My Dad is My Boss — Is He the Root of My Depression?

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Reader’s Question

This is basically what I go through every day: either no appetite, or suddenly I’m extremely hungry. I just eat the same thing every day from the same stall, and if the stall is closed, I’m lost and I just end up not bothering to eat at all. I can’t sleep well more than three hours, or I can sleep a whole day and not bother to do anything I need to do. When I drive I keep telling myself that if I accelerate here I will crash and die.

I cannot concentrate at work and mess up on the simplest tasks when reprimanded. I’m lonely, but I will tell myself no one is free without bothering to ask. I avoid all forms of human contact; even when out shopping for groceries I listen to music through earphones.

Work is extremely stressful, as my dad is my boss. I hate it, but I can’t resign because I know if I do I won’t bother to see my parents at all. My dad berates me at work. Whatever I do is wrong. If I follow instructions, I’m wrong because I don’t have a mind of my own. If I decide something on my own, I’m being “too smart for my own good.” I know I’m not stupid; I have a degree and two other diplomas, all in three different industries. Still, my dad’s constant put-downs make me feel lousy. What should I do?

Psychologist’s Reply

The symptoms you describe sound like classic signs of major depression, which can be so devastating because it can affect so many areas of life. Notable signs of depression include problems with appetite and sleep, lack of energy, difficulty concentrating, sadness and low self-esteem, social isolation, and suicidal thoughts. Regardless of whether your work situation is the cause of your depression or a major stressor that doesn’t help matters, treatment is a must. There’s no reason to continue suffering when so many effective treatment options exist. Consulting a physician will get you started on medication, which is liable to make a major difference, especially with the physical symptoms.

Continuing in the work setting you described would be difficult for the healthiest person, let alone someone feeling depressed. So, apart from seeking treatment to begin feeling better, you have the longer-term decision about whether to continue to work for your father. It sounds like you may be struggling with the expectation that we all face: that we should continue relationships with our parents, regardless of how they treat us, simply because they are our parents. Perhaps it is these expectations that allow family to treat each other so badly sometimes; we wouldn’t stand for such treatment from anyone else.

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In childhood we rely on our parents for our care. In adulthood, the responsibility shifts to us to take care of ourselves. Meeting physical needs seems straightforward, but taking care our of emotional and psychological needs can be difficult when doing so puts us at odds with family. Still, if we don’t take care of ourselves, who will?

When family does not treat us well, we wish they would. But, as long as the situation, and the relationship dynamics, remain the same, what incentive would family have to change? Refusing to continue in an abusive relationship with family may feel as though we’re turning our backs on the very people we’re supposed to remain in relationships with for life. However, doing so may provide the incentive and the means for establishing a healthier relationship. If our family seems uninterested in, or incapable of, change, that too is important for us to know as we work on building the healthiest and happiest life we can.

Establishing a trusting relationship with a professional counselor will not only aid in treating your depression, but may serve you well as you navigate the twists and turns involved in altering the relationships with your parents.

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