Can’t Stop Crying and I Get Angry When I Can’t Control It

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Reader’s Question

I’m a 21-year-old female and I cannot stop crying when I’m in a situation where I feel like others are angry with me, or when I think about people who have died, like my sister. I become angry when I cannot control myself but I don’t know what I can do.

Psychologist’s Reply

It is unsettling to feel like your emotions and behavior are so out of your control. On top of that, when you become emotional, your stress level increases because you are feeling angry with yourself — which adds fuel to the fire.

When you start to cry and it feels out of control, I wonder what cues you notice in your body BEFORE you start to cry…perhaps you can feel your pulse race, your muscles tense, your breathing change. If you notice those changes before the tears start to flow, that may give you an opportunity to change the direction of the conversation, speak up in an assertive manner, or politely excuse yourself from the interaction until you feel more calm.

You might also consider how crying functions as a “currency” in your relationships — whether you tend to be more tearful in stressful interactions with some people (e.g., boss, parents, romantic partners) more than others (e.g., friends, random strangers). Perhaps your crying tends to diffuse their anger and end the conflict. If so, it might be that you have discovered a shortcut for avoiding conflict. It works to end the discussion in the moment, but it doesn’t solve the underlying issue that is bothering the other person (which means it may come up again and again). Reading some books about assertive communication or working with a therapist who does assertiveness training might be helpful.

Finally, you mention the loss of your sister — this made me wonder if the crying is a new problem for you, or one that has gotten worse since your loss. If so, it might be helpful to seek out a grief counselor or a grief support group in your area. Local funeral homes are often wonderful resources for grief support referrals in the community.

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