Is depression unresolved anger turned inwards?

Depression being anger turned inwards is a concept deeply rooted in psychoanalytic theory. There are many books written that include this theory, so perhaps it is more a reality than a theory. This theory has been referenced in the works of Sigmund Freud and many others in the field of psychology since. According to this theory, when individuals experience distressing emotions such as anger or frustration but are unable to express them outwardly for various reasons, they may internalise these feelings, leading to the manifestation of depression.


What's the link between anger and depression?

In psychology, anger is seen as a natural response to perceived threats or injustices. Alongside the instinctive responses, I have included additional responses from general adaptation syndrome because they feature so frequently with the clients that I typically work with – they resonate with this much more than the standard version of fight or flight:

  • Fight – anger
  • Flight – run away, remove oneself
  • Freeze – do nothing, become paralysed
  • Vomit – nausea emptying of bowels/bladder
  • Numb – not feeling anything, shut down
  • Dissociate – detached, not feeling as if you’re in your own body

We all have one that we tend to display more frequently than others when faced with a perceived or real threat. However, societal norms, personal inhibitions, or fear of consequences can sometimes prevent individuals from expressing their anger directly. When this happens, instead of outwardly expressing their anger, individuals may turn it inward, directing it towards themselves. This internalisation can lead to feelings of guilt, shame, and worthlessness, which are characteristic of depression.

The process of anger turning into depression can be influenced by various factors, including early childhood experiences, learned coping mechanisms, and personality traits. For example, individuals who have experienced trauma or have been raised in environments where expressing anger was discouraged may be more prone to internalising their emotions. Healthily expressing anger and processing strong emotions is a skill that not all of us learn appropriately. This is represented time and again in the news, and society in general.

Additionally, societal expectations regarding gender roles can play a significant role in how individuals express or suppress their anger. For instance, pressure to conform to traditional ideals which discourage emotional vulnerability, leading to internalising anger more frequently. Or a social unacceptance to demonstrate anger – even when warranted – internalising feelings instead of vocalising them constructively.

Furthermore, unresolved conflicts or unmet needs can contribute to the buildup of anger over time. When these feelings are not addressed or expressed constructively, they can fester and contribute to the development of depressive symptoms. Internalised anger that builds up and is then released often shows up in explosive outward behaviours such as shouting, threats and physical harm to inanimate objects or people.

How to address anger

Therapeutic interventions aimed at addressing anger turned inward typically involve helping individuals identify and express their emotions in healthier ways. This may involve:

  • exploring the root causes of their anger
  • challenging negative thought patterns
  • developing effective communication skills
  • learning mindfulness
  • practising relaxation exercises
  • cognitive behavioural strategies

These can help individuals manage their emotions more effectively and prevent them from turning inward and contributing to depression.

Exploring the root causes of anger

Finding out how you learnt to be a certain way can unlock your potential to change it. Nobody was born to suppress anger, you only need to observe an infant with a need not met such as food or a nappy change to see how enraged they can become, and perfectly OK with expressing it until their need is met, to understand that suppressed emotions are learnt behaviours. Anything that has been learnt can be unlearnt.

Challenging negative thought patterns

This is very much a cognitive behavioural strategy. A lot of our maladaptive coping strategies, such as emotion suppression, are almost like errors in our programming, just operating in the background. Once challenged and changed, can allow you to make positive changes on a cognitive level.

Developing effective communication skills

Believe it or not, many adults lack basic effective communication skills, leading to miscommunications and unhelpful responses such as frustration and anger. I teach an effective and positive communication course that covers the necessary language skills required for effective communication. These include but are not limited to:

  • Being clear about what you want (rather than what you don’t want).
  • Communication and cause and effect, if you get a response you weren’t expecting then change the way you communicate.
  • It’s me and you versus the problem, rather than me against you.
  • Being the flexible one in potentially conflictual situations, the person with the most flexibility exerts the most influence.
  • Perspective, just because you have a perspective on a situation, doesn't mean you are right.
  • Opinions and beliefs, versus facts. Many opinions or beliefs are treated as facts when they are not.
  • Building rapport.
  • Using clean language.
  • Agency and responsibility rather than avoidance and passiveness.

Learning mindfulness

There are many varying techniques to learn mindfulness. The outcome is for you to have agency and responsibility over your thoughts. As your brain behaves a lot like a muscle, exercising it effectively so that you are the master of your thoughts leads to a happier and more content life.

Practising relaxation techniques

Calmness is the antidote to anger. If you are a master of turning anger inwards and manifesting it as depression, unintentionally of course, then unlearning this skill and relearning calm and relaxation will take consistent effort and practice. Learning to walk didn’t happen overnight, learning to drive didn’t happen in an hour.

Cognitive behavioural strategies (CBT)

These strategies can be an effective way of overwriting some of the behavioural errors that we probably learnt during our childhood. They require an awareness of faulty thinking, followed by an observation of the cause and effect of the behaviours and to be followed up by challenging and replacing the behaviours with more helpful ones. CBT requires discipline and consistent effort over time to overwrite faulty thinking.

Questions to ask yourself about faulty thinking:

  • How did I learn to be this way?
  • Is this (the way I learnt to respond) a truth?
  • Is how I am responding/behaving life-enhancing?
  • How do I want to respond/behave instead?
  • What would life be like with the faulty thinking?
  • What is the first step I can take to change this?

In summary, recognising the link between anger and depression can provide valuable insight into the complex interplay of emotions and psychological processes. By acknowledging and addressing unresolved anger, individuals can take proactive steps towards healing and emotional well-being.

If you are struggling with depression, anger or any other mental health issue and don’t feel that you have the ability to make positive changes by yourself alone, then please contact a professional who can guide you.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Life Coach Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Salisbury, Wiltshire, SP5 3BN
Written by Nikki Emerton
Salisbury, Wiltshire, SP5 3BN

I’m Nikki, a recovered perfectionist, still a bit of an over-achiever, slightly introverted lover of running, the outdoors, wild swimming & good food!

I use several modalities, including coaching, NLP, Hypnotherapy, IEMT, CBT and somatic work. Helping people achieve positive changes so that they can live life to the fullest.

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