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Anger and Depression

 

anger and depressionAnger and depression may look like opposites.  If you imagine what an angry person looks like, you probably think of someone who is intense, focused, energetic, loud and powerful.  A depressed person, on the other hand, probably looks lethargic, low-energy, numb, passive and quiet.  How could the two be related?

Understanding the connection

Psychotherapists sometimes talk about depression as “anger turned inward.”  Instead of raging at someone or something else, the self becomes the target of that energy.  It’s as if the anger is swallowed and eats away at us inside.  We start to feel empty, hollowed out, depressed.

LGBT folks and members of ethnic or racial minority groups can be particularly susceptible to this form of depression.  Dealing with the indignities and prejudices of society, family and religion, we can feel bombarded with messages that who we are is not OK.  These messages from outside can get under our skin and become internalized.  At worst, we begin believing that we’re fatally flawed, not good enough, undesirable and that we deserve rejection and punishment.  We accept and even expect to be treated as second-class citizens.

Some people imagine that depression is more common among women than men, but a growing body of research suggests that isn’t true.  If you’re a woman, it’s acceptable to cry, acknowledge sad feelings and seek support from friends and family. Men’s depression often looks different from that of women.

Anger and depression in men

At an early age, boys are taught that expressing certain feelings is going to get them ridiculed.  To let other boys know that they were feeling afraid, lonely or weak was to invite attack.  Boys are taught to get control of those feelings and get back into the game.  Crying in front of others seemed shameful; not letting anyone know what was going on inside was much safer.  A great way to keep those feelings well hidden is to cover them up with anger.

As adults, men sometimes express anger when they are actually feeling fearful or sad.  Terrence Real’s book, “I Don’t Want to Talk About It,” identifies male depression as often hidden or covert.  Male anger is seen as often being a cover-up for deep feelings of fear, hurt or grief.  The anger has the effect of creating distance in intimate relationships.  Unfortunately, that often makes the depression worse, creating yet more anger and distance.

Anger can be a symptom of depression when it is expressed as irritability.  Nothing feels quite satisfying.  We’re in a bad mood all the time.  After a while it can seem like anger is a part of our personal identity.

Struggling with these feelings, with no place to let them out, can create a deep sense of shame within a man.  That’s made even worse when he seems unable to control his temper and becomes a “rage-aholic.”  But rage and alienation can seem less dangerous than seeming weak and vulnerable.  Depressed men are thus put in a real bind:  they cope with their inner demons by keeping others away, but they need genuine, affirming connections with others in order to overcome those very demons!

Struggling with this is important inner-growth work for men.  Learning to manage anger is a key skill for overcoming problems in relationships, and for some it helps to manage depressive symptoms.  Learning the inner language of the heart and the outer language of communicating and connecting with others in intimate relationships is a lifetime journey to becoming stronger, happier and more whole men.

 John Ballew Counselor

About John

I have been  licensed by the State of Georgia as a professional counselor for more than 25 years.  My areas of specialty are relationships, intimacy, sexuality, anxiety and depression.  My passion is helping people build happier lives and stronger relationships. 

I know it isn’t always easy to talk about problems.  My approach to counseling is nonjudgmental and compassionate.  If you have questions, I welcome the opportunity to talk with you about working together.

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Whether you've worked with a therapist before or are exploring counseling for the first time, you probably have questions.  It is important to have the information you need to make a good decision when selecting a therapist.  I welcome your questions -- about your specific situation, about me or about my approach to therapy. Making things better can start with an email, or you can call me at (404) 874-8536.