Verbal Abuse and Depression vs. Unhappiness

May 31, 2012 Kellie Jo Holly

I saw a quote recently that said, "Before you diagnose yourself with depression, make sure you're not simply surrounded by jerks." Abuse in relationships does cause depression over time, but being depressed and being unhappy are two different beasts. More than likely, a doctor's diagnosis of depression will overshadow your chronic unhappiness, and instead of seeking to solve the cause, you will resort to treating the symptom (the depression).

Verbal Abuse and Depression: The Problem With A Depression Diagnosis

Verbal abuse and depression work together to keep you in a toxic relationship. Before you notice the depression, you'll feel unhappy. What can you do? The doctors I've visited recently for my depression do a much better job of sleuthing than they did back in 1996 when I received my first prescription for antidepressants. Back then, my doctor was so pleased to have a solution for me that he didn't ask me about what may have caused my feelings, let alone question me about my relationship with my husband.

Starting in about 2008, my doctors began asking about my relationship as they wrote the prescription. Perhaps its because they were military doctors and domestic violence is such a problem in the Army, but I hope that doctors everywhere are asking the same questions of their patients! They know that chronic unhappiness can lead to depression, and at least the military doctors seek to help us uncover the root of our unhappiness.

When chronic unhappiness due to domestic abuse is the root of your depressed state, you cannot heal your depression without proactively addressing your abusive relationship. You cannot cure something when it continues to reproduce itself daily. Abuse is a stage four malignant cancer on your emotional state.

Abuse, Depression, and Unhappiness

Chronic unhappiness can affect the chemicals in your brain on a more permanent basis. That's why it is important to find the causes of your unhappiness as soon as you notice the emotion, before it has the opportunity to alter your brain.

The problem in abusive relationships is that we victims ride the roller coaster of the abusive cycle. We're happy during the honeymoon phases, worried during the tension build-up, scared as the abuser's anger peaks, and sad after s/he's hurt us. Yet that doggone honeymoon rolls right back into place and we're once again on top of the world, happy and secure and ready to take on the world with the one who loves us again.

The honeymoon periods necessarily make up a greater portion of our memory's real estate. The mind has systems in place to help it control how much a trauma can hurt you. Denial, re-framing events, good ol' mis-remembering and a slew of other trauma-deniers help to gloss over pain. (Your brain is just trying to protect you!)

But your mind allows happiness to run free! Happiness can over-run your entire system. People become addicted to the false happiness substances provide to the point of killing themselves. The point is, there is no restraining order on memories of happiness. Your honeymoon periods help you to mis-remember the unhappiness, severity, and duration the rest of the abusive cycle creates.

Your chronic unhappiness caused by your abusive relationship can switch to depression without you noticing.

Differences Between Unhappiness and Depression

Unhappy people know they're unhappy and realize it is a temporary emotion brought on by a sad event, and they see a light at the end of the tunnel. Unhappy people know they will feel happy again, in time.

Depressed people often feel sad but can't pinpoint a reason why, or they feel a type of nothingness - no sadness, no happiness, no hope. A depressed person's tunnel is long and twisty, blocking the light at the end from view.

Depression is a chemical malfunction in your brain. Unhappiness is an emotion. There cannot be anything wrong with how you feel, but there can be something wrong with how your brain uses its chemicals. Antidepressants will help depression, but there ain't no pill out there that can help unhappiness.

How can you tell the difference? I can tell you how I was able to tell the difference, and I hope it works for you, too. Fill in the blank: "I feel __________."

My answers in 2006 read like this:

I feel sad. I feel betrayed. I feel stuck. I feel unsupported. I feel unloved. I feel ignored. I feel squashed after being shooed away. I feel lonely. I feel afraid. I feel disregarded. I feel disrespected. I feel run over. I feel alone, but not in a good way. I feel isolated.

My husband abused me, and those statements reflect my suffering from his abuse. When I am depressed, my statements look like this:

I feel a downward spiral. I feel useless. I feel there's no reason to get out of bed. I feel confused. I feel my pain won't end. I feel hopeless. I feel tired. I feel sad. I feel like there's a gray wall around me.

Depression focuses inward and does not focus on any specific action or cause. Unhappiness has a cause.

If you've passed through unhappiness due to your abusive relationship and now feel you are depressed, then tell your doctor. Antidepressants can help your brain return to its proper functioning and you can feel better. But don't stop there! Until you address the underlying unhappiness (a.k.a. the abuse), the pain will remain.

You can find Kellie Jo Holly on her website, Amazon Authors, Google+, Facebook and Twitter.

*Both women and men could be abusers or victims, so do not take my pronoun choices as an implication that one gender abuses and the other is victimized.

APA Reference
Jo, K. (2012, May 31). Verbal Abuse and Depression vs. Unhappiness, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, June 18 from

Author: Kellie Jo Holly

Laura Ann
May, 25 2018 at 9:49 am

I left a 16 year abusive relationship. I have had a 3 year custody battle that ended in continued joint custody. The suggested therapist (judge's and apposing lawyer's suggestion) testified that the father was emotionally unfit to be a full time parent and that his relationship with our kids has them in a constant state of anxietly from his abuse. This still causes me a lot of anxiety. My children and I still receive therapy which the court did not make their father help with financially.
I have good days where I know I am doing the right things for my kids and I have bad days where I let that idea of not being worthy creep back in to my thoughts. Most days I feel strong and successful.
There are days where I am very angry at the system. I am very angry that my kids are still subjected to this and there is no way out other than time, a time where they will have a choice.
Recently a very close friend of mine sent me a text saying that I was an unhappy person. That I resent her and that she works at being happy and that I need to be happy. We work together with offices right across from one another. We have raised our children together, we have the same group of friends. She knows what Ive been through.........
My therapist and I have identified so many specific emotions. I do not feel like I am unhappy. I may not smile constantly everyday, I may be angry some days, but I do not take it out on others. "Its okay to be mad, but its not okay to be bad." My friend has her own set of problems in which she overly tries to laugh and exude a sense of happy. She acts as if I have any other emotion other than HAPPY that I'm not striving to live my life. I have told her that it is normal to have all emotions as long as I am not hurting others with them. We have all emotions for a reason. She refuses to speak to me because I am not trying to be "Happy".
I am hurt and angry and this has made me reflect more on me than I think I should. Am I unhappy? Do people think I am a mean person because I don't put on a fake smile? I smile at them in greatings and I don't scream or yell. I tell people if I don't like something or agree with something. This is part of my therapy for being more assertive. It has hurt me that she would label me and refuse to speak to me. I don't know what to do

Marianna Lopez
January, 29 2018 at 11:10 pm

I'm currently dealing with abuse, and neglect, and scars from old abuse. Going to school everyday is painful living in a well off community. It's hard to deal with on my own. 'I'm socially bullied, therefor pretty much isolated at school with nobody except maybe a laughing gossiping girl, gossiping about me probably. I'm traumatized to the point that I have instincts that make me run if I see him, or if someone hurts me, whether on purpose or not, I automatically unwillingly hurt back . I've been abused physically, mentally, emotionally, verbally, by parental alienation, and neglected. I'm really sad when I go to school. All my teachers look at me like I'm about to commit suicide. Some talk to me in fake high pitched voices, and I just want to sit there and cry. They wonder why I'm not interested in their work. They have asked if I had about 6 disorders alone and personally with me, and I felt very uncomfortable, My mother thinks I'm depressed, but like you mentioned above, when I'm not being hurt, which is unoften, I'm very, very, cheerful and happy. I don't want to be abused by drugs again, like he did to me. So yeah. I'm just trying to cling on to life. : ) It would be nice if someone would understand. I don't want to deal with this, but it's hard to heal when everything happens again, everyday you wake up. But I will keep tying as long as I'm not dead.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

February, 5 2018 at 4:53 pm

Don't give up. I know how you feel and I just want you to know things will get better. Have faith and never give up !!!

Ollie Faye Helton
January, 1 2018 at 5:37 pm

Please I need help

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

January, 2 2018 at 2:40 am

Hi Ollie,
Thank you for reaching out. I'm Emma-Marie, author of the Verbal Abuse in Relationships blog for HealthyPlace. You don't say whether it's depression or relationship abuse you need help with, but either can make you feel trapped and helpless --- I know first hand. Thankfully, there is help out there, and it's important you talk to someone. Please visit our Hotlines page where you can find the numbers for Domestic Violence helplines and help finding a therapist. If you're feeling suicidal, you can call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline on 1-800-273-TALK around the clock. Good luck, and take care of yourself.

Ollie Faye Helton
January, 6 2018 at 10:53 am

I'm sorry I didn't get to finish I he commented I am having trouble telling the difference between depression emotional or verbal abuse or all three I have felt sad for a long time and tense but when I leave I always come back

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

January, 8 2018 at 9:53 pm

Hi Ollie,
I hear you. It can be difficult to understand what's going on in your relationship when you're always "in it," so to speak. For instance, I had no idea that my partner was abusive until the relationship ended and I could get some distance. It's also difficult to trust your own judgement when someone is making you feel like you're the problem.
My advice is to speak to a therapist who can help you get to the root of these issues and deal with them one by one. If you suspect that your partner is abusing you, chances are something's not right in your relationship. However, that doesn't mean you're not depressed. The interplay between relationship abuse and mental health is complex, so don't try to figure this out on your own.

Anna Conin
October, 26 2014 at 7:08 pm

Dear Kellie,
I was surfing the net looking for an answer, something that could shade some light inside of what I am feeling.. nothing I read so far made any sense to me till I saw this post.. I was a very playful lively person my whole life, always positive and believed in the good in anything.. now I dont find pleasure and joy in anything including my children and I know its cause I am simply unhappy and depressed.. recently we had an episode again after a very long time but this time I am fearing my own actions because of anger I never felt before in this 14 years of drama.. I cant even react reasonably towards my childrens misbehavior...regular anger management doesnt seem to work anymore... I am fearing that i'm giving up on myself...if there are any selfhelps for me please email me.. I need to stay strong xx

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Kellie Jo Holly
October, 28 2014 at 6:54 am

Hi darlin'! At this point it doesn't sound like you need anymore "self-help" for your anger. It sounds like you need a place for your anger to safely GO. I recommend finding a domestic violence group in your area and getting together with real people who can help you.
If nothing else, call the NDVH and vent to the volunteers. You can also chat with them at, but hearing a voice helps more.
Find REAL people who can either understand your plight or can train you to direct the anger into a creative pursuit, sports, martial arts or something similar.

June, 17 2013 at 11:44 pm

Thankyou so much for your story I have read it through & I now realise I am very unhappy .I now know the difference between unhappy & depression which gives me hope to right my current situation. I want to thank you so much for sharing must be a lovely caring person . you have helped me immensely. Cathy from NZ

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