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ANGER V. DEPRESSION: TWO SIDES OF THE SAME COINPosted Tuesday, July 13, 2010, at 10:31 AM
Would you rather be around someone who's depressed, or someone who's angry?
It's not exactly Sophie's Choice.
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.
Angst is in the air: Be careful it's catching
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I can't take any more. The economy is tanking, the election is endless, and now it looks like I might have to sell my blood if I want to keep my kids in mac 'n cheese. Oh, and did I mention that, thanks to falling house prices, I probably owe more on my home than it's actually worth? I want to go back to bed, pull the covers over my head and have somebody wake me up when my 401(k) bounces back. I don't know about you, but I'm finding myself so jittery about, well everything, that it's all I can do to surf the net. Kind of ironic, isn't it? I should be working more, but I'm so anxious about my finances that I'm actually working less. Alas, such is the world of grown-ups - stress, anxiety, depression. And to think that I wasted much of my childhood wishing I could be in charge of my own life. Why in the heck did I ever think that was a good idea? Give me a few cookies, a blankey and a nice place to lie down and I swear I'll never complain about an early bedtime again. These are tough times indeed. Even if you're still OK, you'd have to be one cold, hard, rich person to stay immune to all the angst in the air. So how do you cope? How do you get through today when you're so worried about tomorrow that you can't see straight? I overheard a news commentator say that people are thinking twice before they go out to eat or buy new clothes. I'm guessing that those are the people who still have jobs. Because the people without jobs aren't spending a nickel on anything except cheap carbs and keeping a roof over their heads. Yet as depressing as our collective and individual situations may be, the last thing we need to do is let our fear get the best of us. If you spend all day quaking and anxious, guess who wins? The fear. Yes, I know FDR had a roof over his head when he said "we have nothing to fear but fear itself," but he was right. Every moment you waste paralyzed with fear is a moment you could be doing something, or resting up so that you can do something tomorrow. It's been said that there are only two emotions, love and fear, and all the other emotions are derivatives of those. So I'd like to make a suggestion. Let's chose love. Let's decide to love each other and to love ourselves, no matter what happens. And if you're really a Pollyanna, perhaps you'll join me in deciding to love the fact that this crisis is serving as a call for us to become our better selves; a call for us to look within and rid ourselves of consumerism, greed and the need to keep up with the Jones; and a call for us to have more empathy for those who are struggling. Maybe this is a chance for all of us - and I include myself - to decide that we love our country and we love our fellow human beings more than we love our stuff. Yeah, I know it sounds hokey. But you don't change your circumstances until you change the thoughts that created them. Cowering under the covers in fear may feel safer. But in a crisis, the truly powerful response is love. (c) Copyright 2008, by Lisa Earle McLeod. All rights reserved. Lisa Earle McLeod is a keynote speaker, author and nationally syndicated columnist. Her books include "Forget Perfect" and "Finding Grace When You Can't Even Find Clean Underwear." Contact her at www.ForgetPerfect.com.
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