Feb 13

When a Manager Becomes an Addict

Stephan Polomski
Stephan Polomski is director human resources, coach and trainer

How do I care for myself in the role of a manager when the structural framework is extremely demanding for me? Most managers will skip this question and switch over to how do I respond to expectations and how do I function even more and better?

Maximizing performance and numbing failure, this is what often leads to consuming substances and drugs like nicotine, caffeine, alcohol, cocaine, marihuana, ecstasy, stimulants, tranquilizers, prescribed pills etc. And from here sometimes the spiral downwards starts with changes of physical appearance, behavior, performance, as well as negligence of relationships, and personal happiness.

Consumption of and addiction to substances became the best hidden secrets in a manager´s professional life and they are more than anything else a taboo – while office talk is certainly making the round.

If in addition to the pressure to succeed, permanent ubiquity and total flexibility a private issue like divorce, death or problems with kids burn the last resources in the private shelter room a break-down of the entire individual system and a high tendency to take substances can be forecasted.

Especially narcissistic personalities – and many managers need a lot of external appreciation in order to feel alright with themselves – are vulnerable here as their esteem for themselves is even lower.

So, what to do if I face it for myself or in my team or – as HR manager – in my company? How can I take care?

Last week I attended a professional training in process work and psychotherapy in Zürich with Dr. Reini Hauser and Torsten Ziesche, who gave us students some indications how to deal with drug addicts in general in a therapeutic setting. Some of the approaches and ideas I find at the same time useful for the business setting.

First of all, I learned that is basic to differentiate in between addictions to a substance like alcohol or a process like work or even sports. Addiction for the addicted is the “normal” state of being which is always measured by the personality of the individual. This individually measured normality often opposes the normality of society and companies requiring functioning along defined rules. For the addict it becomes a challenge to control his “normal state” of addiction in such a setting.

“Interestingly in Switzerland – aside the well known programs of abstinence – a model of 4 columns finds worldwide interest and acknowledgement for how to deal with addiction and dependence.”

Interestingly in Switzerland – aside the well known programs of abstinence – a model of 4 columns finds worldwide interest and acknowledgement for how to deal with addiction and dependence.

These columns are:

1. Prevention (in a company setting that could be information or urine tests as determent)

2. Harm reduction (through e.g. substitution)

3. Repression (punishment like layoff or pressing charges)

4. Support (which means adapt assistance and measures of professional therapy instead of punishment in order to foster self-management)

In case, I as manager face my addiction or I have to deal with a colleague who is addicted it is important to understand the meaning behind the behavior.

The approach of process oriented psychotherapy within column 4 is to understand the addict as a person on a way to find something which leads to entireness, deeper meaning, and to accomplishment. Process work is interested in the yearning which wants to be achieved. Like that, it is not the substance, on which I have to focus but the personal benefit behind.

This approach changes my attitude how to perceive myself or the addict. It fosters contact: to myself, to others and to what is here and now.

If I am consuming a substance or if I am doing something excessively, what is it exactly that I avoid to do or what I cannot do in the very moment? What is my yearning? And what is the limit, I cannot pass in order to get this kind of fulfillment and then take a substance? What does the hungry ghost inside myself really want of me?

Arnold Mindell, founder of process oriented psychology, explains that “we get addicted to those parts of our personalities that are disavowed. Why can’t people stop doing things that are dangerous to them? I don’t believe there is one reason, any more than I believe there is one particular therapy that works for everyone. But one point seems certain, regardless of the particular addiction: We get addicted to those parts of our personality that we have disavowed or which we are shy about integrating. The addiction tries to give us access to that part. If we don’t explore the inner composition of the addiction—the unacknowledged parts of ourselves—then we will remain at the mercy of the substance and never get the message. …It is not actually the substance that we need. …If you have an addiction, you are addicted to a part of yourself that you need desperately.”

It is relieving to perceive addiction through such a frame and especially in management, I found, that it could be a gain, if managers integrated these disavowed personality parts of themselves. And even more: often, I can find very deep answers to the question what my life assignment really is for me and what the meaning of my life really signifies for me.

I just imagine the dark figure of managers who are in fact drug addicts and at the same time a manager having an enormous responsibility for hundreds of people and for millions of Euros and mastering such a personal crisis towards inner accomplishment. How much more such a person, re-emerged, could be a caring leader?

This entry was posted on Sunday, February 13th, 2011 at 09:22 and is filed under Human Resources, Leadership, Management. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Responses are currently closed, but you can trackback from your own site.

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