The Depression and Anger Connection: How Does It Affect You?

By Val Silver

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

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

Note: This article discusses 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.

The Link Between Anger and Depression

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.

Sometimes the journey from feeling unresolved anger to feeling depressed is easily 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 change the situation or justice was not served, rage morphs into the more manageable and socially-acceptable emotions of guilt, blame, hurt, or shame before spirally into the hopelessness of depression. After all, you tell yourself, if nothing is going to change, or the perpetrator gets away with it and/or continues to disrespect or abuse you, what's the use of fighting against it? 

For example, I remember what 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, being in some level of constant pain or discomfort, 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 somewhat normal life.  Fortunately, I recognized that my anger was turning into depression and I made a decision to "not go there". 

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.

Is Depression Anger Turned Inward?

There are a few ways to interpret this statement, and they all apply. You are either holding suppressed anger below your level of awareness, you are repressing your fury so you don't have to deal with it, or you turn unresolved anger on yourself instead of the person or situation.  This can happen whether you are aware of how upset you are or not.

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. You may even point your rage toward yourself if you did nothing wrong but do not address a disturbing situation. This combination of anger, blame, 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 ____?" If you keep it up long enough and viciously enough, this anger can lead to feeling pretty bad about yourself. If you are already in the dumps, you may criticize yourself for that, which can lead to anger. 

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.

Or anger is 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, why am i depressed, david viscott quote

Climbing the Emotional Scale from Depression and Anger

In The Amazing Power of Deliberate Intent, Esther and Jerry Hicks 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 the energy of emotion and to explore them honestly. 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 from rage 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. Refuse to engage in self-criticism. Forgive yourself. Resolve what you can, make peace with the rest of it. Move up the scale from anger 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 to heal anger turned inward as depression.

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Depression and Anger page updated 03/2020

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