It took me a long time to understand the connection between depression and anger. One psychiatrist I visited would often ask a simple question toward the end of a session: How’s your anger?
I couldn’t understand why he asked. I hadn’t been talking about anger. Depression was my problem.
I’d usually respond with a puzzled, Fine. I’d leave his office wondering why he had asked about anger but soon put it out of my mind.
He never pressed me to talk about it, and I never asked for an explanation. After a while, though, I put the two together, and found a new way of looking at myself that went deeper than I had gone when focused only on depression.
I knew that irritability was on the list of depressive symptoms used for making a diagnosis. But I separated that in my mind from raw, hot-blooded anger.
Before saying any more, I want to distinguish between ordinary anger and the intense anger that leads to rage. Anger is a basic human emotion that helps defend us from attack. I think of it like pain – a powerful signal that demands a reaction.
You’re being accused unjustly. You’re being verbally or physically abused. You witness an act that violates basic norms of justice and humanity. You get angry, outraged at an attack on your integrity, your body, your loved ones. Anger alerts you to the need to react in order to defend your safety, family, identity, ideals – everything that makes you who you are.
That sort of anger is justified. Feeling and expressing it are inwardly satisfying because you’re standing up for yourself. If you were to stifle it, you’d probably feel ashamed that you let yourself be run over.
The anger that quickly leaps to rage is completely different. It may be triggered by an external provocation, but its causes are usually buried inside you. It’s more of a projection onto the world, a response that is far out of proportion to any cause.
Perhaps the hallmark of this sort of anger, like the intense forms of irritability, fear or despair, is that they perpetuate themselves. After a while, they simply take over. You’re raging, irritable, intensely anxious or despairing for no apparent reason. Or if there is a reason at the beginning, the distorted emotions keep going without letup. They have a life of their own.
Far from being satisfied at the expression of an understandable emotional reaction, I’d feel terrible and full of guilt. I’d try to apologize, but the damage was done.
There had been periods in my life when I had stormed and raged with my unfortunate family for no apparent reason – though at the time I found plenty of things to yell about.
Those “causes” were usually small stuff. The house is a mess – meaning all I could see was a disorder I couldn’t stand, viscerally couldn’t tolerate. The kids had to be controlled better. They were too wild. They were acting too much like … kids!
Sometimes, and I hate to think back on it, I got violent, threw things around, hit my sons. Mostly I mistreated them by yelling down whatever they tried to say. I raged for total obedience. I raged at my wife about anything that rubbed me the wrong way.
It never occurred to me that extreme anger might be related to depression. It amazes me now that I never made a connection. It amazes me even more that I never sought help to deal with the rage – whether or not it was linked to anything else.
Once it started, I couldn’t stop it, no matter how much I tried. I knew the triggers that could set me off as soon as I walked into the house – and it was at home where I raged most often. I could anticipate the problems and knew how crazy it was to start yelling about stupid little things. I couldn’t stand what I was doing. But I couldn’t stop feeling the rage.
Then I read Terrence Real’s I Don’t Want to Talk About It, and everything started to fall into place. Real’s book is about depressed men, in particular, and is based on his long experience with couples and family therapy.
During many an intense session, wall-punching anger rushed out of men who found it impossible to talk about their feelings. Real came to think of this as a covert form of depression because sooner or later a full-blown depressive episode would set in.
Using the anger to probe its origin, he usually found a deep shame that had developed early in life. There was a sense of failure to achieve the ideals of manhood that his client had been expected to meet. Traumatic events had pushed the boy over the brink and led to his sealing emotions away so deeply that he lost touch with them altogether.
Whether or not you agree with this type of explanation, the drama that unfolded in his office brought out a deep connection between the extremes of anger and depression.
I had lived through moments exactly like the scenes Real’s clients described and often acted out in his presence.
Whatever the explanation, I finally felt the relationship between depression and extreme anger. I had been swinging from one mood to another, a period of explosive anger followed by a period of deep depression. From intense but destructive energy to no energy at all.
As I had found so many times, awareness was the first step in healing. I couldn’t stop either the anger or the depression on my own but could see what they were doing to me. That prompted me to get help and start a long process of recovery.
For the first time, I understood the psychiatrist’s question, and my raging anger became part of the discussion from then on.
In a later post, I’ll talk about how I’ve been able to limit and manage this dimension of depression.
Is this form of anger part of your experience of depression?
Image by RTP (Really Terrible Photographer) at Flickr
Someone please help me figure out what is happening to me.
Back in 2018 I had my first rage experience. And since then it’s happened 6 more times and I’m always physically violent, saying awful things, odds are after I’m done abusing my husband, I typically want to try and take my own life because of the shame from my actions. The weird thing is I black out every single time I have an episode. And I don’t remember what I’ve said, what’s triggers me, and I might have a glimpse here in there of me being violent and hurting the one man that’s always been by my side.
So the first time this happened I knew something was wrong. I always thought it had to do with childhood trauma I’ve hid away and never addressed, but to my surprise I had been diagnosed with OCD. So I thought awesome, I’ll start the medications and be a better wife.
Also, fun fact is every time there is alcohol involved in various amounts. The most recent event I thought I had only had two drinks all night and he confirmed I did only have two drinks. I can be completely coherent and then it’s a light switch and I have zero control and it’s like I’m out for blood.
My husband is the best thing that’s ever happened to me and every times I’ve experienced this I end up hurting him and I need help because he’s about to leave, rightfully so. He says I’m a totally different person when that light switch is flipped. He said he knows I would never hurt him when I’m in my right mind, but he says that once the light switch is flipped he has no idea who I become.
My mom is convinced this all has to do with alcohol, which I get it, it lowers inhibitions and can cause issues for people. But I had never had issues with alcohol previously and becoming violent, also I can have a couple of drinks and then boom lights out. And 9 times out of ten I try and kill myself after for what I’ve done to him. It’s out of control. My guess is I have pent up anger from my childhood and I’m taking it out on the most important person in my life.
I’ve researched my symptoms with a variety of different outcomes. Someone please help me figure out what is wrong with me. I can’t do this to him anymore, if there’s a next time it will be the last time. I cannot keep him in this abusive relationship any longer. I called a therapist and have a session set for Monday and I’ve been researching outpatient programs for a more intensive dive into what is happening and how to fix it.
Please, any advice is welcome. I’m desperate. I need to figure this out before I lose my family. The most recent situation I didn’t think I would wake up. Please help me figure out what is wrong with me. I can’t keep living like this.
My story is not the same, in many aspects, but I am just as puzzled. I have never been an angry person (I thought), never interested in drinking alcohol or taking street drugs, never yelled at anyone in my life. I thought. Then last week I was feeling such intense unidentified emotion that I felt afraid of myself — might I hurt someone unintentionally, including myself? I called it “anxiety and depression.” After a subsequent 11 hrs sitting in the ER, waiting to be admitted to a psychiatric unit at a hospital many miles from home because treatment was free there, I wanted to go home. Tired of waiting. Even more anxious. They had already taken everything I had brought: cell phone with all my calling-for-help power, purse with all my purchasing power, the bag of clothes, my comfortable shoes, all that was left was my too, too solid flesh and the clothes I had walked in with that morning. All they had given me to eat for 11 hours was a snack bag of Fritos.
Finally, a room. Over the bed was a camera mounted on the ceiling. 24×7 observation. I had not said a single word about being suicidal or homicidal. I told them the setup had all the trappings of a peep show at a sex shop. I didn’t get any laughs or any compassion out of that. I got angrier and angrier, but I used a well-modulated and well-reasoned tone and rationale to let them know the camera only increased my sense of instability and anxiety. I had been sexually abused in the past and could not sleep while being watched by men who were strange to me through a camera feed in some other part of the building. Next day, two young psychiatrists asked me questions for maybe 15 minutes, diagnosed me with Borderline Personality Disorder, and said I could go home. I didn’t know about the diagnosis until a few days later. but I did know the usual list of symptoms and the extreme stigma attached to that diagnosis. The doctors not only did not tell me of the on-the-run diagnosis, they did not bother to explain it or suggest anything other than “continue treatment.”
I raged! I raged in the extreme, but not aloud because I live alone. I did not have the major DSM list of symptoms for BPD. No fear of abandonment. No intense relationships with explosive angry outbursts. I decided the diagnosis was totally bogus and punitive, given just because I insisted on leaving the unit and going home. BUT, the more I thought about it, the closer I came to agreeing with them. I read about something called “QUIET Borderline Personality Disorder.” It is not in the DSM but many in the behavioral healthcare system believe it is one type of BPD. In the QUIET kind (I have always been extremely quiet and shy and withdrawn) the person doesn’t explode, they IMplode. Anger turned inward instead of projected outward. Yes, now THAT was me. Cursing myself, tendency to self-blame and sometimes self harm. I abandoned other people left and right, even important friends, with no explanation. I would feel such intense rage at small things that went wrong in these relationships, that I told myself they were toxic people and that I was justified in cutting off all communication.
Do I have BPD? Don’t know. I don’t intend to pursue it because of all the stigma attached. But now it is there on my permanent health record, along with a trail of other MI diagnoses. Every psychiatrist and therapist seems to add another one. The important thing was…I saw I was labeling every emotion in my repertoire as “anxiety.” Anger, fear, excitement, even pleasure was tinged with “anxiety.” But once I started naming the emotions I was feeling, several times each day, I have come to the conclusion I have not been the quiet, shy and retiring woman on the inside that I was projecting on the outside. I have been punching holes in my internal walls, incoherently blaming myself for not being perfect, and hated myself for not living up to the expectations of others.
So my total of 11 hrs in the ER and 13 more in the psychiatric unit were not wasted. I went back to the angry Google Reviews I had already posted about the hospital and the psychiatrists…and I deleted them. I deleted all the other angry diatribes I had posted in reviews of other suppliers of goods and services over the past few years. I saw that while they were not perfect, I was really just yelling at myself. Yes, as the old phrase cautions: “be angry but sin not.” It is right and good to be angry when treated unjustly or when others are treated unjustly. Always good form to stand up for yourself and your beliefs, opinions, and rights. But what I was really doing was letting my well of anger at myself overflow on the internet in reviews, in emails, phone texts, and cleanly excised relationships. I don’t believe in any God or Higher Power that can rescue me or support me. I’m it. I am my caregiver and I have done a damn poor job of it for 6 decades.
But I am not going to be angry at myself about it. I am sad that I did not see this and understand. I am even beginning to see the faint outline of childhood neglect that may have started all of this. I see how I stayed for many years with an abusive man — I might have thought I deserved it. And I don’t call it anxiety anymore. I accept my full range of emotions and call them by name. Or at least I am learning to. Even just the past week I have realized that those red-hot surges of anger that are scarring me and scaring me have a deep, ongoing, regularly-nourished history. I am setting about learning to resolve the negative feelings I have toward myself. And I think it might eventually result in a calmer, more restfully sleeping, more self-appreciative me.
My ex husband would come home from work with a look on his face like he wanted to kill me, he would scream at me or the children about anything he could think of to justify why his misery was all our fault and he was better off staying at work with his mates, I’ll never forget that look in his bulging angry yet emotional dead eyes, like a raging beast, he’d threaten and throw stuff and punch walls.
Then he would shut down and ghost us until the next excuse to belittle us or until he went to work the next day, he’d just lock himself in the bedroom, play playstation or go on the computer or just lay on the floor facing the wall, he’d completely refuse to engage or acknowledge my existence, or he’d walk out to play with workmates whom he gushed about really caing about him and being more of a family to him then us, coming back drunk to belittle us some more and make sure we didn’t forget we were a waste of space and a burden dragging him down and ruining his life with our existence.
It felt like he was trying to punish us for an unknown crime, did it really make him feel better? He always stopped and had a overly satisfied look on his face when he managed to reduce me to tears.
OMG…my ex husband acted the same way.
I have felt really angry and depressed for the past two years. I just want to stay inside away from people. It all started when I got my first job I worked there for about two years but I just couldn’t take the people they were causing me too much anxiety. I felt miserable every morning before I came in. I thought it was a job I wanted to do but I ended up in accounting instead of medical coding. I felt like I wasn’t good enough in coding so they put me in a new department. And the commute every day irritated me driving I had drop off my boyfriend and mom to work and then I would go into work. Then I got into an accident on the way to pick up my husband and that added more stress. It’s been all down hill from there. I had to quit that job I couldn’t go in there again. I had no friends at work and they treated me weird. But now I feel like a loser. I’m young and I have no drive or dreams. I take out my anger on my husband and mom. Sometimes it’s justified because I still have to drive them around. I make sure all our bills are paid and the house is in order but he still makes me feel worthless. And my dad is on me to get a job but I just can’t deal with the people and the anxiety of not being good enough. I feel worthless and extremely frustrated. When I hear any kind of insult I get into a white hot rage where I feel like throwing or breaking something. I just don’t know what to do.
Can anyone help…help me convince my husband to seek help? What to do? He is a good man with a very dark problem. In the morning he will be fine, three hours later he sees no hope for our marriage, he hates his life, he hates everything, it is my fault for working with him to stay. He rages (nothing physical) but the mental anguish and the hurt with the mean things he says are very real. He has been on Cymbalta for years, pretty much unmanaged. When I ask him to get medication management he glares and says that I want to blame everything on his depression. We have our share of problem, but have lots of good times together. I am naïve enough to think things are going well then out of no where the shoe drops and I am left wondering what went wrong. He will sleep for 12 hours then just be in a dark mood when he gets up. It is like walking on eggshells. He lashes at me, at our pets at anything that makes it in the way of his path. Maybe he is right, maybe staying in this marriage is smothering him. (30+ years) but I know him, I know this isn’t the man I married and I care for his safety and wellbeing. If he is in a good mental place and wants out then I get it. Right now…I don’t think that is the case. When I am out of town on business, he can barely function, he says he is ready for me to come home, he is bored and misses me. Then when I am here, I am smothering him… I don’t want to walk away from this without knowing it is truly him talking and not the depression but I just don’t know where to go from here. The rage is intense and ugly. This is the first I have read about the anger associated with depression. How can I get him to go see a psychiatrist. One that will help him…
I’m sorry to hear your husband and in fact you yourself are going through this, you husband sounds very similar to myself (although I am a 26 year old woman)
I was recently diagnosed with a personality disorder, and my symptoms seem very much the same as your husbands, I’m afraid I can’t tell you how to get through to him as we are all different, but I feel like he does love you, I still love my partner but the things I sometimes say to him break my heart afterwards, it’s not intentional
I hope you find resolve
I have major depressive disorder an now it’s taken a turn for the worst im always angry depressed an lost as to why i do it i don’t understand cause its never beem this extreme an my husband is never their when i know i don’t feel right
I am a 67 year old woman with a fractured childhood. I’ve been depressed since 15. Picked up HepC whilst a nurse in the 1970s..didn’t know until my liver gave out at 57. I don’t drink alcohol and am a health nut. Went through the “cure” at 65…ribavirin…just about killed me the first 3 weeks. Long story made short. Major side effect of the “cure” is rage and inability to monitor reactions. I’m on the verge of suicide. Can’t take this rage anymore. Afraid to talk to people. Alienating husband. The rage and depression is horrific and it’s been 2.5 years. I wish I had not done the cure. My life is hell. Sorry for your problems. I wish you well.
I am so sorry to hear you are on the verge of suicide! You have made it so far already! I came accross this website looking up my own symptoms of anger at my husband and depression. Its a horrible mental illness and I hate it! Please try to find a therapist of someone you can talk to…Even the crisis nurse at the hospital…who may have resources to free or low cost counselling etc. Talk to your doctor about your feelings hopefully something can be done.
Every word you wrote resonates with me! Love to pen pal of sorts. I’m doing this alone too. And in a rage right now, found this from googling. All the best.