Q & A – Anger & Depression

General Anger & Depression Issues

Q. Why is anger such a bad emotion?

During our lives, many of us have learnt that there are good emotions and bad emotions. Some of us learn that feeling happy is good, while feeling anger is bad. Why is anger supposed to be bad? Well, think of all the bad things that are done when people are angry – the Twin Towers in New York, domestic violence, road rage etc. etc. People say that anger is bad because it often results in bad actions.

However, anger can lead to good actions. Anger with poverty can lead to financial generosity. Anger from partners can lead to self-analysis and change. Anger with corrupt, self-centered politicians can lead to change in governments.

Anger is not a bad emotion. However, what we do when we are angry produces good or bad results. We need to be careful not to confuse feelings and actions. Feelings may feel bad, but in reality are neutral. The way we act in response to our feelings is either positive or negative (rarely neutral). As an example, feeling thirsty is neither a positive or negative feeling (unless we are severely dehydrated in a desert!). However, what we do as a result of our thirst can be positive or negative. As a positive, we can respond to our thirst with a cool, refreshing glass of ice water which we offer to our partner to share with us. As a negative, we could drink a slab of beer and then drive our car down the freeway!


Q. What is the main reason that anger is such a problem?

People often lose control over their actions when they are angry. The angrier a person becomes, the more out-of-control they can act. When a person loses control they can become physically, emotionally or psychologically abusive.

The object of their anger can then become anxious in response to the anger, leaving them two strong feelings to deal with – the incoming anger and their own anxious responses to that anger. Managing our feelings in response to an angry person can be a problem, and the size of the problem is directly related to the amount of anger that has to be dealt with.

However, it is interesting to note that people who regularly lose their temper with a particular person, do not usually lose their temper with everybody. For example, men who hit their female partner while angry do not usually hit other women. It is almost as if the person decides when to lose control and when not to! This will be discussed in further detail later.


Q. Are there other reasons why anger is such a problem?

Many people grow up in families where expressing anger is frowned upon. Some families insist on control of the expression of emotions, other families see anger as a sign of lack of love. Children growing up in such families learn very early that expressing emotion is a bad thing for which they may be punished. They learn that others feel bad about them when they are angry. They eventually begin to feel bad about themselves for feeling anger. Such a person eventually becomes angry with themselves for feeling angry! This magnifies their anger, magnifying the problem of managing the anger. Such a person can also have a problem with depression.


Q. Is there a connection between anger and depression?

Definitely. Angry people often feel depressed, and depressed people are often angry people.


Q. What? Depressed people are often angry? Depressed people feel flat, not angry!!

When we feel angry and then hold on to the anger without letting it out in an appropriate way, the result is often that we feel depressed. Depression is often unexpressed anger. Also, when we feel angry with ourselves, that also can lead us to feel depressed. When I work with depressed people, I often work to help them find out what/who they are angry with. This can reduce their feelings of depression.


Q. So then, do people need to take antidepressants? Don’t they just need to express anger?

Unfortunately, serious depression is not that simple. All the major studies that have been completed to show which is more effective in the treatment of clinical depression – medication or counselling are unambiguous in their results. The best treatment for depression needs both. Medication by itself or counselling by itself is not as effective as both together.

Medication helps a person manage the biochemical causes/results of depression, while counselling helps manage the individual, interpersonal and cultural causes of depression. The way we respond to ourselves, our relationships and our lives can make us depressed. Learning to develop new ways of managing our thoughts and feelings reduces our depression.


Q. So what is the basis of your counselling for anger and depression?

Coping better with both anger and depression requires:

greater self-awareness of what triggers your angry and depressive thoughts, feelings and actions;

practising alternative, more productive ways of coping with these triggers; and

finding better ways of expressing anger.

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