Would you rather be around someone who’s depressed, or someone who’s angry?
Anyone who’s ever had to live or work with someone who’s chronically depressed or angry knows that it’s no fun. If you suffer from either malady yourself, you’re probably not too thrilled with it either.
We tend to think of depression and anger as two completely different conditions. Yet they’re often flip sides of the same coin.
Depression is often anger turned inward, and anger is often depression turned outward. (I’m talking about the everyday kind, not the severe clinical kind.)
Depression often presents itself as morose, weary, lethargic behavior. Depressed people often feel like they’re just going through the motions of life without any energy or joy. Anger, on the other hand, seems full of seething, venomous, explosive energy that erupts at the slightest provocation.
Yet inside many depressed people is a very real anger that they don’t feel empowered enough to express. And inside many angry people is a sadness and depression that they’re afraid to experience.
Lest I sound too clinical in my assessment, I can tell you I’ve experienced both these phenomena myself. I’ve been fearful of expressing anger, yet the energy it took to stifle it sucked the life out of me. I’ve also been so afraid to sit with my own sadness that I lashed out at others.
And therein lies the problem. We’re too afraid to experience our real emotions, so we consciously or unconsciously stuff them, and the act of doing so brings out the equally, or frequently worse, flip side emotion. Anger turns into sadness and sadness turns into anger.
So how do we rise above it? If it’s a chronic condition, you probably need professional help. But for the moment-by-moment drama in the average Joe or Jane’s life, the solution is pretty obvious.
Give yourself permission to experience the real emotion. If you’re angry, just admit it. And if you’re sad, give yourself permission to sit with it. The quicker you acknowledge the real emotion, the better chance you’ll have of working through it.
Of course, it’s easier said than done. Most of us have a built-in bias against these two all too common emotions. Many people feel that succumbing to sadness casts you in the role of powerless victim, while others believe that nice people don’t get angry. Family history and cultural dynamics shape our perceptions, and we naturally resist experiencing the emotions we find the most distasteful and shameful.
Many couples often find themselves on opposite sides of the anger-depression continuum. One is depressed while the other is angry, and they’re both frustrated that their partner is exhibiting such an awful and inappropriate reaction to life.
It’s a hard dynamic to spot in yourself, but if you see it in a partner, or even a coworker or friend, you might consider helping them get in touch with what’s really bothering them.
If you’re dealing with someone who always seems angry, try asking them what they’re really sad about. And if you’re dealing with someone who’s depressed, ask what about their situation they might be angry about.
Be selective about when and how you ask. If you wait for an appropriate opening, their answers may surprise you.
Emotions are a part of life. They’re not always fun or pretty, but trying to stuff them never works. They just show up as something worse.
Lisa Earle McLeod is an author, columnist, keynote speaker and business consultant. The founder and principal of McLeod & More, Inc, she specializes in sales and leadership training. Her newest book, The Triangle of Truth, has been cited as the blueprint for “how smart people can get better at everything.” Visit www.TriangleofTruth.com for a short video intro. Copyright 2010 Lisa Earle McLeod. All rights reserved.