The Quiet Culture of Covert Male Depression

Anger and Covert Male Depression Michael J. Formica Counselor CoachMen, in general, have two emotional speeds—neutral and pissed. A bit of consideration suggests the sense of rage plaguing the vast majority of the male population is driven by something unexpected. Rather than genuine anger, it’s more something that can be characterized as covert depression, masquerading as anger.

What It Looks Like

Covert male depression doesn’t look much like the depression we are generally familiar with. This is especially true for the people surrounding a man at the sufferance of this particular struggle. Instead, people may witness a subtle irritation, explosive arguments, passive-aggression, road rage, slovenliness, or self-sabotage. This behavior often supports a failure to follow through or a faint sense of insecurity leading to all kinds of shortcomings in performance—at home, at work, socially, or even in the bedroom.

Anger is one of our primary emotions. It’s directly tied to the root of the aggression driving our survival instinct. The whole male dynamic of emotional experience—feeling, reaction and anger—occurs at a very primal and instinctual level. Men aren’t very good at filtering and expressing emotions. They typically express, or, more properly, act out, the experience of intense negative emotion as anger. On the one hand, men are hardwired for rage because it keeps them sharp. On the other—and here’s the problem—there are no more saber-toothed tigers to contend with. The mechanism is obsolete.

Unpacking and Re-framing Emotions

For men, the key to managing this situation is recognizing—and, more importantly, acknowledging—emotions. This is done through dissecting the experience of rage, or what in Buddhist psychology is called ‘unpacking emotion’. Let’s say, for example, that when you get cut off on the highway, you become angry. The reason for this may be because, in your mind, the other driver has either compromised your safety, or crossed your boundaries. On the other hand, when your boss scolds you, your anger may arise out of feeling disrespected, unappreciated, misunderstood or simply being anxious about losing your job.

In both situations you experience anger, but the motivation for that anger is different. Learning to look at the experience of anger, recognize and acknowledge the underlying motivation, then express the emotions you discover as associated with that motivation productively, changes your experience. It puts your anger in perspective and, consequently, diffuses it.

As this diffusion happens, the covert depression driving your general sense of annoyance and rage begins to reveal itself as more a lack of fulfillment, disappointment over broken dreams, anxiety about properly providing for our family, performance at work, or being a good partner. Understanding the ‘why’ or ‘how’ of the human condition, or even your unique social circumstance, isn’t really necessary. Once you’ve recognized the nature of your circumstance, it’s more important to ask, “What next?”

Lifting Yourself Out

A recent advertisement pictures Tiger Woods standing in a rough, the tall grass up to his knees. Hand-drawn into the picture is a vertical arrow, with a break in the line. The smaller piece at the bottom of the drawing has a label saying, “10%, what you did”. Toward the top of the line, the label says, “90%, what you do”.

With covert depression, emotional success doesn’t rely on the ‘why’ or the ‘how’, but, rather, upon what it is you do next. Tiger Woods lifting a ball out of a rough onto the fairway is a metaphor for men lifting themselves out of covert depression, through identifying feelings and, then, feeling them.

Deconstructing, or unpacking, your sense of rage leads you to an emotional space where you can dig deep into underlying covert depression driven by the subtle sense of ‘less than’ that we so often—too often—harbor. This process leads to a dismantling of the depression itself providing a context for working through the issues driving the underlying depression in the first place.


As a man, do you struggle with misplaced anger? Have you ever questioned exactly why you feel so angry, or where you anger is coming from? If you would like to explore the potential for unpacking your anger and how it may change your life by impacting your thoughts and feelings, feel free to contact me for a free 15-minute consult to see how we might work together.


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