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Emily and Amelia Nagoski

Personality and Burnout

Roots in our childhood? 

Are there links between personality and burnout? We tend to presume that a stressful job, and challenging life events lead to burnout – and this is absolutely true but are there also internal causes of burnout? Factors that we may not be aware of, that make us more prone to its effects?

Through early experiences with caregivers and peers, children learn to regulate their emotions and interact with others, skills which are essential for success in their future lives. Unfortunately, not all children have the same opportunities to develop these skills. Some grow up in chaotic or abusive environments. The early experiences we have shape our beliefs about ourselves and the world around us. If we have positive experiences, we develop a positive view of ourselves and the world. We believe that we are capable and that people are generally good. But on the other hand, if we have negative experiences, we may develop a negative view of ourselves and the world. 


Depersonalisation has been shown to be a particular danger for men. It is when we distance ourselves from our work by creating “dehumanising” (almost robotic) perceptions of tasks, clients, or colleagues. We do it in order to survive – we create barriers in an effort to lessen some of the negative outcomes we are experiencing. But the consequences can be catastrophic: We may feel life is less real, we may feel numb. We may feel detached from others or ourselves, and lacking in empathy.  We may feel demotivated and isolated. We may carry these feelings from the workplace into the rest of our lives, affecting our relationships and our home life.  

The Danger of Working from Home

Especially since the pandemic, we have become used to working from home and there are obviously huge benefits in terms of flexibility, work-life balance, avoiding a time consuming commute.  However research is finding that working from home and sitting doing the same tasks every day can make contribute to feelings of depersonalisation – lacking the human contact of colleagues, we can start to feel isolated and lonely. In front of a blank screen, sitting in silence, we miss the noise, the buzz, the friendly chitchat, the sense of being part of something bigger.  This can foster anxious thoughts about others and how they perceive us, cause us to feel skeptical about the motives of our colleagues. Our mind and body don’t quite know what to do – and so depersonalisation is a stage of burnout where individuals feel disconnected from their work and view themselves and others as mere objects.

Women and Burnout

Researchers Emily and Ameila Nagoski in their book Burnout (see below) the phenomenon they call ‘Human Giver Syndrome’: the “false, contagious belief that women have a moral obligation to be pretty, happy, calm, generous, and attentive to the needs of others.”

They say that when we look at things like perfectionism, people-pleasing, a reluctance to ask for help, and a strong inner critic – so many of these things are rooted in the ways that women have been socialised to be kind, agreeable and of service to others. It is operating within flawed patriarchal systems that has caused women to participate in many of the behaviours that can be detrimental to their own wellbeing and lead to burnout.


It’s probably not surprising to know that perfectionism very often leads to burnout – setting the bar too high, working too hard, and striving to achieve an unattainable standard is incredibly exhausting, and it’s only a matter of time before this reaches a point where we can no longer bear it.

When we give in to perfectionism we struggle to determine when something is ‘good enough’ – so we tend to keep going regardless. It can feel good, as we are  so our default is to keep going. The extraordinary effort we put in can mean that we’re pretty motivated and conscientious – we are feeling pretty good! Long term, however it usually comes at a cost to ourselves. This tunnel vision means that we may can inadvertently neglect others or miss the value in maintaining positive relationships with their co-workers, which is one of the key support systems that prevents burnout in the first place.

It’s also interesting to understand that perfectionists tend to fall into two categories: ‘excellence-seeking’ or ‘failure-avoiding’. ‘Excellence-seeking’ is all about excessively high standards, unnecessary pressure on ourselves to go above and beyond. ‘Failure-avoiding’ means we spend too much time on tasks, as we are obsessed with not making mistakes.

Perfectionism is not only a contributing factor towards burnout, it’s also a behaviour that stops us from being vulnerable and showing up authentically in our lives and in our careers, which impacts our ability to connect with others. As researcher Dr. Brené Brown has found in her work, perfectionism is a type of armour we wear in an attempt to protect ourselves from blame, judgement and shame. It is the false belief that if we do everything perfectly, we can avoid these uncomfortable feelings

People Pleasing

A people-pleaser wants to please, to be liked, be helpful, and not ruffle any feathers or let anyone down. This often means that we take on too many responsibilities, and struggle to set effective boundaries because we have difficulty saying ‘no’. This creates an excessive workload as well as a lack of time to rest and restore, which means that burnout is on the cards.

Overachieving and workaholism

Similar to a perfectionist, an overachiever is  or workaholic is putting themselves in danger of burnout. Everything feels important and urgent and we want to go the extra mile to make sure that everything gets done to an excellent standard. We are likely to be very intent on career progression and proving we have what it takes to scale to get to the top of our chosen career ladder. So we work long hurs and continually add things to our plate. 

We often work too much without enough time for socialising or relaxing, which is another key factor that contributes to burnout. We may accidentally neglect family, friends or our own wellbeing as we strive for success and the constant pressure we place on ourselves to keep achieving and getting everything done can build up over time, and when this pressure or stress accumulates without enough resources to alleviate the stress, it causes burnout.     for the Burned Out, Fried and Exhausted    Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle by Emily Nagoski Ph.D. and Amelia Nagoski, M.D.



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See also: What is Burnout?Self-Care isn’t the Answer!The Stress Cycle