Depressed People are Angry People?

I once read that depression is anger turned inward.  I thought at first to myself, “Is not saying depression is anger turned inward blaming the victim of depression?”  I mean it almost seems like piling more weight on an already emotionally burdened person. “You say you are depressed? Well, that is because you are angry at your own self!” I typically think a person is depressed because something is happening or has happened to them, not because of something they do to themselves. Furthermore, is not depression an expression more of sadness, and not of anger?

While there seems to be multiple causes to depression, Scripture certainly hints at anger toward oneself as one possible cause. Let us consider just two passages; one from the book of James and the other from Genesis.  James writes (4:1-3):

What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you?  You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask.  You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.”

According to James, a desire or passion that goes unfulfilled can drive an engine of anger within us. When our desires are frustrated in some way, we seek to overcome the perceived obstacles in forceful ways. We may use the most direct force of physically violent action, or choose to be verbally violent, or emotionally manipulative.  But what happens when our anger expressed through violence is unsuccessful, or we perceive that we are not strong enough to overcome the obstacles to our desires?

In the book of Genesis, when Abel’s offering is looked upon with favor by God, but Cain’s desire for God’s favor was rejected, we read the following (4:5-7):

“But for Cain and his offering [God] had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his face fell.   The LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen?  If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.”

Notice above the connection between Cain’s desire, anger,  and his “face fallen,” in other words, the connection between his anger and depression? Cain desired God’s favor, but on his own terms. When his desire went unfulfilled, he became angry. But what forceful action could Cain take toward God? Cain could not bring about change in violent ways toward God, so his anger turned inward. Perhaps he thought of himself as unworthy or too weak. Cain was psychologically beating himself up. 

Cain may not be able to beat up God, but what about beating up his brother, Abel? Perhaps with Abel out of the way, Cain could forcefully gain God’s favor. So Cain’s face was no longer fallen, but he raised his face toward Abel in murderous rage (Genesis 4:8). 

Anger rooted in unfulfilled desire would either be expressed toward others violently, or if we are not able to force our way, then that anger will turn inward, and our faces will reflect a depressed state. 

While anger turned inward may not be the only cause of depression, it certainly is one cause that we ought to consider.

–Terry


Leave a Reply