Beth wondered, What is wrong with me?
The worry, never far from the surface of her thoughts, intruded again. But still, Beth had no answer. She felt run-down, listless, and unable to generate energy or enthusiasm about anything. She made sure her kids were taken care of and pantomimed her way through a declining number of social functions, but she couldn’t remember the last time she could honestly say she felt “good.”
Her husband had even commented on her early nights to bed—without him—and her inexplicable lethargy. She wasn’t eating and her clothes had begun to droop on her diminished frame. Even wearing bright colors seemed like a lie. Her smile was a pale echo of its former self, detached from any presumed goodwill.
And it wasn’t just her inability to feel joy that frightened Beth. As she’d gone through the motions of cleaning up her youngest son’s scrapped knee just now, she realized she couldn’t even feel bad for him. Empathy had left, too, along with joy. Picking him up, kissing his cheek, cleaning his wound and bandaging it, all had been accomplished without the expected emotional attachment. She could display a form of concern, but it was without substance.
What is wrong with me? Beth continued to ask herself, Where did my passion for life go?
There is a long established concept that depression is really anger turned inward. That was certainly one of the main causes of Beth’s depression.
When she first came in for treatment, Beth expressed concern over her lack of emotions. She felt “grayed-out” most of the time, incapable of feeling strong emotions of any kind, especially about her family. She had an overwhelming feeling of guilt that something was “wrong”. It was an enormous step just to seek therapy for her depression.
As we worked through the person she was, the person she wanted to be, and the person she thought she should be, Beth experienced her first strong emotional response in a long time. She was surprised when she realized how truly angry she had become.
Repressing Emotions To Project Control
Over the years, Beth had developed a carefully constructed exterior of a calm, reasonable approach to situations.
She felt it was important to repress strong emotions in order to project a controlled, quiet, response to life. She felt this was expected of her when she was a child, and it seemed especially important for her as she grew older, married, and had a family. She rejected thoughts of anger, resentment, or jealousy and sought to only express what she determined to be a proper response.
Beth was thoroughly unprepared for the consequences of this almost unrecognized decision.
The more she denied her feelings of anger, resentment, and jealously, the more they burrowed deep into her heart:
- When her husband asked her how she’d spent her day, she rejected the anger she felt at being questioned to give an account of every minute while he’d been gone.
- When her mother remarked how well her sister’s daughter was doing in school, she refused to acknowledge the resentment she felt that her own children struggled with their studies.
- When a neighbor explained they would be moving soon, she hid her jealousy at their ability to buy a home in a better part of town.
Because Beth considered her feelings were inappropriate, she would not acknowledge her true responses to her circumstances. Locked inside, left to fester, they fed her ever-increasing mountain of anger.
The more her anger grew, the less she felt a desire to eat. With her insides churning from anger, food simply did not go down well. The persistent ache of hunger helped cover the distress of her resentment. Without really knowing it, Beth was exchanging hunger for rage. Feelings of hunger were “acceptable,” but feelings of anger were not. Along with her depression, Beth had developed the eating disorder of anorexia.
Through therapy and a courageous decision not to shrink from what she was learning about herself, Beth worked towards understanding the source of her anger. She realized she’d transferred a perception of perfection from her childhood into her adulthood.
Beth realized she was angry that her commitment to being perfect wasn’t producing a “perfect” life.
Acknowledging Your Anger
How do you feel about your own feelings of anger? What are you angry about? When freed from your anger, what will you be able to accomplish?
Positive Affirmation: I am brave enough to understand my pain. I am strong enough to go beyond it.
2013 Gregory L. Jantz, Turning Your Down Into Up: A Realistic Plan For Healing From Depression, WaterBrook Press.