Is Your Mental Health Hurting Your Career?
Source: Nik Shulian/Unsplash We all know that the workplace can affect mental health. A stressful…
Source: Nik Shulian/Unsplash
We all know that the workplace can affect mental health. A stressful environment, an overly critical boss, long hours, night shifts, and unrealistic expectations are just a few of the factors that can make you feel miserable on the job. But what about the mindset you bring to work? Is that hindering your success?
Just as depression, anxiety, ADD, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and other mental health conditions can have a ripple effect on friends and family, so, too, can they impact your work life and opportunity to build a successful and fulfilling career. People who seek help from me for job problems inevitably spend time in therapy complaining about their bosses, colleagues, workload, or some other matter that is seemingly outside of their psychological issues. Rarely do they take responsibility for having some role in the challenging situation that has developed. Yet, as we explore their employment situations in detail and the emotions and projections they have toward those they work with, it often becomes clear that old patterns and painful memories may be enhancing the intensity of what they are feeling.
When old family dynamics get triggered in the workplace
When a patient describes repeated dissatisfaction or difficulties with supervisors or peers at numerous jobs, it’s a red flag that there are additional problems at play. For instance, as Jennifer* shared her resentment about her current and former bosses and colleagues, I could see that she became easily engaged in power struggles—always feeling she was being treated unfairly, was being micro-managed, and was being edged out by competitors. I asked Jennifer what her family life had been like when she was a child, She said she had felt dominated and rejected by her parents and denigrated by siblings who competed with her for parental love and attention.
It was only after recognizing that she was projecting old hurts and past patterns on her present-day work relationships that Jennifer was able to master these instinctual reactions. She became determined to resist getting drawn into work conflicts that hampered her productivity and alienated her from colleagues. Incidentally, she wasn’t as badly treated at home as she first let on. Correcting the lens of her perception at work helped to correct how she experienced her recall of life growing up.
For many people like Jennifer, it is only when they explore buried emotions from childhood that they, for the first time, have a chance to thrive at work. John*, a Yale graduate, had the intellectual and academic prowess that should have made him feel confident that he could succeed. He came into therapy, however, because he felt there was some invisible barrier holding him back from pursuing and fulfilling his potential at work. As John opened up, old memories surfaced of his father beating him at chess and showing off when they played basketball. John recognized that his fear of success stemmed from his fear of surpassing his father. By acknowledging and talking about the fear he was eventually able to overcome it and carve out a successful path for his future.
When Anxiety, ADD, and Depression Prevent Job Success
Anxiety can be another hindrance at work. As my patient Henry* described his unhappy history of employment, it was clear that he was overly anxious and constantly second-guessing himself, automatically assuming his work was not good, and refraining from speaking up—all of which limited his productivity, ability to impress others, and chances for promotions. Another patient, Arthur*, supervised a department of 10 people but, because his anxiety prevented him from delegating work, he had burned out. Even though he had hired everyone on his team, he wasn’t able to trust their work. In his 360° performance review, he was informed that those he supervised felt micromanaged and stifled in their ability to enhance their skills and responsibilities.
Those who suffer from unidentified or treated attention deficit disorder (ADD) may be at risk of making impulsive decisions at work that could have a long-lasting negative impact. Their weak executive function can make organizational processes a challenge. Their lack of focus can make being attentive to details a struggle. And their need for stimulation can also make it difficult for them to stay interested in their job for any length of time. For those with ADD, succeeding at work usually involves a combination of treating the disorder and finding work that is best suited to their strengths, interests, and energy.
Depression is, of course, another mental health condition that can be a hindrance to success. The negative thinking, gloomy mood, irritability, and difficulty making decisions—which are just some of the symptoms of depression—can be devastating to job success. Colleagues generally don’t realize that the miserable individual is suffering from depression but rather assume this is their personality. Over and over, I’ve seen that once depression is treated, my patients’ careers blossom.
If unhappiness at work has become a pattern in your life, discuss with your therapist or psychiatrist what underlying issues may be contributing to the situation. When these issues are acknowledged and addressed, major roadblocks to your success will be removed and your chances of thriving at work and in life can be greatly enhanced.
*Name has been changed.
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