Anger Turned Inward

When people have a conversation, it usually involves an exchange of information. When two people are talking to each other, it's called a dialogue. But when you're trying to have a conversation with someone who's suffering from depression, what transpires sounds more like a monologue than a dialogue, which can be frustrating for all involved. Here's how such a conversation, in which one of the individuals is suffering from depression, might sound.

Friend: “What's wrong with you?”

Person with Depression: “I don't know.”

Friend: “That's not very helpful.”

Person with Depression: “Okay.

Friend: “Are you angry with me?”

Person with Depression: “No.”

Friend: “I don't understand you.”

Person with Depression: “I don't understand me either. Just leave me alone.”

The friend wants to help but doesn't know how. The person with depression doesn't have a whole lot to contribute, and so the conversation goes nowhere, until one of them has had enough and either gives up the effort and sits in uncomfortable silence or leaves.

If you've had this experience, or something similar, then you've had a glimpse of what Sigmund Freud meant when he referred to depression as “anger turned inward.” In the snippet of conversation above, the uncommunicative person is angry — perhaps not at the other person involved in the conversation, but angry nonetheless.

The Anger Continuum

Mental health is measured on a continuum, and so is anger. You'll learn more about the role of anger in depression in Chapter 18, but for now, an overview should be helpful. At different times and under varying circumstances, you may find yourself angry, miffed, annoyed, irritated, and even downright furious. When your anger is a reaction to a specific event and is a logical response, it's normal.

Generally, you'll find socially acceptable ways of venting this anger, but when you can't let off steam, the stress continues to build. The stress has to go somewhere, so it turns inward on you, causing all manner of physical problems. You may suffer from stomach troubles, indigestion, heartburn, headaches, raised blood pressure, or a host of other symptoms that mask the true problem — you're angry.

You may have been taught from childhood that it's not nice to express anger. Unfortunately, if you internalized this message, you may reap a nasty harvest. Anger is negative energy, and it's destructive.


In classical Greek drama, as the play unfolds, the audience's emotions of fear and pity for the characters must be cleansed or purged, in order for balance to be restored. Aristotle called this deep cleansing catharsis. Today this word is used to refer to an experience that leaves us drained, but drained with the promise of renewal. You may have heard someone say, “I'm tired, but it's a good tired.” That's catharsis.

Healthy Expression

Appropriately expressed anger is healthy. Repressed anger or inappropriately expressed anger is not. There are numerous ways to release this energy. Punching a bag, running, playing sports, singing, dancing, gardening — anything that lets you exhaust this negative energy and leaves you feeling cleansed works to keep your anger managed. This process is called catharsis.

Finding the Right Outlet

Children and adolescents need outlets for their energy. This is why depressed children often spend too much time alone, unengaged and disengaged. It's also why they can do well with play therapy. Play is serious business for children. It's a time of emotional, mental, and physical growth.

For teenagers, healthy activities that let them use their bodies full-out are essential to keeping a good balance and preventing the build-up of stress that can lead to depression. In this time of cost-cutting and budget tightening, the very activities that adolescents need — such as sports, drama, choir — are being axed from the school curriculum. It's a real case of penny-wise and pound-foolish. It's a false economy. The costs of not having these outlets are borne by the medical system and ultimately, the taxpayer.

Adults, and that includes the elderly, may be so caught up in the daily routines of everyday life that they don't take the time to recreate — to re-create themselves. If you neglect this important aspect of promoting mental and physical health, your body pays the price in a variety of ways. The human body was meant to move and be active. It's nature's way of letting go of worries, releasing negative energy, and replenishing your resources.

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