Redirecting The Driven Personality: A Strengths-based Approach to Compulsivity, Work Addiction, and “Type A” Personality

Many of the people I work with suffer from a deeply ingrained habit of control, perfectionism and work addiction, to the extent that they’ve lost sight of what’s most important to them. This can lead to depression, burnout, relationship problems, and over-reactive anger.

My understanding of many of these people is that they’re naturally driven: they’re energetic and goal directed. But these talents got hijacked and overused when they ran into difficulties when they were young. It’s important to respect and use these abilities, but not have them overwhelm the rest of the personality.

This sort of compulsivity can be very difficult to change; our culture rewards it, and it has addictive qualities. My approach is to help people recognize their strengths and use them in a more balanced way, without pathologizing their energetic personality style.

While treatment needs to develop organically for each client, here are some of the steps that I’ve found most important in helping people suffering from compulsivity:

  • Learn to pause and see what you’re feeling before you start “binging” on any type of work that would lead you to avoid feelings. Too often “doing” is used to avoid feeling.
  • Notice how you carry tension in your body so that you can remember to “let go” when you’re outside of session.
  • Understand how your life story lead you to use control, perfection and work as a strategy to deal with those fears. Question the story and develop a new strategy.
  • Identify your priorities and aspirations clearly. What gives your life meaning and purpose?
  • Make sure that your behavior and how you spend your time actually reflects those priorities.

Meeting regularly with a therapist is an important step in breaking destructive patterns. Therapeutic support can help you override old habits and stay focused on the aspirations that you’ve lost sight of.