It is known that music has an impact on our emotions. We tend to listen to music that reflects the mood we feel in the moment. When we’re happy we may listen to upbeat music; when we’re sad we may listen to slower, moving songs; when we’re angry we may listen to darker music with heavy guitar, drums, and vocals that reflect our level of anger; etc.
Were you ever asked the question, “Who is your favorite band/group/performer?” and you were able to rattle off the top five you preferred to listen to on a regular basis? We may not know why we prefer the artists we listen to, except to say that we resonate with or feel the music, or just that they write songs we like. But we can learn a lot about ourselves emotionally through the music we tend to prefer.
Consider the case of John. John is a pleasant man in his mid-40’s who describes his mid-20s as a time where he was figuring out his place in life. At the time, he considered himself to be standoffish, internally anxious and shy, well-mannered, and sensitive. But the music he preferred to listen to was dark, heavy, rough, and aggressive.
After some time in therapy, John realized he’d been repressing significant anger and aggression due to years of emotional and physical abuse from his parents as a child and teen. During these years of not understanding his emotions, music became his voice and his outlet. In a sense, music could touch the deep emotions that John dared not to experience on his own. Now, equipped with an awareness of the emotions he was suppressing, John has been able to open these emotions and begin to work through the issues that have been locked inside since childhood.
Or, consider the case of Cyndi. Cyndi is a woman in her mid-30’s who has struggled through years of depression. When feeling depressed, she often listened to music that reflected sadness and emotional pain. However, Cyndi also noted that she had a passion for upbeat, energetic music that made her want to dance and feel free from emotional struggle. But, she rarely felt this energy and freedom without the music fostering it.
Through exploration of her history, it came to light that Cyndi was an energetic and happy child. She was enthusiastic about life, enjoyed connecting with others, and was a considerably open person. However, when Cyndi was 11-years old, she lost her mother after a brief illness. After her mother’s death, Cyndi’s struggle with depression began, and she slowly disconnected from her childhood self. As an adult, when listening to upbeat music, she became aware that her core self was attempting to emerge and reconnect. Previously, she had only known that she enjoyed the feeling the upbeat music brought to her as a way to relieve her depressive moods. With the help of therapy, Cyndi is now in the process of breaking through the layer of depression that has blanketed her emotional self since losing her mother.
Music can also be an effective coping strategy. If we know that certain music provides an emotion that we want to be experiencing, we can listen to music that may elicit emotions that we are having trouble reaching in the moment. If we feel lazy and unmotivated, maybe a playlist of songs that elicits energy in ourselves would be a helpful way to change our mood. In fact, it could be an interesting self-experiment to create playlists based on various emotions so they’re within reach, as desired.
In summary, while music can move us in an acute emotional moment, it’s also notable that music can be used to elicit underlying emotions, and teach us about elements of our emotional structure that we may not be aware of. If we notice a pattern of emotional music that brings questions about what we’re experiencing internally, or who we are, it could be a worthwhile opportunity for self-exploration.