In a relationship, two or more people might enter a state where personal boundaries become porous and unclear. Therapist Salvador Minuchin calls it enmeshment – a cause for concern as in this state individuals lose their identity and autonomy, and might require conscious efforts to recoup and find the right balance.

What if we applied the concept of enmeshment to the relationship that people have with their work and profession? Is it possible for professionals to exist only through their work and not realize its dangers?

Psychologist Janna Koretz explains, “A particular confluence of high achievement, intense competitiveness, and culture of overwork has caught many in a perfect storm of career enmeshment and burnout.” A study by the Illinois psychiatric center, Yellowbrick, proves this. In a survey of 2000 millennials, 70% agreed that they identified themselves only through their jobs. This complicates individuals’ personalities, emotions, and identities. Think relationship-based challenges, anxiety, and stress.

Wondering if you face a similar risk? Ask yourself:

  • Do you think about your job outside of your office?
  • Do you find it difficult to engage in conversations other than your work?
  • How distressing would it be if you had to discontinue your work?
  • How quickly do you tell someone you’ve just met about your job?
  • Are you fully present outside of your profession?
  • Are your values as a person completely defined by work values?

If your answers lean towards enmeshment, here are a few steps that can help you ease out of it:

  • Free-up time. Think of ways to delegate or share work with teammates. Identify your priority tasks and optimize time to complete them. What could you engage in, in the minutes that now get freed up?
  • Reflect on your identity. Our work is a part of our identity, but we are more than just our jobs. Ask what matters the most to you, what’s your personal purpose, and whether you see your life moving in sync with your values and interests? If no, consider why there is disharmony and what can help you bring things on track.
  • Expand your definition of yourself. What describes you, apart from your designation or job title? It could be a hobby (‘I am an enthusiastic poet’), a quality (‘I am an optimist’), a purpose (‘I help people build a rewarding relationship with food’, if a nutritional consultant). Introduce yourself in these fresh ways, the next time you meet someone new.

In her book, The Job, Ellen Ruppel Shell talks about a study that followed dancers and musicians who had to quit because of injury. The artists most passionate about their work were the least likely to bounce back. Others, surprisingly, found a way to channel their dedication to dance and music in ways beyond their older jobs.

Your job title only tells people what you do, not who you are. Don’t let it or your work overshadow the rest of you.

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