This article is part of a series that explores the ways specific “clusters” of depression symptoms manifest to create different experiences of depression. The previous article in this series discussed the hopeless experience.
The irritable or angry experience of depression is often not recognized as depression, either by the person who experiences it or by those around then. For the person experiencing this kind of depression, the people around them may seem disappointing, irritating, or intolerable, and the depressed person may feel as emotionally uncomfortable as someone with severe poison oak feels physically. They may feel very frustrated that they can’t get the people who seem to be causing their suffering to change. People around the angry or irritable depressed person may see them as mean, angry, or a bully. It may not even occur to onlookers that this person could be depressed.
Irritability and Anger in Men and Women
I believe men and women may express this experience differently. Many men feel a great deal of pressure not to cry or express vulnerability, so when they get depressed, anger can be a more acceptable way to experience the emotional pain they’re feeling. Men may also feel more pressure to not feel anything, and so turn to drugs and alcohol when they’re in emotional pain to try to numb themselves. So while we associate crying with depression, men may not cry and yet be just as depressed as those who do. I believe this is the main reason women are diagnosed with depression nearly twice as often as men are: many men who are depressed aren’t getting the help they need.
When men are depressed and express it as anger, violence, or addiction, the consequences may further distract from getting the help they need. These consequences can be extreme, like jail or chasing a high, but they may also take the form of loneliness and isolation after alienating people. Self-hate may grow inside as depression festers, and the consequences of anger create more and more to hate.
Women are certainly not immune to experiencing depression as anger. Often in women it comes out as irritability, particularly with their children. This too may go undetected because sometimes, only their children see it, and children rarely call a therapist for their mother.
How Anger Manifests
There are two types of anger:
- One is a response to something hurtful or unfair happening to or around the person who feels angry.
- The other is a protection against feeling something more vulnerable.
When someone has been abused or traumatized, they certainly have reason to be angry and often don’t have a chance to express it when the trauma occurs. So anger may linger as a symptom of posttraumatic stress or may become incorporated into a person’s personality over time. When that happens, people feel angry a great deal of the time, and the anger isn’t just anger anymore—it becomes a way of life. It’s probable the anger develops this way in order to protect the person from further abuse and from the painful feelings of sadness, hurt, and fear that were also a part of the traumatic experience.
Classic examples of depression expressed as anger include veterans who come home from combat with the experiences of terror of imminent death, sadness from losing friends who were killed, and systematic emotional training to channel all these feelings into anger, revenge, and warfare. Coming home with all of this, it’s not hard to understand why a veteran would be depressed, or why they would express it through domestic violence, picking fights, or even just caustic cynicism. Police officers can have a similar experience, as can people who grow up with angry or sadistic parents who repeatedly abuse them. Even people whose parents used them for their own needs, without concern for their child’s emotional needs, may carry chronic anger that covers the hurt, sadness, and fear.
The Roots of Anger and Depression
In fact, anger almost always covers or is accompanied by hurt, sadness, or fear. When anger is helpfully expressed and begins to resolve, it almost always dissolves into tears and more vulnerable feelings. Usually, as long as a person sticks with the anger, they are stuck in the depression.
One way to look at this is that “frozen” feelings are often at the root of depression. Someone who feels and/or expresses only anger probably has frozen hurt, fear, shame, guilt, or sadness. Someone who never feels or expresses anger may have frozen anger. In either case, the person may be depressed and suffering and probably will continue to suffer until their frozen feelings are safely unlocked, expressed, and resolved.
While feelings of anger caused by depression can feel overwhelming, the support of a therapist helps many people work through these feelings and address their depression in a healthy way. Start here to find a therapist near you who can help.
© Copyright 2011 by Cynthia W. Lubow, MS, MFT. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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