Unrelenting Sadness: There Is Hope

A sad woman sits up in bedThere are many possible depression types. While sadness and crying can be part of any depression, and it may be the dominant symptom, it can be absent as well. The unrelenting sadness experience of depression causes people to feel deeply sad and usually cry often. They don’t get much or any relief from crying, they sometimes still feel this way long after a loss occurred, and sometimes feel sad without having had a loss.

I recently saw a movie called Off the Map in which Sam Elliot brilliantly plays a severely depressed man. In his case, sadness and crying are the major symptoms of his experience. He doesn’t seem anxious or angry, he is able to function when he needs to, he doesn’t seem to be hating himself, he doesn’t try to kill himself, but he feels so sad all the time and cries so often that he has to drink water constantly to replenish his fluid level. In his case, the depression seems to be purely chemical. He has a life he loves, and family he loves; he hasn’t lost anything, he’s not grieving, yet he suffers terribly.

Unrelenting sadness and crying most often happen as a result of losing someone or something dear. In that case, the sadness, hurt, anger, or other intense feelings from the loss don’t resolve with the natural grieving process, as they normally do. While sadness and crying is a normal part of grieving—even an essential part of healing—people can get stuck in feeling tearful and sad and find no relief from crying or anything else.

Sometimes guilt and regret about an unforgivable act is involved, and impedes the healing process after a loss. When people blame themselves for the loss, or feel guilt because they can’t forgive, their sadness can go around and around, consumed by guilty thoughts, without change or growth.

Usually, this type of depression is very treatable. If it is chemical, medication can shift it effectively. If it is guilt, regret, or stuck grief, usually working these thoughts and feelings through with a therapist will relieve the pain that goes with it.

To give an example of the kind of situation I mean, imagine a woman’s husband has left her, and she thinks over and over about all the things she could have done differently to prevent his leaving. She can’t sleep at night, because she thinks about this, and cries for hours. Even after a year, none of this has changed. She has decided he left because she is unappealing, unlovable, and worthless. Working together, we realize whether through eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) trauma treatment or just talking, that her husband’s leaving triggered the previous trauma of her father’s leaving when she was 4 years old. At 4, she hadn’t understood why he left, and she tried to understand by deciding she had caused it. In the present, she is stuck in the sadness of believing she is worthless, because of the power of both incidents. Given this, it is very difficult or impossible ever to resolve her grief about her husband, until she resolves her grief about her father.

Within a few sessions of EMDR, she likely realizes from an adult perspective that she had not caused her father to leave, and his leaving meant nothing about her or her worth. Once that is resolved, she is able to see her husband’s leaving from an adult perspective as well. Then she realizes that her relationship with her husband had become estranged and not satisfying to either of them, and that he had actually done her a favor by leaving. She realizes she could be very happy in another relationship, and free to move on. The unrelenting sadness would be over.

© Copyright 2011 by Cynthia W. Lubow, MS, MFT, therapist in El Cerrito, California. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Peyton


    June 10th, 2011 at 9:59 AM

    This is always what I think of when I think of someone being depressed. I know that for everyone there are differing elements. What one person experiences the next may not exhinit at all. But I would think that what is written about here would be the stereotypical experience. Thanks for sharing as I think that spreading this education here can be so valuable for so many.

  • Jenny Ledd

    Jenny Ledd

    June 10th, 2011 at 2:55 PM

    Sometimes when people feel sad, they say they are “depressed.” But depression is more than just feeling sad. It is a medical illness. Someone with “major” depression has most or all of the symptoms listed in the box below nearly every day for 2 weeks or longer. There is also a “minor” form of depression (called dysthymia) where the symptoms are less severe. Dysthymia can be just as serious because it often includes short periods where the you may feel better, which could make you think there isn’t a problem. Both major and minor depression have the same causes and treatment.

  • Samantha


    June 12th, 2011 at 4:54 AM

    It is weird for me to see some people who say that they are depressed and I have to just say why. On the outside it looks like they have everything that they could ever want and there seems to be no reason why they would be suffering from depression. But there is something going on on the inside that is not right for them, and it causes that imbalance and depression that we sometimes see. I guess I have never really known anyone who experienced depression where they were not sad most of the time. I did not know that it could manifest in other ways too.

  • Sana Quijada

    Sana Quijada

    June 12th, 2011 at 7:34 PM

    thanks for this good read on depression. keep on.

  • Cynthia Lubow, MFT

    Cynthia Lubow, MFT

    June 12th, 2011 at 8:10 PM

    Jenny is right about the criteria for diagnosing depression medically. This series (see my last few blogs, and the next few) is about the various experiences people have when they are suffering from depression or something that is depression-like, but doesn’t fit into all the criteria for diagnosing depression. Even among those who can be diagnosed, the experience of depression can be very different. And yes, there is a wide variety in how much sadness is involved. Some are very sad and cry frequently, and others don’t feel or appear sad at all. Take a look at the whole series of varieties of depression experiences to see how much depression can vary.

  • B simmons

    B simmons

    June 12th, 2011 at 11:00 PM

    Sometimes it is better to accept the facts and come to terms with the loss rather than think of what could have been.It’s better that way,you know.If you keep thinking of what could have been you are living in the past and this often leads to problems in the present and the future.

    It may not be as easy as just sayin it but people,please know and realize the value of your life and try to live every moment like there’s no tomorrow.

  • calie


    July 14th, 2014 at 7:17 AM

    I just wanted to ask for clarification if this is suggesting that EMDR is a cure all for different types of depression. If not, in what situations would EMDR be appropriate? Thanks for your help.

  • Nancy T

    Nancy T

    August 13th, 2014 at 3:30 PM

    In my personal experience, EMDR has been effective when trauma, and repeated and repressed trauma, has been triggered. in this case, it caused severe depression. The process allows for the placement of the memory in our brains in such a way so as it is no longer a triggering factor. The memory does not disappear, but loses its ability to trigger further trauma. A very effective treatment, which I can personally recommend. Eventually, your brain learns how to properly process traumatising events so they are not as damaging.

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