Money and Work Addiction – Don’t work yourself to death
Money and work addiction
Work and money are seen as the ‘respectable’ addictions – but a behavioural addiction can be as harmful as substance ones. Craig Rapp MPhil, MSc, MBACP, UKCP, COSRT, CSAT, CMAT explains.
Download Intervene 3 – 149 – Money & work addiction
21-year-old Moritz Erhardt was found dead in August last year after a 72-hour stint of working at his placement at financial management company Merrill Lynch. Two weeks later, 53-year-old Pierre Wauthier, chief financial officer of Zurich Insurance Group AG committed suicide. Shortly thereafter, Josef Ackermann, Zurich’s chairman, resigned amid speculation that he was partly to blame for his CFO’s suicide. We all remember Nick Leeson, the man who single-handedly brought down Barings Bank. Then there’s Bernie Maddoff who scammed unsuspecting investors out of more than $20billion, earning him 150 years in prison.
We live in a society where money permeates every facet of our existence. Money wields enormous power and has a force and a character of mythical proportions. Yes, money is essential for our daily existence and goes a long way in alleviating the suffering associated with not having enough. But we have come to believe that money “is the source of our security, success, happiness, peace, popularity, and prestige. If we have it, we will have life. If not we will forever be unfulfilled” (Courtney Bourns 1982). Money and work addiction is viewed by our culture as a good thing – the acceptable addiction. Some refer to this condition as the Midas Complex, or affluenza, or even the search for more-gasms but, as Jiddu Krishnamurti noted, “It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society”.
Process addictions such as eating disorders, are readily viewed as addictions and treated using various addiction models. Indeed, shopping addiction was cited as a psychiatric disorder in the early 20th century – incidentally, about 10% of the UK population is thought to have a shopping addiction.
Gambling addiction has now been included in the DSM5 by the American Psychological Association – acknowledging “the increasing and consistent evidence that some behaviours, such as gambling, activate the brain reward system with effects similar to those of drugs of abuse and that gambling disorder symptoms resemble substance use disorders to a certain extent”.
Addiction professionals recognise and address several other behavioural addictions such as sex or pornography addiction, shopping, debting and workaholism. But money and work addiction often show up in other guises.
There have been several attempts to develop instruments that can measure our relationship with money. Most recently, Bonnie denDooven, in conjunction with IITAP – the International Institute of Trauma and Addiction Professionals – developed a screening tool called a Mawasi, a Money and Work Adaptive Styles Index, which identifies 16 different manifestations of this problem. In addition to the obvious suspects, she identifies areas such as:
• money obsession
• problematic wealth
• codependent giving
• money aversion (financial anorexia)
• adrenaline jobs
• investment styles and
• dysfunctional relational attachment.
There is no standardised and accepted instrument to test for these issues, but practitioners can quickly identify if a client has issues in these areas by using the following seven generally accepted criteria.
1. Tolerance: does the client experience increasing amounts of the behaviour?
2. Withdrawal: does the client experience withdrawal symptoms when not exhibiting the behaviours?
3. Continuation despite harm: is the client experiencing physical, psychological, or financial harm as a consequence of the behaviours?
4. Loss of control: does the client exhibit more and more of the behaviours, or for longer periods?
5. Attempts to cut down: has the client made conscious, but unsuccessful, efforts to reduce the behaviours?
6. Salience: does the client spend significant time planning, exhibiting or recovering from the behaviours and its effects?
7. Reduced involvement: has the client given up or reduced their involvement in family, social, occupational or recreational activities due to the behaviours?
The starting point of money and work addiction, like all addictive processes, is an erroneous belief system – a belief that we are not good enough, not accepted and valued for who we are, but rather for what we can achieve or what we do. Society tells us we are not good enough. We are bombarded on a daily basis with messages from advertisers who understand the psychopathology of money and use their knowledge to devastating effect. They intentionally attack our confidence, self-esteem, self-image, wellbeing and sense of safety, then they promise redemption through the products they try get us to buy.
The messages we receive about work and money in our families of origin can be equally harmful. Workaholism is perceived as something positive, an indicator of our strength of character. It elevates our status and creates a positive fantasy for our lives. Long hours gain recognition and praise, whereas the opposite is sinful or evil. Belief systems about hard work, the measure of your worth being linked to the size of your balance sheet, become internalised.
We have all experienced the “rush” that occurs when we make or win money, when we buy a new car or outfit, and similarly that awful sensation when we lose money. The disciplines of psychology, neuroscience and economics are spawning a new hybrid field of neuroeconomics that is investigating exactly what happens to our brains when we interact with money.
For example, our brain’s nucleus accumbens lights up with activity when we consider the possibility of making money. Accomplishment triggers the release of highly addictive ‘feel good’ chemical dopamine, as well as serotonin, the chemical responsible for feelings of pride and status. On the opposite side of the coin, when we anticipate or experience a loss, our amygdala comes to life and our brains release cortisol, the chemical responsible for feelings of stress and anxiety. Cortisol shuts off our immune system, creates paranoia and inhibits release of oxytocin, making us less empathic and generous. Higher levels of oxytocin promote feelings of love, trust and friendship, boost immune systems, increase creativity and inhibit addiction.
There is increasing evidence that demonstrates the mood-altering effect of money. We learn that money can medicate our ‘less than’ feelings, but the danger is that this relationship with money can spin out of control. We become overly focused on accumulating it, spending it, hoarding it or using it to control people, places and things.
Tolerance increases. Money, like any other product, is subject to the economic laws of diminishing marginal utility: the more we get, the less good it makes us feel. Studies have shown that, above a certain threshold, increasing one’s financial wealth does nothing to increase happiness. Ultimately, money becomes the primary relationship, with other relationships becoming secondary. Identities become about having money (the wealthy person), accumulating money (the big earner), spending money (the big spender) or even giving money away (the big donor).
It is not only the money addict who suffers. Family members get drawn into the pathology. The main provider can exert power and control over other family members through the supply or withholding of money. The whole family can be negatively taken over by money and all of the trappings of wealth.
Money also becomes interwoven with our relationships. Relationships can become a transaction. For example, I will provide the money for you to shop, spend, lunch, travel, etc, and in return you will look good on my arm, provide sex when I want it and you will raise the kids.
In fact, a paper titled Examining the Relationship Between Financial Issues and Divorce (the Journal of Family Relations October 2012) demonstrated the direct correlation between financial conflict and the likelihood of divorce at all levels of the socioeconomic continuum.
What about any children involved? They develop a sense of entitlement, elitism and a falsely empowered sense of self, which does not bode well for the future. Families can ‘buy’ their way out of trouble, avoiding the learning of lessons that natural consequences facilitate.
Yes, money can buy more family and leisure time. But the constant pursuit of it and the need to manage it and protect it, if you have it, means – in a Catch 22 – that you have less and less time to spend with the family. The means has overtaken the goal. This has the potential to set up the next generation for deep psychological problems.
The availability of money also enables other forms of addiction. Comorbidity, or addiction interaction disorder, often occurs with money and work addiction. A perfect example of this is the combination of money, cocaine and sex.
As a general principle, working with money and work addictions involves the following.
1. Identify the problem. Ask questions, bring money and work into the therapy room, use the criteria listed above.
2. Challenge the denial.
3. Identify the client’s underlying scripts about money.
4. Process any affect arising from these scripts.
5. Help the client reframe their money scripts to be more congruent.
6. Engage the client in individual therapy, group therapy and a suitable 12-step programme.
7. Utilise the services of other professionals, such as accountants, solicitors etc where appropriate. Remember you are not giving investment or legal advice – you are dealing with the emotional aspects.
8. Be aware of comorbidity and deal with more life-threatening behaviours first.
Craig Rapp MPhil, MSc, MBACP, UKCP, COSRT, CSAT, CMAT is a money & work addiction specialist. He combines his personal experience, various trainings, and practical approach with specific exercises and modalities in addressing these issues.