[Two Pronged] Struggles with my boss

Jeremy Baer, Margarita Holmes

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[Two Pronged] Struggles with my boss
'I have a hard time brushing things off easily. Especially, if the minor 'offenses' get repeated over and over again.'

 Rappler’s Life and Style section runs an advice column by couple Jeremy Baer and clinical psychologist Dr Margarita Holmes.

Jeremy has a master’s degree in law from Oxford University. A banker of 37 years who worked in 3 continents, he has been training with Dr Holmes for the last 10 years as co-lecturer and, occasionally, as co-therapist, especially with clients whose financial concerns intrude into their daily lives

Together, they have written two books: Love Triangles: Understanding the Macho-Mistress Mentality and Imported Love: Filipino-Foreign Liaisons. 

Dear Dr. Holmes and Mr Baer:

I’m 29, working in a government hospital and currently undergoing treatment for depression and trauma. I should be grateful for having a kind boss who is my direct supervisor, mentor at work, career, and in life.

Yet I have negative feelings towards her. My boss came from a poor background, whereas I did not. My privileged background is often the subject of “light-hearted” jokes for her. Sometimes, I can brush it off but sometimes I can’t.

Even though I had (and still have) that privileged background, It took me years to discover and overcome the trauma of growing up in such a background.

The little things I do are pointed out as, “Ang weird mo ___” by my boss even though they’re minor and not really weird. Maybe it’s because of our differences, in language, etc (I am the younger “millennial”) and in other aspects.

But my problem is that sometimes, I don’t handle things well and get affected. I have a hard time brushing things off easily. Especially, if the minor “offenses” get repeated over and over again.

How should I deal with my negative feelings towards myself, my work and her? My boss is my only close friend at work. She has given me so much support I owe my career to her. But sometimes I prefer to just have a working relationship (without the side benefits of a close friendship).

Should I distance myself further? (We already have almost different offices). Should I continue taking lifts with my boss and spouse, an almost daily occurrence for us? It would feel off if I refuse, but all these negative feelings make me not want to owe her any more benefits or privileges.  

I know that I am not perfect myself, and that I also need to change and adjust some attitude. That I need to have more patience. That I have my flaws as well. And possibly, I have not yet made peace with them that’s why I have all these negative feelings. But every day is a struggle. And I get overwhelmed with all my problems and the stuff in my head, even simple chores like laundry get me agitated when I can’t do them because of all the other stuff I’ve been thinking. Maybe, it spills on to my work and I am really the problem?

How do I differentiate the struggles of my mental illness with me being the problem or with others being the real problem? How do I overcome these difficulties with my thoughts and emotions?


Dear Suzana, 

The questions you raise, particularly in your last paragraph, would in all likelihood require quite a few sessions with a mental health professional and are beyond the remit of this column. However, here are a number of issues that can be addressed.

The points you raise relate to your mental health, your work and of course to the overlap between them. I shall comment on the work related aspects and leave Dr Holmes to illuminate the mental health aspects, should she choose to.

You say that your boss is kind, your mentor both at work and in life, is your only close friend at work, gives you lifts almost daily etc. Against this, she makes jokes about your privileged background. Well, this seems a small price to pay for the huge benefit that her friendship is bringing you. And how about having a conversation with her about how these jokes are hurtful for you? You mention trauma in growing up so perhaps this is something to discuss with her rather than just suggesting you are thin-skinned.

If in the final analysis the negatives outweigh the positives, then transferring to another department or even another workplace altogether are obvious options. Remember however that the grass always seems greener on the other side but frequently proves less so when you get there.

Best of luck,

JAF Baer

Dear Suzana,

Thank you very much for your letter. I have decided to take Mr Baer’s suggestion and discuss the mental health aspects of your situation. Actually, aspect (singular) would be a more accurate description, but it is understanding that one (1) dynamic that makes sense regarding most of the things going on in your life.

In this case, it is the social equity principle that mirrors the one-up, one-down relationship you have with your boss. 

Very briefly, the equity principle suggests that one partner’s benefits minus the costs, should equal another partner’s benefits minus their costs.

Take note: Equity does NOT mean equality It is not about the number of rewards and costs, but the balance between them. If a person puts a lot into a relationship and receives a lot, it will seem fair to them.

Therefore, the benefits you received from your friendship with your boss included having a kind boss who not only supervised you, but also became a mentor and, take note, a mentor not just at work, but in career and in life. In addition, the support she has given you helped your own career flourish. 

The costs of your friendship included her throwing your privileged background in your face and reminding you of your mental weaknesses by constantly telling you how weird you are.

I think you are growing up, Suzana. So what seemed fair to you then no longer seems fair now. What may have seemed worth your special friendship with her no longer seems sufficient for pretending her comments do not irritate or hurt you. I mean, how long do you have apologize for a background you couldn’t help? or for mannerisms, etc. that may have been part of your background?

Enough! You are you and it has taken a long time for you to discover who you really are. You are no longer willing to deny your true self simply for the sake of a dubious friendship. Remaining on this path will be difficult, given your other mental issues, but with continued support and grit, I think you can do it.

Good luck,

MG Holmes 

– Rappler.com

Need advice from our Two Pronged duo? Email twopronged@rappler.com with subject heading TWO PRONGED. Unfortunately, the volume of correspondence precludes a personal response.

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