• Anger is often a symptom of depression, and is one that can negatively affect relationships

  • Behind anger often lies fear and an inability to express our needs

  • If depression and anger are damaging your relationships, find a therapist here 

Depression can be hard on relationships, whether because of the inwardness that is part of depression or the tendency to become easily irritated or angry. A traditional explanation of depression is that it is caused by anger turned inward, and for some people this is the case. All that bottling up and trying to be nice can lead you to feel that your thoughts and opinions are not very important, that others always come first. Here comes that defeat posture again, coupled with resentment — a toxic combination! If this is what is happening to you, it is important to learn to speak your mind, resisting the negative voice that says, ‘What’s the use? No one listens to me’ and finding a way to be heard.

A lot has been written over the years about being assertive, which is a middle way between aggression (demanding) and submissiveness (giving in or giving up). Being able to express your opinion and ask for your needs to be met is an essential skill in adult life, one that is taught in tiny daily increments in supportive families and schools. Anger can be a symptom of depression, perhaps because depression lowers resilience and makes a short fuse more likely. A tendency to self-medicate with alcohol will also contribute to anger by lessening self-control. 

If getting angry is a significant part of your depression you will need to make a choice. Remembering that anger is often caused by a gap between expectations and reality, you can do the following two things:

  • Accept the disappointment and let it go. This is different from bottling up your feelings, in that it involves truly accepting the situation and adapting yourself to it. It might mean lowering your expectations for the future. If you still have some residual anger, use exercise to disperse it.
  • Ask for your expectations to be met. This will involve some thought about what it really is that you want and whether the other person involved can deliver. Fear often lies behind anger: fear of losing the one you love or fear of being put down and not listened to. Take some time to think about what it is for you and how you could address that. It is all too easy to get into the habit of losing your temper; if that is what has been happening, seek out someone to talk to, someone whose advice and wisdom you can trust. 

If you choose to avert anger by asking for your expectations to be met, you could try a conflict-resolution process involving the following seven steps:

  1. Ask the other person if they are willing to talk about the problem. If necessary, motivate them by explaining that you feel it is important to resolve the conflict in order to take care of your relationship/friendship/ability to work together.
  2. Define what the problem is, either together or by taking turns to outline it
  3. Together, brainstorm as many solutions as you can. Think laterally and don’t judge the solutions at this point. This step can be creative, even playful and fun.
  4. Each rate the solutions according to preference
  5. Choose one that you can both agree on
  6. Try it for an agreed time
  7. Evaluate how it is working and if necessary start the process again

How and why to forgive someone who hurts you

Sometimes it is not possible to sort things out with the people with whom you feel angry. They might not be willing to talk about it with you, or they may not be around to do it. Maybe they have died. To get past your anger it may be helpful to write a letter that expresses the way you feel — then tear it up or burn it to show that it’s over. Or speak out loud to an empty chair, a photo or some other object that represents the person. When you have expressed everything you feel about what the person did that hurt you, and what you wish they had done instead, finish up with a statement that hands it back to the other person. Something like: ‘But you didn’t do what I wanted and now I’m letting go of the expectation that you should have.’ You may have to go through the process a few times but it can be very freeing to let go of an old hurt. Forgiving doesn’t mean that you think it was okay for the person to hurt you, just that you don’t want to hold on to it any longer.

We all have things we need to forgive ourselves for, too. If you are troubled by regret for things you did in the past, go through a process of forgiving yourself just as you would for someone else. Whatever has happened, we all need to learn the lesson, let go and come back to living in the present.

Further reading

Watch our interview with anger researcher Dr Ryan Martin

My depression is harming my relationship – what can I do?

Depression: the symptoms and when to ask for help

Anger management: how can therapy help?

In therapy, I have learnt my anger is healthy

How negative self-talk can damage our relationships