In their search for an authentic Self, many recovering workaholics rediscover their religious beliefs and faithfully attend their place of worship once again. For some, it is the first time that they have fully participated in the life of a congregation. Searching for new meaning in life inevitably sets one on a spiritual path.

Answers must be found to questions around, “Who am I separate from my work?” “Where am I going on this Gerbil Wheel? “Why am I killing myself, and not concentrating on my family who still seems to love me?” Illnesses and lay-offs often trigger such existential searching for the meaning and purpose of life. Forgiveness for harm done to others must be sought as other-directed insight returns as the Feeling function starts to work again. See my book, Achieving Inner Balance in Anxious Times. (4)

Workaholics must fully recover from their addiction to power and control, and from their obsession with work which temporarily gives them an adrenalin high.

They must find the elusive inner peace that fosters a genuine love of Self and compassionate love of others. After 30 plus years in Private Practice, together my clients and I make this happen. I call them my butterflies, and we rejoice together.

1) Christopher Kennedy Lawford. Recover to Live. Kick Any Habit, Manage Any Addiction. Dallas, Texas: BenBella Books, Inc., 2013.

2)  Marianne Williams. Cited in Recover to Live. Kick Any Habit, Manage Any Addiction.

3)  Killinger, B. Cited in Recover to Live, Kick Any Habit, Manage Any Addiction.

4)  Killinger, B. Achieving Inner Balance in Anxious Times. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2011.

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