Many times depression can be the result of anger turned inwards. I’m going to explain how that comes about, and what you can do to reverse it.
Depression is very common in the clients I see. Some have classic major depressive disorder and most of the time they feel fine, but they’ll go through episodes of deep depression before eventually coming out of it. Others have what we call anhedonia. It’s sort of a constant feeling of melancholy over a long period of time and it never seems to lift. With the depressive episodes, there can be strong feelings of suicidal ideation or even a plan and attempt.
When my clients are going through this, I make a point of asking what they’re angry about. I’ll ask them to give me a list of everything that makes them angry. Most of the time they’ll shift from sullen to more animated while describing what their dad or what their ex did, etc. It’s not surprising to see how easy it is for them to access feelings of rage underneath the depression. Or I’ll see the inverse, where they’ve disowned the healthy human emotion of anger all together and they don’t feel it at all ever. Perhaps they’ve even become scared of their own anger.
How and why does this happen?
For simplicity sake, let’s take a classic example. Imagine dad comes home from work angry and hits his kid in the face. The reality is that this kid is dependent on a sick abusive man. That’s a terrifying thing to comprehend. As a protective mechanism, the kid decides it’s his own fault dad hit him and tomorrow he will be better. This way he thinks I was bad, tomorrow I can be better to avoid him hitting me. It’s much less terrifying than recognizing his reality of being helpless. This happens over and over again. Instead of being angry at dad, the kid is angry at himself for being bad. He starts to believe he is bad. Everything about him must be bad if dad is angry so much. The world would be better off without him. And the self-criticism gets louder and louder, while the depression gets deeper.
This is an obvious example, but less obvious can be the case as well. Maybe you were criticized by someone in your life and instead of being angry at them, you believed them and became angry at yourself. You’ve internalized someone else’s voice and berate yourself daily with thoughts like I’m not good enough, my ex wanted someone better than me, I’m not pretty enough, I’m not smart enough, I’m a failure, no one would want to be friends with me. Cognitive distortions like this can easily cause or deepen a depression.
To recap, if you are struggling with depression, try asking yourself what you might actually be very angry about. Try journaling to get it out, or if you have a good friend or parent, ask them to listen to you vent and not offer any solutions or other suggestions. Say I just need to express my anger and have you hear me. Can you please summarize what I’m saying and repeat it back to me without trying to fix it or make me feel better.