The Depression and Anger Connection

By Val Silver

Although feelings of depression and anger appear opposite, these two emotional states often go hand in hand. There is a saying that depression is anger turned inward.

Unresolved anger very well may precede feeling depressed. There is evidence that, especially among women, a relationship between depression and anger exists.

Sometimes this journey from unresolved or suppressed anger to feeling depressed can easily be traced. You may have felt angry at a betrayal, or a loss. You may have felt humiliated while being bullied, ridiculed, or abused. Since you felt powerless to do anything to turn the situation around, your rage morphed into the more manageable and socially-acceptable emotions of guilt, blame, hurt, or shame before spirally into the hopelessness of depression.

I remember when this happened to me after my L5-S1 disk ruptured causing and physical limitations. After two years of feeling angry at my medical team for advising me poorly, I resigned myself to a life of going to work and going home to bed. My frustration- yes, I'll say it- anger - eventually led me to feeling rather hopeless that I would ever lead a more normal life.  

The link between depression and anger is marked by feelings of dis-empowered and/or being discounted with no positive changes in sight. 

No matter how angry you might feel, the person you resent and want a better response from does not listen or care to meet your needs. No matter how you try, a situation does not improve. You have less control than you want.

Some people can trace the connection between their depression and anger, others cannot. They deny even feeling angry. Hurt yes, upset yes, betrayed yes, but not angry.

Note: We are talking about feeling depressed, not clinical depression which is a medical condition. If you are suffering with severe depression or intense anger, please consult a medical professional.

Is Depression Anger Turned Inward?

There are two ways to interpret this statement, and both apply. You are either holding suppressed anger or you turn your unresolved anger on yourself instead of the person or situation.  

Anger turned on yourself

You may turn anger on yourself when you did something wrong or when someone wronged you and you skew what happened so you can find a way to blame yourself. 

When you turn anger in on yourself,  you might feel ashamed or guilty. You chastise yourself, sometimes mercilessly without end, for purposely or inadvertently making a mistake or committing a sin. This combination of anger and shame is toxic.

feeling depressed and angry

Angry self-attacks take different forms.

Perhaps you berate yourself for not being 'perfect' in some way. Or you made a decision that didn't turn out well and now you regret it. You wonder, "How could I have been so stupid as to ____?"

Chances are you are internalizing negative messages from long ago. Only now you have your own inner critic beating you up with negative self-talk patterns better than any school yard bully could.

Your attacks may be more subversive. You tell yourself you don't deserve to be treated well or to have your needs met. These attacks may be so underground that you no longer consciously hear them. Your actions, however, are reflected in how you care for your mental and physical health. Your actions, or lack of action, speak volumes about your mental state.

Although this anger, and its accompanying shame and guilt feel bad, they can serve a healthy purpose. Instead of using your anger to destroy your mental and physical well-being, use it to your advantage. Instead of believing the self-talk about what a horrible person you are, look for the real message behind the deed, the depression and anger. Use what you learn to motivate yourself to make a positive change and release those patterns of negativity. Tell yourself the truth.

The second way you see anger turned inward is when you deny your feelings of anger.

For some people, women especially, venting anger is socially or culturally unacceptable. Not only is expressing anger prohibited, they are denied the right to even feel angry. They learn to suppress anger or deny it. For them, it is more acceptable to display their powerlessness as depression. It feels better not to feel than to have to hold in rage and frustration as if it does not exist.

Children are often taught that they should not feel angry or have outbursts. They may be shamed, scolded and punished for expressing anger, even when they try to express it appropriately. They are taught to 'be nice'. They have to be polite and not hurt anyone's feelings.

The problem is, we are biologically wired for fear and anger when we get stressed. Fight is part of our stress survival response. It is a powerful, energizing state that helps us survive.

When we accept the teaching that anger is bad, feel guilty for feeling it, and try to suppress it, we create an unhealthy, unnatural state. Expressing anger is natural, suppressed depression anger is not.

If you were taught to deny your anger or that feeling angry is bad, you may be unaware of the connection between your depression and anger. You might say, "Oh, I'm not angry, I'm hurt. I'm upset." That may be true, but most likely, your primary, gut reaction was anger, even for just a moment before you could depress it and call it something else.

depression and anger david viscott quote

Climbing the Scale from Depression to Anger

In The Amazing Power of Deliberate Intent, by Esther and Jerry Hicks, the authors describe an Emotional Guidance Scale. The idea is that you move up the scale a few steps at a time to a better feeling thought. If you try to reach too far once, those emotions will be out of your reach.

The lowest feelings on the scale is Fear/Grief/Depression/Despair/Powerlessness. Three levels up the scale is Hatred and Rage. This means it is actually a move in a positive direction to go from feeling depressed to feeling rage or hatred.

This emotional shift may feel counter-intuitive and unacceptable.

If you are not used to feeling these intensely powerful feelings, just the thought of it may be scary. The key is that you are giving yourself permission to feel your suppressed anger.You are giving yourself permission to feel, to move energy, to explore a range of emotions, to be honest with yourself. You don't need to linger in an intense mental state for long. Give yourself five minutes to pound a pillow, yell and scream, and have a good cry.  Or furiously scrub the kitchen.  Then move up the scale to anger, which is less intense. Pour out your heart to someone trustworthy and safe or write your uncensored thoughts and feelings on paper and then burn it. Notice how, when you come out of a depressive state long enough to express rage or anger, you temporarily feel better. Learn from those episodes. If you take out your rage on someone else, ask forgiveness. Pass on the self-criticism. Forgive yourself. Resolve what you can, make peace with the rest of it. Move up the scale to better feeling thoughts. Emotional release techniques can help.

Have you ever seen the reality show Finding Fergie? She was so out of touch with her feelings that her trainers had to teach and encourage her to find her suppressed unresolved anger and learn to express it. It felt very unnatural to her at first.

Part of this process was acknowledging the wounded parts of herself, the times she wasn't heard, the emotional needs left unmet. Then she was able to move up the scale from depression and anger to more positive feelings.

This is how we heal anger turned inward as depression.

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