“Anger is an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than to anything on which it is poured.”
The idea that depression is the result of our anger towards others (such as our parents) who have hurt and betrayed us being turned inwards towards ourselves is usually thought to originate from the theories of Sigmund Freud, 1856 -1939 (who discussed the concept in his paper entitled ‘Mourning And Melancholia‘), although it is more likely to derive from the work of the German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche (1844 – 1900) who, a few decades earlier during the 1880s, wrote that ‘no one blames themselves without the secret wish for vengeance’.
And, more recently, Horney (1885 – 1852) proposed that depression originates from having parents who lack warmth or are hostile, inconsistent, and preoccupied with their own needs rather than with those of their children. This negative parental treatment leads to the child developing feelings of anger and resentment towards the parent.
However, because the child is dependent upon his / her parents, s/he cannot risk expressing these angry and resentful feelings and so represses them (this repression may also be driven by feelings of guilt about resenting his / her parents, by fear of the consequences of openly expressing anger towards them, or by conflicting feelings of love for them – in relation to the latter, you may wish to read my previously published article: Why Children Idealize Their Parents). This process takes place on a largely unconscious level, of course.
However, rather than dissipate away, these feelings of anger and resentment are REDIRECTED TOWARDS THE SELF. This negative energy then combines with the child’s feelings of his / her own impotence, the negative attitude of his / her parents towards him/her, and a sense of his / her own feelings of hostility, to cause the young person to create a self-concept of being someone to be ‘despised’. According to Horney, however, at the same time, the child simultaneously develops the compensatory concept of an ‘idealized’ self which is unrealistic and unobtainable, no matter how hard the child / later adult attempts to realize it.
However, in a desperate need to compensate for the ‘despised’ self, the child / later adult develops an insatiable and all-consuming, neurotic need to achieve this ideal state, even though s / he is not consciously aware of the origins of this need. This intense, neurotic need may manifest itself in various ways including perfectionism, an overwhelming need to be loved and admired by everyone (e.g. by becoming famous), or to be omnipotent.
Needless to say, living up to these standards is impossible and the inevitable failure to do so, according to Horney, generates feelings of self-hate. Indeed, the anger associated with these feelings may become so deeply entrenched and buried within the body that the result is psychosomatic symptoms such as headaches and backache, representing an unconscious, masochistic need to punish oneself.
A COGNITIVE-BEHAVIORAL PERSPECTIVE:
Aaron Beck often viewed as the founder of cognitive-behavioral therapy, also drew our attention to evidence that depression does, indeed, involve inwardly directed anger in as far as he found that his depressed patients frequently displayed signs of self-hatred, self-disgust, and self-blame, self-contempt, and a sense of inferiority and unworthiness which permeates all areas of life, including work-life and interpersonal relationships. He also suggested that the early life experiences of individuals led to them developing negative schemas (see my article on how negative schemas develop and what effect this has on a person’s life) and what he famously referred to as a negative cognitive triad (negative view of the self, negative view of others, negative view of the world in general).
COMPASSION-FOCUSED THERAPY MIGHT BE AN EFFECTIVE ANTIDOTE:
Anger turned inwards against the self and self-hatred clearly suggests an utter absence of self-compassion which is why compassion-focused therapy may be helpful for some who find themselves trapped in this self-lacerating, masochistic frame of mind, whilst Horney recommended psychoanalytic psychotherapy.
David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).