I Was Angry but Now I’m Depressed

Question: I’ve always been a loner but now I just stay in my home all day without talking to anyone. I also sleep a lot, sometimes for up to 12 hours at a time. I’m tired all the time (even with all the sleep) and there aren’t a lot of things I enjoy doing.

When I was a kid, I was angry all the time. I’d get into fights at school and none of the other kids wanted to be my friend. My teachers weren’t interested in me even though I was smart and got good grades. Some of them made comments about how poor my family was, probably because we weren’t always clean and didn’t smell the best. Even my own family didn’t seem to like me. My brothers thought it was fun to get me into trouble (I was the youngest) and our mother always took their side. I remember when she’d beat me with a closed fist for not cleaning my room (my brothers messed it up) or for being too loud and waking her from a nap.

As I got older, I’ve been able to control my anger more but now I just feel numb. I still don’t have any friends and I’m worried that I never will. Is this a normal part of life or is there something wrong with me?


Answer: It sounds like you’re depressed and probably have been for a long time. There is a theory that depression is anger turned inward and that seems to make sense for your situation. As a child, you were outwardly angry but as you got older, the anger didn’t go away but instead was internalized. Now you’re meeting a lot of the criteria for depression including anhedonia (the inability to feel pleasure), depressed mood, an increase in sleeping, and fatigue.

Although we tend to think of it as one, anger is not a primary emotion. It is a secondary one that we use to mask our vulnerable feelings of sadness or fear. From your description of the treatment you received from your mother and brothers, you had a lot to fear and be sad about because you were abused, both physically and emotionally. No transgression deserves a beating with a closed fist and certainly not ones as minor as not cleaning your room or being too loud. Being constantly made fun of and humiliated in front of others is also maltreatment. All children deserve to be nurtured and encouraged, not made to suffer.

That you are depressed as a result of all this is hardly surprising. A lot of recent research supports the idea that childhood abuse and depression are strongly linked. Scientists have found that traumatic experiences at a young age change the chemistry and structure of the brain. Thus abuse, especially abuse at a young age, heightens a child’s sensitivity to stress so that even small upsets (like a playground taunt or a teacher’s firm tone) become threats that must be managed. After all, children who are being abused never know when the next angry outburst will happen, so they have to be hypervigilant to protect themselves. Eventually, this constant state of alertness begins to take its toll on the body so that even small stressors will trigger a flood of stress hormones and these hormones will cause multiple sites in the body to manufacture the behavioral symptoms of depression.

Overcoming the results of abuse is difficult but doable. If you want to feel better, the first place to start is with a psychologist trained in trauma. During your work with your counselor, you probably will access the abuse, recognize it for what it is (specifically, that it was not your fault), and process the whole experience. The processing will include working through your vulnerable emotions and realizing the underlying messages you received and working to change them into something more positive and healthy. This work will not be finished quickly but ultimately may change your life into something much more fulfilling. You owe it to yourself to try. Good luck!

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