Can’t Control My Crying When Saying Goodbye…to Anyone

Reader’s Question

I am 36 years old, female, married for 13 years and have 3 beautiful children. I live in the midwest, in South Dakota. My issue is I cannot control my crying. For as long as my memory has served me I have always been this way. It is only in one situation: when I am saying goodbye or someone is leaving. I am anxious and stressed out about it for days before it happens. The thought of the goodbye causes tears and I cannot stop it. I live a very happy life, am in a great marriage, and don’t believe I am depressed at all.

But I have to avoid scheduling any activities/events when I know a goodbye is going to take place because I am so sad, and my eyes are red and inflammed. I’m assuming that this may stem from something earlier in my life, but I do not know what it could be. This situation happend this past weekend as I knew my husband would be leaving for the week on Sunday. I was crying beginning on Thursday and off and on until Sunday when he left. I don’t want my kids to think it is a sad time everytime he leaves (or anyone else). I don’t think he is going to die, or anything bad is going to happen (but I do know anything can happen to anyone at anytime); it is only the good bye that causes the crying.

Can you help my crying eyes?

Psychologist’s Reply

The most likely source of your goodbye crying is “emotional memory“. The brain stores both the details of an experience and the emotions experienced at the time. Once an emotional memory is made, any similar event can act as a trigger and recall the memory and the emotions of long ago. In another quirk of brain operation, the brain emotionally reacts to what we imagine as well: what we think decides what we feel! You can read more about Emotional Memory in my article on the topic on this website.

I have a theory about your goodbye crying spells: Somewhere in your past you experienced a distressing goodbye — loss of good friend, parental divorce/departure, loss of relative, etc. Your brain made an Emotional Memory of the event. Over time, with each anticipated goodbye, your brain not only pulled that Emotional Memory, but began to add worry and emotional distress. You’ll notice that you begin stressing about a goodbye several days before the event. With each goodbye, the Emotional Memory becomes larger and stronger. This stressful anticipation then increases your emotional tension to the point that the tension explodes when the goodbye arrives — creating the nonstop crying outburst.

This pattern is actually very common. This is why some brides and grooms faint at weddings. The emotionally-charged build-up is often so intense that they are overwhelmed by emotion during the actual event. In this pattern, your problem is not saying goodbye — it’s the intense pre-goodbye warmup that is lasting for several days. You’re becoming so emotionally exhausted that the crying is actually a release of tension.

I’d recommend reading my Emotional Memory article. You can retrain your memories to deal with this situation. When a goodbye approaches, rehearse and anticipate with a positive approach rather than your current negative anticipation. View their departure as going on an adventure and anticipate their excitement — not your distress. If the issue doesn’t stabilize, you may want to consider counseling. The Emotional Memory involved may include strong feelings of loss, abandonment, grief, or guilt. While many of these Emotional Memories are generated accidentally, some have been created by traumatic past events that are now only a vague recollection. Identifying the source of the Emotional Memory is often helpful in understanding how it works to torment us in the here and now.

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