Music can help us express emotions that are hard to verbalize.
Posted October 23, 2014 | Reviewed by Devon Frye
Most of us absolutely love music. We are compelled by it. We are provoked by it. We are moved by it. We are inspired by it. We feel connected to it. It reflects something profound about who we are and our experience of the world.
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If I asked you to tell me your favorite bands, musicians, or genres, most of you could quickly reply with a list of beloved artists. Our favorite singers captivate us with lyrics that have powerful messages and sounds that touch us in some special way. In fact, most of us have playlists for just about every situation and emotion in life: a relaxed playlist for a low-key night at home; an energetic playlist for workouts; a somber playlist for contemplative moments; and an angry playlist that we reach for when we need to scream.
Given the emotionally charged nature of music, it can be an incredibly effective way to express ourselves and cope with challenging life circumstances—because sometimes, life is really hard. Really, really hard. Whether it be conflict with family, ending a relationship, or experiencing trauma, we all have moments in which we are brought to our knees with pain, sadness, and confusion.
This is particularly true if you are actively working on being more honest with yourself. Self-deception, at the most basic level, is a protective mechanism: its role is to keep us safe and secure. Often unconsciously, lying to ourselves protects us from knowing truths that would temporarily harm our ego—our core sense of self. As we confront these truths, we are going to feel worse before we feel better. Feeling some discomfort is an inescapable part of the process of becoming more honest with ourselves.
In these tough life moments, music can be a constructive way to express who you are and what you are feeling. If you are feeling particularly sad about a reality in your life, listen to a song that connects you to that emotion. If you are anxious, turn up the volume in your living room and dance around. If you are angry, grab a pillow and hit is as hard as you can while listening to your favorite lyrics.
I am not suggesting that you use music to wallow in pain or negativity; that would not be positive for your mental health or for those around you. What I am suggesting is that when we are emotionally struggling, we often have a hard time expressing how we feel through words. The intellectual, verbal expression of feelings doesn"t do justice to our experience of the emotion. Connecting to music is one effective way to become more honest about who you are, what you are really experiencing, and coping with negative emotion.
The naked truth is this: Whether we resonate with rap, classical, house, techno, country, alternative, heavy metal, or blues, music is an incredible vehicle for expressing emotions and capturing our internal experience of life. In times of strife or newly-discovered truths, use it to find your true voice.
Perhaps you may want to write your own song, analyze the lyrics of a favorite artist, or play an instrument. Perhaps you will explore new genres that are foreign to you. The key is that music is a powerful vehicle for helping you become more aware and honest with yourself.
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If you are looking for new music that you might connect to, I recently compiled a list of my personal favorites. To add your song to my list, send me a suggestion at cortneywarran
Cortney Warren, Ph.D., ABPP is a board-certified clinical psychologist and Adjunct Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Nevada School of Medicine. She is the author of Lies We Tell Ourselves: The Psychology of Self-Deception.
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Ego and self-serving biases shape the life story we share with the world—and with ourselves. The good news: An internal reckoning will help us better comprehend who we truly are.