We get angry about twenty times a day.
If we believe our anger is bad or that it’s scary to be angry, we keep it inside.
The unexpressed anger builds up.
It takes so much energy to keep it bottled up
that we get tired from all that effort.
And, since we are not using our energy to get what we want,
we miss out on many things.
The tiredness and the losses add up to make us feel
hopeless, lethargic, irritable, and sad.
This is depression.
We get depressed from saved up anger.
GUILT VS. RESPONSIBILITY
Guilty feelings are the building blocks of depression.
Guilt is what we feel when we know we’ve made a mistake
and think we need forgiveness from someone else.
Responsibility is what we feel when we make a mistake,
learn from the mistake,
repair any damage as well as we can,
and forgive ourselves.
We feel guilt in the hope that someone else will get us off the hook.
In other words, we feel guilt to avoid responsibility for our own mistakes.
And we end up depressed.
We don’t feel guilty to change our behavior.
We feel guilty to avoid changing our behavior!
Think of an alcoholic who comes home drunk at 3 in the morning,
apologizes profusely the next morning,
and says she hates herself.
She is subconsciously trying to show that she “feels bad enough”
so her partner will believe she is sorry and forgive her.
(The partner would be wise to tell her to
stop all the apologies and the self-hate
and just say: “I need help to stop drinking!”)
SELF-PUNISHMENT AND DEPRESSION
For many people depression is self-inflicted punishment.
They actually say to themselves:
“I will make myself feel bad to pay for what I’ve done.”
HOW WE LEARN DEPRESSION
Think of a child whose parent just yelled at them: “You are bad!”
If the parent’s guilt-tripping works,
the child might cry in a brokenhearted sort of a way
and sit quietly for a long time feeling bad about themselves.
The self-satisfied parent might say:
“See, she feels so bad about herself
that I know she won’t do it again.”
But the child will do it again!
Because the child hasn’t learned a thing about her own behavior.
When parents punish too severely (physically or psychologically),
the child has no choice but to focus on the punishment
and forget the behavior the parent said was the cause of the punishment.
When the parent eventually stops the shaming,
the child will believe that feeling bad about herself is what saved her.
She has learned that in that family there are real advantages to being depressed.
Teaching a child the effects of their behavior
is much more difficult than making them feel guilty.
But it’s the only way to get them to change.
[See Discipline and other articles in this series about parenting.]
The key to avoiding depression is to welcome and express your anger.
But what if so many things make you angry
that you don’t have enough time to express it all?
What if your new anger constantly “overlaps” with your old anger?
Most people who have overlapping anger
are living lives that are filled with mistreatment.
They are simply so badly treated that anyone would be depressed.
They will be depressed until they stop taking all that mistreatment.
Other people have overlapping anger because
they talk themselves into being angry
when they are really feeling something else (sadness, or scare, or even joy).
They need to learn how to handle the feelings they are avoiding
– and since they are so afraid of this,
they will probably need a therapist to help them.
Depression: What To Do About It
was written as a companion topic.
Since suppressed anger, guilt, and depression are such common problems,
many articles in this series are related to these topics.
Every article, regardless of the title,
probably contains at least one idea you can use to overcome depression.