The Need for Productivity: The New Disorder

I have begun to notice this trend with my clients, and not just with a couple of them, but with almost all of them. At some point they say things like, “I feel like I am not doing enough.” “I should be doing more.” “I’m not as far in my career as I should be.” “I really like to be busy.” “I am most happy when I am doing something.” “I don’t like to be still, my mind goes crazy. I have to keep moving.” In sum, they say that they are not being productive enough, and they want me to help them get better at doing more.

Their emotional world has become a drain on their productivity and they want to figure out how to escape the weight of their sadness or whatever negative emotion they are experiencing. I often find myself responding playfully, “But, what if you are a human and not a machine?” This usually sparks a conversation about the intrinsic elements that make up a human – elements that cause my clients loads of shame for having. We explore how an emotional internal world, a story that informs who they are, frailties that require rest, limitations that lead to mistakes, and the ability to bring blessings to themselves and others around them by fully being present are all intrinsically human.

These clients feel as if they need to be “fixed” when they are reacting as a human. When there has been abuse, fear and sorrow follow. A betrayal by another does evoke distrust. Neglect does create a sense of hopelessness about being loved. When they experience these emotional reactions they are not broken. What breaks down their ability to live well is their attempts to evade their own experience. And to do this, many clients just keep moving.

This need to produce and keep moving has become the socially acceptable and often rewarded way of existing in our culture. But, below its surface is a fear of scarcity, a sense of not being enough, that often drives a client. Brene’ Brown puts it this way in her book  Daring Greatly, “…the feeling of scarcity does thrive in shame-prone cultures that are deeply steeped in comparison and fractured by disengagement. (p27)” It is this disengagement with the self, this lack of being able to be still with themselves, and an attempt to be good enough that often drives our clients to the counseling room.

I often get asked what I do, and my new answer is this, “I help people be still and listen to themselves so that they can remember they are worthy humans.”

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