Understanding Anger in Depression
A few weeks ago I narrowly avoided being hit by a speeding car. I’d just set off to walk the dog and was crossing the road when an open-topped sports car screeched around the corner and headed straight towards me. My adrenaline went off the scale, the dog wrapped itself around my legs but the car, somehow, came to a halt. When I looked up the driver was smiling and mouthing “sorry”.
I’m generally regarded as a measured and even-tempered person, but at that moment the red mist descended. Maybe it was the shock, or the fact that age of the driver told me he should know better, or the sheer idiocy of speeding around a residential area that did it, I’m not sure. I do remember that I heard a man shouting an obscenity and bellowing various things into the face of the driver, only to then realize it was me.
During my years working in healthcare I became used to hearing and seeing anger and even having it directed towards me. It was never pleasant, but I could rationalize why it happened and I guess took some solace from the fact that it was often directed at other people too. Yes, there was a lot of anger in people labeled as having mental health issues but not all of them expressed it so overtly. Given that we all have the capacity for anger, what do we do with it, and how is it best managed?
I suppose there’s only so much any of us can do with anger. We can express it openly, we can displace it in some form via a creative or sporting activity, or we can sit on it. Now a feature of professionalism, especially in the caring professions, is that you don’t get angry. Actually, you do get angry, but you try your very best not to show it. So when a patient swears at you, or hits you, or spits in your face you do not react in a way that suggests you’ve lost control. It’s an appropriate tactic as anger never helps (in this context) and can quickly escalate.
Speak to most psychotherapists and they will have a perspective on depression as being anger turned in on the self. The likely candidate for depression resulting from stress is someone who is a bit over-controlled emotionally. They present an image of calmness whilst doubling their efforts to keep things ticking over and make things better for others whilst creaking beneath the strain of it all themselves.
The trick, such as it is, is not to get angry. I don’t just mean the venting sort of anger where we shout and stomp about, or the passive-aggressive type where we sulk or speak in clipped tones, or for that matter the sit-on-it type. I really mean to avoid it in the first place. How do we do this? Well we can learn to become more assertive where we make our boundaries clear over what is and isn’t acceptable. This way there’s no need to get angry because needs are clearly stated and out there. Other people use meditation activities in an attempt to deflect situations that make them angry. If we recognize anger as a problem there are classes and therapy techniques to help.
So there we have it. Personally, I’d really prefer it if people didn’t aim their cars at me. It’s very disconcerting! Incidentally, the driver reacted to my anger by becoming angry himself. He then drove off as fast if not faster than before. Perhaps if I'd adoped a different tone his behavior might have changed - but then again.