I’m Going to College Soon But My Father is Yelling at Me

Reader’s Question

I am 18 and live in Jersey City, New Jersey. Every day when I come home from school, from hanging out with friends, or whatever event I do, I am welcomed back by the stares of my father who always yells at me for having horrible friends who “supposedly” give me bad habits, for being overweight (although my friends say I am not), for wasting their hard-earned money, and not being as good as them when they were in school.

At first, I always handled it by choosing not to fight anger with anger and just kept smiling so that he can’t yell at me except to call me an ungrateful “person.” I would always stay out as late as possible doing community service events, extracurricular activities, or just hanging around at the park hoping when I come home he would be asleep and I wouldn’t have to talk to him.

And he always tells me that family is the most important thing and I should treat my family with respect, but even then he abuses me and says that he has brothers and parents who would take care of him and that I have no one.

It got to a point where I started hurting myself intentionally by bruising myself and cutting. The scars and bruises got so bad that my friends had to forcefully make me stop — not my parents, my friends. I almost tried to commit suicide at one time, even though my girlfriend was there to stop me. Yet, I started relying on my friends for help and I stopped because I found some people who care about me and I didn’t want to hurt them.

And for awhile things started to cool down and were okay, but now it’s starting up again and even though I’m going to go away to college in about three weeks, I still have to see my parents since they are financially supporting me and it’s in my culture to be family-oriented.

However, it has gotten to a point where I’m having thoughts of hurting myself physically
again and I can’t even be in the same room as my father without getting hit with a barrage of hurtful comments. My friends are all going to different places and I don’t want to hold them back again with my problems because I honestly truthfully care about them. Yet, what do I do? It’s getting hard to keep the facade up and I don’t know how long I can keep going at this alone. I’m sorry for asking for help, but I don’t know what to do anymore.

Psychologist’s Reply

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(Please read our important explanation below.)

Your father’s behavior can be caused by a variety of situations — almost all of then unrelated to you. If we imagine videotaping those yelling episodes, we could quickly conclude that your father is angry or resentful. He’s also directing his anger and resentment in your direction. Why? Here are some possibilities:

  • Your father may be going through a difficult personal time such as depression or a high level of stress. One of my favorite music artists — Meat Loaf — has a song entitled “Objects in the Rear View Mirror May Appear Closer than They Are”. The song describes a son as a victim of angry and aggressive attacks by a father. In the song, the son explains “I heard my father cursing everyone he knows, he was angry, drunk, and defeated and corroded by failure, envy, and hate”. Your Father yells at you for his reasons.
  • Your father, if this behavior surfaced only a short time ago, may be upset in anticipation of your departure to college. Many parents become very upset when their son and/or daughter departs for college. For the college student, it’s a wonderful departure into the adult world full of excitement and anticipation. For the parent, their child is leaving the nest and probably never returning, at least as a child. After you leave, the next time to return to the home it will be as an adult. If you and your father were very close, he may be resentful about the loss of the father-son relationship.
  • Your father may be jealous or envious of the adventure ahead of you. His negative focus on your friends and your behavior yet positive focus on the family and loyality may tell us that he feels he’s losing you. He may feel his influence in your life has decreased…and this is probably correct.
  • If your father has always behaved in this manner — yelling, criticizing, etc. — the stress of your departure to college and the financial and family issues that go with that may be increasing his normal behavior. Clearly, your father is not emotionally articulate — that is, he is unable to verbally express his feelings. When this is the case, we consider what feelings may be behind the behavior we are seeing in the living room. He may be upset — and not know why.

From your perspective, stay focused on your departure for college. You have very maturely looked at your family, friends, and social situation and are making some good decisions. Avoid self-harm and try to emotionally detach yourself from your father’s anger and distress. Don’t fight back. Remind him that the family remains important to you. Recognize that most of his comments are related to his situation, not yours. You are transitioning from a family-focused life to your own friend-focused life — and that upsets him, but he doesn’t know how to say it other than he has family and you have no one…which isn’t at all true. Your family will still love you when you go to college.

Once at the university, you can consider enrolling in the counseling center for counseling services. A counselor may help you sort out your Father’s behavior during this difficult time. The counselor may also screen you for depression as these family situations often produce depression.

Being a Freshman in college is difficult enough…so stay focused. Your Father is panicking and doesn’t know what to do. Recognize his situation as an adult, don’t react to it, and move on with your life. You’ll be returning and visiting as a college student and adult. His perspective…and yours…may have dramatically changed by that time.

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