Anger is not an emotion usually associated with depression, but absolutely essential in the causation and psychogenesis of depression. Therefore beating depression requires a healthy and balanced understanding of what anger is and how one best manages and expresses it without allowing it to fester and cause depression.
Underneath the emotional pain and troubled moods in depression lies deep-seated rage and anger, against the self and often against others. Anger doesn’t surface in the DSM IV diagnostic criteria because it’s an underlying reality not a manifested symptom. Anger is actually one of the central driving forces in depression. However it remains critically neglected during the recovery process.
There are personality traits that predispose people to depression, particularly perfectionists, the overly conscientious and people-pleasers. These personalities are likely to perceive anger as altogether negative and to be cleansed out of the system. They often are afraid of angry people and view anger purely as a tool used for social manipulation that always causes harm.
This is actually a flawed and unhelpful perception of anger. In fact it reflects ways of thinking that normally need correction through cognitive behavioural therapy and working out a more balanced and helpful worldview.
So let us unpack unhelpful ways of looking at anger by acknowledging how it is part of the experience of depression and how it used by psychologically healthy individuals:
Depressive thinking, acting and behaving is strongly connected to passive anger
Very often, depressed people are already angry people. They think, act and behave with what is known as passive anger. Expressions of this include dispassion; evasiveness and avoiding conflict; becoming phobic; ineffectualness; setting oneself up for failure; expressing frustration at insignificant things but ignoring serious ones; silent treatment; emotional blackmail; avoiding eye contact; self blame; self sacrifice, stockpiling resentments behind peoples’ backs.
These traits very much correlate with depressive thinking and behaving. Going through my own depression I could tick nearly every single box in passive anger. If you or a loved one is going through or has gone through depression, they probably displayed some connections between the signs of passive anger and depression. This acknowledgement takes humility and rigorous self-examination.
Anger is not aggression; it doesn’t necessarily cause immediate harm
Anger and rage are very different things. Anger can be a constructive emotion that when used rightly is beneficial for the individual and society. It spurs great social justice movements, it defends people honestly against unjust and cruel acts, it can defend healthy boundaries and ensures types of behaviour that need correction are addressed.
Yet if anger doesn’t get properly processed and released, rage and aggression will likely develop in time. Rage is destructive and leads to aggression against the self and others.
Anger in itself it is not bad, evil or a sin. It can be channeled in healthy ways. It is essential to develop constructive ways to deal with anger, before it becomes aggressive rage.
Anger has social benefits and promotes healthy psychology
Anger properly used has enormous benefit to the individual and society at large. There are strong correlations to social positions and use of anger. This doesn’t mean socially successfully people manipulate and wield anger as a weapon to crush weaker people to attain success and status.
People generally negotiate more, support and listen to people who can express anger more than fearful or withdrawn persons. By using their anger in a healthy way, they can express dissatisfaction against legitimate ills and when needed defend themselves with integrity and courage.
People who allow themselves to feel anger and use it constructively can maintain healthy boundaries. The human narrative of cooperation actually relies on these traits to ensure consistent activity is strategised, planned and executed in a predictable and reliable way.
Negative self-talk is an instance of buried anger turning into rage. If a depressed person thinks they are not angry and condemns themselves through inner voices they are hypocritical. In depression the tendency is to ruminate over situations and events in which the person felt wrong done by or hurt in some way, by going over and over the event. Often this analysis is repressed anger over a real or perceived hurt.