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Depression and Anger

Almost all participants indicated that the anger-depression connection seemed to resonate with them. They realized, and fully experienced, that their anger was both an outgrowth of, and a meaningful distraction, from the intense pain of underlying depression. This is often the case for many individuals who seek my help for anger.

By contrast, others who have sought my services for depression have come to recognize how anger directed inward contributes to their anger. And some individuals have sought my services for depression with a combination of anger directed both outward and inward.

Anger as an Outgrowth of Self-Compassion

Anger stems from some perceived sense of threat to our emotional or physical well-being. It is also a reaction to and often a distraction from, other negative emotions and the physical tension associated with them. Anger forces us to direct our attention outward. This was reflected in the initial complaints voiced in my class—their stated grievances regarding what they perceived as the shortcomings of others. This external focus even interferes with their body awareness, being unable to identify how their body reacts during anger arousal.

Through my clinical work, I’ve come to view anger as an unwitting act of self-compassion—an attempt to rid ourselves of such suffering. In this manner, it may be viewed as a buffer against experiencing depression and the feelings and thoughts associated with it.

Symptoms of Depression

Clinical depression is defined as a depressed mood accompanied by symptoms such as:

  • Insomnia or sleeping too much

  • Feelings of worthlessness or inappropriate guilt

  • Significant unintentional weight loss or gain

  • Agitation or psychomotor retardation

  • Fatigue or loss of energy

  • Poor concentration or indecisiveness

  • Recurring thoughts of death

Anger is not listed as a symptom in the official guidelines for the diagnosis of depression. However, in recent years, there has been an increased study of the association between anger and depression. More specifically, some studies have highlighted how anger can be a mask for depression.

Depression as Anger Directed Inward

The psychoanalytic perspective views depression as very much related to anger directed inward. This is an accurate assessment for many individuals. The elevated self-criticism, the deep sense of shame and an accompanying sense of hopelessness and helplessness associated with depression can be viewed as consequences of intense and ongoing self-judgment, a barrage of self-directed anger over dissatisfactions with ourselves. These are coupled with discomfort and even fears associated with directing anger at their true sources.

Anger turned inward is often the consequence of childhood neglect or physical or emotional abuse. Through the eyes of a helpless child, it is understandable that he might be confused and overwhelmed by the emotions surrounding such experiences. Subsequently, he may blame himself for such treatment, as his entire well-being is dependent upon his caretakers. This fosters a predisposition to a lack of feeling “good enough.”

Certainly, other experiences in developing years as well as in adulthood can precipitate depression. These might include significant losses and trauma. However, the intensity of their impact may also be mitigated by the degree to which earlier experiences fostered emotional and mental resilience.

Anger as an Outgrowth of Depression

Anger might be a consequence of depression, an outgrowth of the frustration, hopelessness, and irritability associated with depression. This tendency is not mutually exclusive with the perspective that underlying depression may reflect anger directed inward.

The relationship between depression and anger is complex. The more we can specifically identify the details of this association, the more accurate we can be in the diagnosis and treatment of both anger and depression.

Research Regarding the Association of Depression and Anger

Research has increasingly attended to determining the specific association between depression and anger. In one study, 293 outpatients diagnosed with depression were assessed over a certain time frame to determine to what extent irritability might predict anger attacks. While these can occur with or without aggression, this study only considered those that were aggressive. Questionnaires administered concluded that those who scored high levels of irritability had significantly more anger attacks.


Almost all participants indicated that the anger-depression connection seemed to resonate with them. They realized, and fully experienced, that their anger was both an outgrowth of, and a meaningful distraction, from the intense pain of underlying depression. This is often the case for many individuals who seek my help for anger.





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