Barbara Killinger, Ph.D.

Barbara Killinger Ph.D.

The Workaholics


The Workaholic Breakdown Syndrome: Loss of Feeling

With the loss of feelings, the breakdown process accelerates.

Posted Jul 08, 2012

With the loss of feelings, the breakdown process accelerates. This is the first turning point in the downward spiral that this addiction to power and control typically follows. The loss of the necessary and valuable information and input that the Feeling function provides will eventually cause a number of serious changes in the workaholic’s values, character, and personality.

Only by bringing into conscious awareness the escalating fears of failure, boredom, laziness, discovery, self-discovery, and paranoia will workaholics begin to recognize that something is seriously wrong. They need to realize that in order to counteract the surfacing self-doubt that is slowly undermining their cocky arrogance, their attention has of necessity become even more narrowly focused on reaching the next goal. The sense of urgency that is created demands excessive amounts of raw energy. The resultant pumping of adrenalin takes its toll as they battle with chronic fatigue, high anxiety, and bouts of depression. Concurrently, when repressed guilt no longer registers and shame takes its place, the former powerful mechanisms that allowed them to avoid dealing with reality no longer serve to protect the workaholic’s increasingly fragile ego.

Why do workaholics suffer largely unconscious but profound personality changes as the Feeling-Being side is slowly eclipsed by the powerful Doing-Performing side?

Partly, this has to do with the dynamics of obsession described in an earlier blog. (1) Recall that as the obsession with work relentlessly drives the workaholic, all the functions begin to transform to their dark side. Obsessive thoughts overtax Thinking and it becomes fuzzy, confused, and faulty. Repressed Feeling is overly-sensitive, takes everything personally, and turns moody and resentful. Negative Intuition is impatient, impulsive, and reckless. Having lost touch with the “big picture,” it is attracted to pragmatic short-term gains. Negative Sensation’s dualistic black-white thinking gets picky, argumentative, and absorbed in small detail. An awful emptiness fuels a greedy neediness that must be assuaged.

Repressed feelings work slowly, if at all. It may take some considerable time to translate thoughts into feeling. If you ask workaholics how they feel, they will tell you what they think instead, or fake a standard reaction that they guess might be appropriate. Or, as often happens in my office, workaholics will turn to their spouses looking for clues for the “right” answer. Because they lack feeling language and behavior, their subsequent jarring responses often leave the listener on the defensive, unsettled, or simply puzzled.

Unlike the fears mentioned previously which may or may not be conscious, the changes in values and personality that repressed feelings create are usually barely perceptible to the formerly idealistic, ambitious Dr. Jekyll who does not wish to acknowledge the emerging dark-side of Mr. Hyde. The family often can’t pinpoint what is happening either, although its members know that things have changed. What to do about it, however, remains a mystery. Confrontations only invite unwelcomed emotional or physical abuse.

The instant success that my book, Workaholics. The Respectable Addicts received when it first came out attests to this fact. (2) Finally, someone understood what was going on. “As I turned each page, there we were! I couldn’t believe it. You must have been living at our house,” is a familiar, often repeated remark by a spouse or other family member.

What must it be like not to feel, or even know how you should feel? Patrick, a recovering workaholic who described himself as a “distant observer” when we first met, admitted that he was functioning on one level, but really understood little of what had happened to make him so critical, cynical, and empty. Now that he was in touch with his feelings and reconnected to the significant people in his life, his plaintive cry was: “Please God, let me never have to live that way again!”

Confusion and uncertainty must yield to a growing awareness that inner work is needed and will prove beneficial in the long term. The journey of transformation begins when workaholics can finally acknowledge that their feelings no longer inform their judgment and decisions. Their numb and flat affect is revealed in expressionless eyes, or a stoic glance. There, but not there. During our sessions together, workaholics discover that they have no feeling language, or even behavior. In his frustration, one man blurted out: “I wish I could talk like you!” What he was really verbalizing was that he wished he could use the words, phrases, and empathic responses that feeling language conveys.

Many of the techniques that I have developed to help my clients rediscover their feelings appear in my book, Achieving Inner Balance in Anxious Times. (3) Workaholics need to learn a process I call Internalizing that will enable them to use both their Thinking and Feeling functions in order to make decisions and choices that possess both wisdom and intelligent analysis. This inner work is a necessary step in the recovery journey that will enable workaholics in the future to choose a healthy work-life balance.

In the next blog, we will begin to look at a series of losses that produce often alarming changes in the values, character, and personality of the workaholic as the obsession with work becomes even more debilitating.

(1) Killinger, B. “Understanding the Dynamics of Workaholism – Obsession.” Psychology Today blog in The Workaholics, February 14, 2012.

(2) Killinger, B. Workaholics. The Respectable Addicts. A Family Survival Guide. Toronto: Key Porter Books, 1991, 2004.

(3) Killinger, B. Achieving Inner Balance in Anxious Times. Montreal & Kingston, London, Ithica: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2011.

See Website: for my publications, and a link to the Psychology Today blog.

Copyright 2012 – Dr. Barbara Killinger