Dealing With Substitute Addictions: Workaholism


Employers love workaholic employees.

They get much more bang for their buck. And some people with addictions may see work as a way to recover their self-esteem. They feel needed and overlook how they are being exploited.

Our inner Addict promises us that the harder we work, the happier we’ll be. It tells us that work will fill up our emptiness and give us a positive perception of ourselves. Of course there is always a grain of truth in whatever the inner Addict says to us, otherwise we would just ignore it. But it speaks as if this speck were the whole truth, which it never is. The inner Addict thrives on distortion and exaggeration. And this substitute addiction will enable us to see how we are deceived.

Basically this form of addiction appeals to those of us who suffer from low self-esteem.

Gaining the reputation as a hard worker helps erase our self-criticism as well as the scorn of others. It soothes our negative narcissism, which is defined as a “state of exaggerated underestimation and negation of the self with unrealistic ideas of inadequacy and self-accusation accompanied by unrealistic overevaluation of others” (Hatterer, pg. 21). This notion of negative narcissism is very insightful because it provides a counterpoint to the positive narcissism so prevalent in A.A.’s Big Book.

Genuine recovery from addictions gives us a healthy respect for ourselves, neither exorbitant nor based upon a crutch, such as work. We can attain such a constructive self-appraisal when we learn how to respond to our Healthy Self, the inner resource of all our inspirations and insights. In other words, our self-esteem is based upon a feeling of approval from within and is not dependent on external affirmations. And we learn how to locate this positive inner figure by listening as it speaks to us through other healthy people.

Richard G. Hartnett, MA, MS, LCADC is a former Jesuit priest who now lives with his wife, Kathy, by a lake in northwestern New Jersey. He has served as the chaplain at Hazelden New York, pastoral counselor at the Chemical Dependency Department of the International Center for the Disabled in NYC, and continuing care counselor at the outpatient Chemical Dependency Program of High Focus Centers in New Jersey. Currently he maintains a private practice in New Jersey. He is the author of The Presence at the Center, Renewing Your Fourth Step, The Three Inner Voices: Uncovering the Spiritual Roots of Addiction and Recovery, and Sobriety and Inspiration: Entrusting Ourselves to the Source of Our Healing and Creativity.


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