Anger And Depression
Depression is the overwhelming feeling of sadness and hopelessness. I have written about its symptoms before, but they are worth mentioning again. They include loss of interest or pleasure in life, nervousness, agitation, numbness, feeling worthless and guilty, insomnia, sleeping all the time, overeating, self-denigrating thoughts, suicidal thoughts, and feeling extremely sensitive and vulnerable.
Whenever someone tells me he is depressed, I wonder about his anger. Where is his anger? It is often not visible. What I have found more often than not is that the depressed person has a great deal of anger. Anger at everyone around them. Sometimes the people closest to them. Having angry feelings at people we are supposed to love, like our children or our parents, can be very frightening.
This anger at loved ones frightens us because we feel it’s unacceptable to express. We fear that other people will think we are crazy, cruel, and ungrateful. So instead of expressing the anger it gets turned inward, buried within ourselves, deep in our bodies. Sometimes we punish our bodies with our anger. We see this in psychosomatic disorders, like headaches and backaches and also in accident proneness. In addition, we condition ourselves repeatedly not to express our anger outwards, but instead to turn it against ourselves.
The late Dr. Karen Horney called this anger turned inward, self-hate. We see selfhate whenever we see people suffering from depression. Depression is a combination of the angry feelings turned inward and the rage against oneself for having these angry feelings. Self-hate, in the form of depression, is also experienced when we don’t live up to the expectations we set for ourselves. We see more depression around the holidays because family members are brought together and very often these encounters raise very strong and deep feelings—among them anger, shame and guilt. Also, being separated from one’s family can raise the very same feelings.
Anger turned inward or self-hate is another way of saying we are judging ourselves so severely and denying ourselves our own love. Sometimes we believe by suffering enough we will finally pay for our “bad” feelings. These beliefs about our need to be punished are not conscious or known to us. They exist on an unconscious level.
Although medication can be helpful in relieving the painful symptoms of depression, psychoanalytic psychotherapy is most effective in making us aware of the unconscious feelings causing and feeding a depression. The primary goal of psychoanalytic psychotherapy, as expressed in the theories of Karen Horney, is to lessen the individual’s self-hate and in turn increase one’s compassion for one’s self. Only through such psychotherapy can we break the vicious cycle of depression.
Prepared as a public service from the office of Psychotherapist Michael Feld, L.C. S.W. (718) 444-8560.