Anger and Depression
Depression can result from failing to express anger and then turning that anger in on ourselves. If we can be open to our feelings, we can identify and process our anger. Talking with others may help us to realise if our anger is justified and can help us to manage it. It is when we fail to acknowledge and process our feelings that problems often arise.
Failure to register feelings
Sometimes we are unable to realise that we are angry. One of the reasons for this is that we may appear to have unspoken rules about the types of feelings that we can and cannot have. Often, we are not aware of these rules and have not really thought about them.
At times, as a therapist, I may notice that someone is angry because of their silence, their body language or possibly because they have recounted a situation that would seem to be a worthy cause for anger. If I reflect this in a relatively straightforward way, such as: “I wonder are you annoyed or upset about this?”, my comment is often dismissed.
One manner of dealing with my remark is that the client may use logic in a defensive way, such as: “Why would I be angry? I understand that’s the way things are, I can’t change them!” or they deny that they have the feeling: “I never get angry”.
It is almost a magical type of thinking that allows us to believe that if we ignore our anger, or suppress it, that it will disappear. Anger, like many painful feelings, has a habit of remaining in our bodies and can, if unprocessed, lead to illness, anxiety or depression.
We may feel that we can control our feelings and that our conscious mind can dictate the feelings that we can and cannot have. We dismiss feelings that are painful because we fear them. They can resemble alien forces outside our experience that we cannot handle.
Why do we do this to ourselves?
Our ability to be open to feelings is rooted in childhood (even infantile) experience.
The young child’s mother or caregiver helps the child to contain painful feelings. If the child does not have an empathic caregiver, he may believe that painful feelings cannot be tolerated and must, therefore, be dismissed. We might say that the mother/caregiver figure is a custodian of the child’s feelings and it is in the early relationship that the child develops (or fails to develop) a capacity to hold difficult feelings.
The mother/caregiver who was not able to be present to the child, due to depression or illness, or not able to contain the child’s difficult feelings becomes replaced by the child’s mind. The mind now controls feelings. Feelings are permitted or prohibited, judged, criticised or denied by the mind.
An example of how we view some feelings as forbidden, would be:
An exhausted new mother cannot allow herself to yearn for her old carefree life without children because she loves her baby so much. Feelings, such as these, are not acknowledged. They cannot be experienced, thought about or discussed.
Controlling our Feelings
We cannot control what or how we feel. Feelings have a way of bypassing the mind. They can become lodged in the body long before they come into consciousness. If we fail to acknowledge them they may lead to irritability, illness, anger or depression. Unacknowledged feelings have a habit of leaking.
If we hold beliefs about ourselves such as those mentioned above: ‘I never get angry’ or ‘that’s just the way things are!’, then our anger becomes more difficult to acknowledge. We then berate ourselves for feeling angry. We know that there is something wrong, but we cannot identify it. So, if we believe that we can control our feelings, then failure to do so brings recrimination and annoyance with the self: “what’s wrong with me?”; “it must be true that I’m useless!”. In other words, the feeling of discomfort which anger brings makes us believe that there is something fundamentally wrong with us. Anger can be a reasonable response to the external world, but if we are not open to the full range of thoughts, feelings and emotions within us then we can feel helpless or depressed. After all, how can we deal with a problem if we don’t know what it is ?
Depression and Prohibition of Feelings
Depression can involve a block on how we think or feel. It blocks us from thinking about difficult feelings. We internalised, without thinking, the prohibitions we had imposed on us as children.
We conclude, also without thinking, that we must have something wrong with us.
Failure to acknowledge our anger means that many parts of us are not examined or explored. We fear examination and exploration as we feel that it may reveal an ugly, intolerable part of ourselves. But the problem with the prohibition of feelings is that the difficult feeling is banished from our minds without examination. With the feeling we also banish an interesting part of ourselves from consciousness.
Martin, 30, was a high-level manager with a demanding job who suffered from depression. He told me that he felt inadequate and constantly doubted the quality of his work. He grew up in a family with little conversation apart from criticism. He could not remember receiving praise for any of his artistic or academic achievements. As he grew into late adolescence and adult life he began to receive praise from his peers. “I never knew that I was any good”. He commented: “I think my parents didn’t want me to get ideas about myself, to get too big for my boots”
When Martin was able to open himself up to explore his feelings of sadness and depression he was able to get in touch with the many good parts of himself.
Different parts of ourselves (our bodies, our minds and our emotions) can co-exist peacefully. This can happen when we open ourselves up, with interest and curiosity, to that which arises in us. We can surprise ourselves.