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Too Much Work & Not Enough Love?

For those of you familiar with Freud. Remember he supposedly said, it’s all about ‘love & work.’ Well, let’s modify that a little bit and say in some instances it’s about ‘love vs. work.’ In this world, if you are looking for a way to temporarily avoid something painful in your personal or interpersonal life, work. If you want to avoid it all the time, work harder.

Work is one of the most effective psychological defenses against everything that might be trying to bug you. For some people, it’s a 24/7 affair. No breaks of course, because that would bring unwanted thoughts and feelings to the surface of experience. Work is particularly effective as a defense mechanism because it involves other big competing needs (besides love), that is, ‘survival’ and its twin brother ‘security.’

It’s always easy to make a case that you need more money and therefore more security. Think about it. No matter at what level of bank accounting you happen to be at, you can always make a case at least to yourself that you need more money to be really secure. Under the influence of security and survival, work dominates a lot of people’s lives especially when love is scarce for some reason. And because work is essential to a balanced life, just like food is needed to live, an addiction to work, like an addiction to food, is hard to change.

Think of it this way, when something is not ordinarily essential to live and you are addicted to it (drugs, alcohol), once you’ve made up your mind that you can live without it, you can get away from it (hopefully) because you’ll reduce or eliminate its presence in your life. If something is essential to live, your preferred addiction is in your face on a regular basis without a rest (food, work, maybe sex).

In my practice over the years I’ve worked with a number of workaholics. People who were addicted to work because the rest of their lives was not satisfying nor fulfilling. Whatever pain they felt about their lives was too much for them so getting away from themselves was mandatory. Building a preliminary tolerance for their emotions was always the best place to start in treatment.

Some people are so used to getting away from stuff like this that I have to go in very slowly, paying close attention to any feelings of being overwhelmed. I also have to understand that the patient has talents and skills, and probably a pretty well developed work ethic. In and of itself, these characteristics are virtues. They create problems when not balanced with other non-work related activities.

Simply put, if you’re always working you don’t get a chance to rejuvenate yourself. Rejuvenation is essential in order to maintain periods of hard consuming work without ‘burning out.’ No rest results in signs and symptoms of stress that start affecting the basic functions in a person’s life (thinking, sleeping, eating, relating, loving?). If the stress levels increase, complicated by whatever else is going on in a person’s life, symptoms of emotional illness like depression with or without anxiety can show up as well as an increase in the use and abuse of substances to cope (caffeine, alcohol, cannabis, prescription drugs, etc.).

You see a devotion to competition, power, status, security, survival, and ambition is not inherently bad, not at all. What is bad is how a person can overdo it and stop rejuvenating him or herself in a lifestyle that eventually takes its toll. The recuperative formula goes something like this: if you are going to work hard, you have to heal soft. Just a little play on words to make my point. Rejuvenation both physically and emotionally involves setting up periods in your life when you let go of all the hard work and stress in order to re-coup.

Ordinarily, you might hear about playing hard to counterbalance working hard. Unfortunately, some people play like they work, hard, too hard. Playing becomes a second job. That’s not going to do much for you in the rejuvenation department. You have to let go and rest when you are subjected to a lifestyle of overworking. Just what you decide to do to heal yourself will depend upon your particular personality. The objective, however, is to rest and rejuvenate.

Here’s the problem with resting when you’re a workaholic. Resting feels like a waste of time. Tell a workaholic to sit still and he or she looks at you like you have two heads. Tell him or her to do nothing and call it therapy and he or she starts to get anxious. People addicted to ‘busy’ find stopping very difficult at first. There will be a fair amount of anxiety to get through. Like re-learning how to do something you came into this world able to do quite well, nothing. Oh by the way, sleep is a daily or nightly activity whose true purpose is to rejuvenate the mind and body.

Fundamentally sleep has a lot of nothing in it. Unfortunately, when you are a functioning workaholic, sleep is often the first activity, or non-activity, to go. For some overly busy people it can feel like a waste of time. Laying still for hours when there is so much to do? In fact, I kind of expect to hear that a person with this problem is either struggling with insomnia, or has whittled his or her sleep down to only a few hours a night.

Now what does any of this have to do with your love-life? First and foremost, if you’re working all the time you’ll hardly be receptive to the states of mind required to give and receive love. Besides that most single people know, work is often a great place to meet somebody (I should know, I met my wife at work). You spend a lot of time there so you can get to know people well enough to know if you have any chemistry with them.

This is certainly true, apart from one little precaution, if a relationship goes bad with a work peer, you’re stuck trying to co-exist at the workplace with a person who has negative personal feelings about you. So let’s say, looking for love at the workplace is a risk. If you think the risk is worth taking than you’ll jump in. Hopefully you’ll have thought about it a bit before making your move.

The other thing to concern yourself with these days is the issue of office conduct. You have to have a lot of tact if you are interested in someone at work. Coming on to people in the wrong way can surely get you in considerable trouble. A gradual approach over time is probably the safest bet. If you are truly convinced that the person you are interested in is interested in you in the same way, then it might be safe to broach the subject.

Otherwise, I would counsel plenty of caution and patience. If it’s there it will come to the surface and be visible if you take your time and get to know the person first as a work peer then as a person. Form a solid work relationship and see if the cues are consistently there to make the jump to the world beyond work.

Here’s the other thing about work, there are states of mind and attitudes that belong to the particular work setting you are in. They may or may be conducive to romance. True romance requires a certain amount of openness and vulnerability to start up. If the attitude that works best at your job is closed and guarded, your work environment may not be the best place to socialize and flirt. In fact, it may get you fired or put on notice if you’re caught.

Chances are, if you do feel a tug toward romance with someone at this type of job, taking it out of the job environment is probably your best bet. Again caution and patience with an emphasis on first getting to know the person you are interested in is the safest way to do this sort of thing. The bottom line here is that excessive work and some work settings will block the state of mind needed to be receptive to love. All your worry about performance, competition, and keeping your job will effectively distract you from love-life concerns.

Comments? Welcome. Dr. Tom Jordan

Dr. Jordan

Dr. Thomas Jordan is a clinical psychologist, certified interpersonal psychoanalyst, author, professor, and love life researcher.

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