The Atlantic

Do Some Trauma Survivors Cope by Overworking?

Hypervigilance and an inability to relax without guilt may lead some people to blunt their emotions through work.
Source: Reuters

The link between traumatic experiences and the development of addiction has been well-documented. Edward Khantzian, who originated the self-medication hypothesis of substance abuse, writes that “human emotional suffering and pain” and an “inability to tolerate [one’s] feelings” are at the root of addiction. People may use alcohol, drugs, or gambling to numb or control distress, low self-esteem, anxiety, or depression.

But there is virtually no empirical research on the potential link between trauma and overwork or work addiction. While a 2015 study on women survivors of intimate partner violence and a 2013 study on survivors of childhood sexual abuse both indicate that these populations may be inclined toward workaholic behaviors, there is no research on why trauma survivors might turn to work to cope with their feelings.

But a number of researchers and clinicians—and people who self-identify as workaholics or overachievers—believe the connection between trauma and overwork is likely. Some believe coping with trauma is at the very heart of a work addiction.

While the term has been used loosely in recent articles, a workaholic isn’t just someone who works a lot or delays taking vacation. Instead, they work so much that they neglect other areas of their life

You're reading a preview, sign up to read more.

More from The Atlantic

The Atlantic5 min read
A Nation Coming Apart
The 45th president of the United States is uniquely unfit for office and poses a multifaceted threat to our country’s democratic institutions. Yet he might not represent the most severe challenge facing our country. The structural failures in our dem
The Atlantic17 min readPolitics
How America Ends
Democracy depends on the consent of the losers. For most of the 20th century, parties and candidates in the United States have competed in elections with the understanding that electoral defeats are neither permanent nor intolerable. The losers could
The Atlantic7 min read
Introducing a New Look for The Atlantic
A conversation with the magazine’s creative director, Peter Mendelsund, about our bold new design