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Crying When Hearing Lullabies

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From the time I was an infant whenever I would hear a lullaby— like Rockabye baby or Brahms I would burst into tears. Even now as an adult I burst into tears at even the thought of a lullaby. It is becoming increasingly embarrassing as this happens in public as well and I am afraid that it may happen at work or in a professional setting where sobbing uncontrollably is not an option. While we have experienced a lot of loss in my family over my lifetime, I had a pretty normal childhood and it was a pretty good one at that. This has been happening since I was brought home from the hospital and still almost 23 years later. I have discussed this with several people and googled until my fingers bled but there doesn’t seem to be any answers as to why this happens. Can you tell me why this happens to me and/or how I can combat this especially in public? I’m tired of this weird emotional response dictating my life and I fear for when I have a family of my own.

Crying When Hearing Lullabies

Answered by on -

A.

Interesting that in this email you mention the reaction to lullabies and, without making the direct connection talk about many losses in your family. I believe your intuition has opened the connection for you.

Although often used as a sleep aid for infants the history of the lullaby has some dark overtones as this Wikipedia article can explain. Consider the one you mentioned, Brahms, part of the lyric goes (italics added):
Good evening, good night,
With roses covered,
With cloves adorned,
Slip under the covers.
Tomorrow morning, if God wills,
you will wake once again.

…and what about rock-a-bye-baby?

Rock-a-bye baby
on the tree top.
When the wind blows
the cradle will rock.
When the bough breaks,
the cradle will fall.
And down will come Baby,
Cradle and all.

These are hardly comforting words provoking security. In fact, not soothing at all. The further possibility is that the lullaby was used by your mother or other caregivers when they were about to leave — typically a scary event for an infant to be aware of. The singing of the lullaby would come just before the loss of the caregiver. If the lyrics and the loss are connected the result would be devastating.

Of course, these are all speculations, but I can understand how lullabies could become a trigger as a conditioned stimulus to a separation fear or sense of abandonment. Hearing the lullaby would be emotionally linked with impending loss — and the emotional reaction triggered.

I’d treat this as a conditioned response and make an appointment to meet with a cognitive-behavioral therapist to help untangle this emotional reaction. There are many ways this can be done, and a good therapist will be able to walk you through the many ways this can happen.

Wishing you patience and peace,
Dr. Dan
Proof Positive Blog @ PsychCentral

Crying When Hearing Lullabies

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Daniel J. Tomasulo, PhD, TEP, MFA, MAPP

Dan Tomasulo Ph.D., TEP, MFA, MAPP teaches Positive Psychology in the graduate program of Counseling and Clinical Psychology at Columbia University, Teachers College and works with Martin Seligman, the Father of Positive Psychology in the Masters of Applied Positive Psychology (MAPP) program at the University of Pennsylvania. He is Director of the New York Certification in Positive Psychology for the Open Center in New York City and on faculty at New Jersey City University. Sharecare has honored him as one of the top 10 online influencers on the topic of depression. For more information go to: http://www.dare2behappy.com/. He also writes for Psych Central's Ask the Therapist column and the Proof Positive blog.

APA Reference
Tomasulo, D. (2020). Crying When Hearing Lullabies. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 26, 2020, from https://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2020/01/26/crying-when-hearing-lullabies/
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 24 Jan 2020 (Originally: 26 Jan 2020)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 24 Jan 2020
Published on Psych Central.com. All rights reserved.