Whenever you have a moment of contemplation, do you find yourself thinking about work? Do your sentences that begin with ‘I…’ define your role at work? (I am a manager. I should be able to sign that agreement this week. If I’m not there this job will never get completed…). Is it very easy for you to find logical reasons for working all the time? Then you are a workaholic!

Although the word ‘workaholic’ brings to mind a person who is very hard working, “being hard working” and “being a workaholic” have serious differences. Being hard working can only be one of the person’s qualities. Being a workaholic, on the other hand, takes the place of all the qualities of a person, because it means that there is nothing in that person’s life that he/she can put in the place of work and express him-/herself. A hard working person carries signs of this quality in every aspect of life other than work. He/she uses his/her hard working quality to run the home, realize hobbies, socialize and to prove him-/herself at work. He/she does not define him-/herself with just one of those. The social life of the workaholic is limited to obligatory work dinners and family6 gatherings. You can see that by the way these functions are squeezed in between things that need to be done in his/her agenda. During opportunities to socialize, he/she constantly talks about work. Maybe that is why in time, there is nobody left around to socialize with.

Those who complain the most about working life are the workaholics, after all, because we know from all the relationship patterns I have been discussing, that there is anger wherever there is addiction. A person who is addicted, and therefore angry, is known as restless, nettlesome and intolerant by those around him/her. Most of the time they are working or talking about work, and are tired, frustrated and sleepless.

Soon, physical problems accompany the tiredness: Headaches, stomach cramps, gastritis, ulcers, high blood pressure, shoulder, neck and back aches, diminished immune systems and frequent illnesses… Why does a person, although the harmful effects are so clear, continue to define him-/herself with just work?

Like in all situations where we do ourselves harm, it may have been functional at some point for a person to have focused on just one job and to have defined him-/herself by that. For example, you may have gained the approval of everybody as the most successful student in the family. Your financial circumstances may not have allowed your family to provide a social environment other than school for you, and you may not have had the opportunity to get to know yourself in other fields. You may have had a very stressful, difficult life, and may have seen work as the only way out. You may have grown up in an environment where material things were valued above all, and where everything other than making money was secondary. Many more similar reasons may have conditioned you to the thought of “living to work.”

Can I change?

Change begins with awareness. Your headaches, your constant conflict with your spouse, finding yourself thinking about work all the time make you perceive that there is something wrong. Then you realize that this is related to your lack of definition for yourself other than work. And right at that point, you start making changes in the workaholic attitude which is no longer so functional in your life, which, although it brings money and prestige, takes away so much from your life.

While starting to change, a person should first develop his/her foundation. It is important to see what one can do in other environments outside work, what other skills, apart from work, one has, and to approve of one’s self in those areas. If, while removing something from your life you don’t put something back, the same known system will re-establish itself. Therefore, you must learn to learn new things, to discover other aspects of your self, to take pleasure in different successes.

Change for a person who has been a workaholic for many years will not be very fast. Learning to limit yourself, not feeling very successful from time to time during your new experiences, may tempt you to go back to the old system. A system which has been established over the years will not become brand new and very different by itself. But if you let yourself go and often remember what just working has taken away from you, you will realize that those around you are spending more enjoyable time with you.

Derya Gulterler