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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. (


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.

(For the entire article written by Tanya Paperny visit: )


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This is certainly the case for me, coupled with dire economic need as a single mother seeking to escape a culture of poverty and abuse.  I have been quite successful at work, but am now doing double-time trying to repair frayed family ties. I've just begun a new podcast series if you are interested. See my blog post on ACEs Connection from earlier this morning.  I'm new to the community and happy to become a contributing member now that I have earned tenure!

Cari and Janie, thanks so much for sharing your story around overwork.  My original trauma based addictions were food, alcohol and drugs.  However once I stopped using these to soothe my hyper aroused, anxious and shame based brain, I switched to overworking and caffeine.  

It wasn't until I realized that I had complex PTSD from childhood that I began healing my brain and body to calm down and thankfully the need for over work and caffeine to soothe me have subsided. 

Since my childhood trauma was emotional neglect and emotional abuse vs. physical abuse or sexual abuse I didn't, and none of my mental health providers knew I had complex PTSD until 6 months ago at the age of 57 years old as a result of reading Bessell van der Kolk, MD's book, The Body Keeps The Score.

I had done 30 years of intense insight based psychological work, but had not done much if any healing for the trauma to my brain and body since I didn't know I had trauma.

Wow what a difference healing my brain and body has made.   Between regular neurofeedback, yoga, and mindfulness I am so much calmer and feel like I finally have found the core issue and the solution that has caused such lifelong struggles-Development Trauma AKA Complex PTSD.

Last edited by Mary Giuliani

Janie -

Your story echoes some of mine; same song, different lyrics. We could have gone in many different directions — other addictions, infinitely more self-destructive behaviors. Work is one of those addictions society loves. 

Someday we will live in an ACEs-aware world where people will recognize the kids who are pushing themselves to the point of breakdown, and invite those kids to sit a spell, breathe, and just be. Just be healthy, happy, safe, and at ease. Imagine! It will be easier for them to learn, stay healthy, form healthy relationships. And you, and your hard work, will have helped to make that possible. 

I am learning to appreciate, all the more, a saying I’ve heard and said and said to myself for years: progress, not perfection.

Thanks for your post.



The answer for me is yes. Reading was my escape; getting good grades got me positive attention. I realize now that a lot of my desire to be the best at everything was fueled by my shame and feelings of unworthiness — I had to prove I was a good, smart, deserving of love and respect. I channeled my rage into hardline investigative reporting. I saw myself as a voice for the voiceless, a crusader speaking truth to power, and was constantly crushed when the change I wanted to see happen through my stories never materialized. I’ve eased up a bit in the last year after finishing grad school, but only because I don’t have the capacity to do it anymore. 

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