Alex tells his story. “As a teenager I was considered difficult. Anger was my constant companion. I would be angry when my parents told me to do something, I hated all the rules and regulations of school. I felt controlled and resentful, that I was not able to make my own decisions.”
“When I went to college it was better,” he says. “I did not feel as angry because I was free to make my own decisions. In hindsight, I realize that I was irritable. Loud noises, loud talking, delays and waiting, to name a few things, would set off grumbling and impatience in me. I just thought that I was a difficult person. After all, that's what I was told my whole life – 'You're so difficult'. Often, I would ask myself, 'Could I help it that people were so stupid?'. What would follow that thought would be, I am really bad to think this way. I should not be so critical, impatient and irritable.
Symptom of Depression
What Alex discovered was this constant state of irritability was a symptom of depression. Sigmund Freud told us that depression is anger turned inward. One significant cause of depression is the inability to turn anger into productive energy. Like anything that becomes stagnate, anger becomes poisonous when it is kept inside.
As I have written often, feelings are our friends and are important in helping us direct our lives and the actions we take. Many of us were given rules by which to run our lives that are not true or helpful. One of those rules is the belief that anger is bad. Sayings such as “If you have nothing good to say, just don’t say anything,” reinforce this erroneous belief.
There are times when it is best to not say something positive, such as when a wrong needs to be corrected or someone must be confronted about their behavior. In these circumstances, it is important to know how to use your anger productively to propel you forward. Choosing to do otherwise, to stuff your anger inside instead of using it productively, will lead to self-harming behavior and, if it happens for long enough, depression.
The Secret Sign of Depression
Anger and irritability are seldom discussed as signs of depression. Alex found that he would get extremely annoyed when others in a conversation expressed opinions that he did not agree with or that he felt were wrong. If a friend interrupted him when he talked or disagreed with him, he would become argumentative. He was unable to listen to other people's opinions and ideas.
After these interactions, Alex would become hurt and confused. He did not understand his feelings or the reactions of those around him. All he knew was that he felt misunderstood and bad. Rather than feeling that his emotional reaction fit the situation, he would feel guilty.
Often, when people are unable to express their anger, it turns into internal critical messages. Those things that we want to say to others become the things the internal messages say to us. This leads us to become confused as to what is the
problem and to whom we need to talk to about what is happening at the moment. Those negative messages will come into our minds in a flash, quicker that the speed of light.
Kelly’s story is different. Her anger and irritability would lead to internal questioning and critiques. Instead of externally fighting, she would turn her disagreement with others into criticism of herself. Instead of telling others she thought they were wrong, she would tell herself she had to be wrong for thinking they were stupid.
What Alex and Kelly had in common was the fact that their anger fed their depression. In Alex’s case his anger was external, and Kelly’s was internal. They would swing from one mood to another, a period of anger followed by depression; from intense but destructive energy to no energy at all.
Knowledge itself is not treatment, but it leads to an understanding of how things work. That helps you begin to learn the difference between turning anger inward and using anger to create a more fulling life. Alex and Kelly were able to change their way of dealing with their emotions creating a more authentic life.