Enlightened Living

Meaning and mindfulness in everyday life

The Epidemic of Covert Male Depression

Show me a mad guy, and I'll show you a sad guy...

For the most part, men have two speeds -- neutral and pissed. My experience has taught me that the state of rage that plagues the majority of the male population is driven less by genuine anger and more by what I characterize as  covert depression manifesting as anger.

Covert depression doesn't look like the depression with which we are generally familiar, especially to the people around a man who is in the throes of this particular emotional upheaval. Instead, what the people around us tend to witness is subtle irritation, road rage, explosive arguments, passive-aggression, slovenliness, self-sabotage supported by a failure to follow through and/or a faint sense of insecurity that leads to all kinds of shortcomings in performance -- at work, at home, within society at large or even in the bedroom.

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"Why anger", you ask? I like to call anger the First Feeling because it goes straight to the root of the aggression that drives our instinct for survival. Because men are not great at filtering and expressing emotions or feelings, we typically express, or more properly act out, our experience of emotion as anger. The whole male dynamic of emotional experience--feeling, reaction and anger--occurs at a very primal and instinctual level. Men are, in some ways, hardwired for rage - it keeps us sharp. Problem ...there are no more saber-toothed tigers with which to contend; the mechanism is obsolete.

For men, the key to deflecting this circumstance is recognizing and acknowledging our emotions. We do this by dissecting rage. Here's an example: when you get cut off on the highway, you become angry. The reason that you become angry is because someone, in your mind (read: feelings), has compromised your safety, or crossed your boundaries. On the other hand, when your boss chews you out you become angry because you may feel his accusations are unfounded, or you feel disrespected or unappreciated, or you're anxious about losing your job.

In both situations detailed above you experience anger, but the motivation for that anger is different in each situation. Learning to look at the experience of anger and recognize the underlying feelings and emotions, then expressing those emotions and feelings in a productive manner, diffuses the anger.

As this diffusion begins to happen, the covert depression that ultimately drives our general sense of anger and annoyance starts to take shape as a lack of fulfillment, or disappointment over broken dreams, or anxiety about being able to provide for our family, or performance at work or being a good husband or partner.

It's not really necessary to understand the why or the how of our human condition or our social circumstances. It's more important, once we've recognized what that circumstance is, to ask the question, "What next?". I was in an airport a few months ago and saw an advertisement for what I believe was an investment firm. It was a picture of Tiger Woods standing in the rough and tall grass up to his knees. Hand drawn into the picture was a vertical arrow with a break in the line; the small piece at the bottom had a label that said, "10% what you did" -- at the top, the label said, "90% what you do".

In the case of covert depression, emotional success does not rely on the why and how, but more upon what we do next. Tiger Woods lifting the ball out of the rough and onto the green is a metaphor for men lifting ourselves out of our covert depression by both finding and feeling our feelings.

Deconstructing our state of rage leads us to a place where we can drill down into that underlying covert depression that is driven by the subtle sense of "less than" that is visited upon us. This leads to a deconstruction of the depression, and that provides a context for working through the issues that are driving the depression in the first place.

 

© 2008 Michael J. Formica, All Rights Reserved

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Michael J. Formica, M.S., M.A., Ed.M., is a psychotherapist, teacher and writer. He is an Initiate in the Shankya Yoga lineage of H.H. Sri Swami Rama and the Himalayan Masters.

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