They Do Exist.

I’ve Been Using Music To Amplify My Toxic Emotions

Editor’s Note: Today’s post was written by Jen Sorenson. I love this post. I’ve never been anti-secular or an only-listen-to-super-Christian-music believer, but it is true that the music we let soak into our skin directly affects our emotional health. For the rest of this month, I challenge you to be intentional with the music you listen to! Eliminate a few bands, find some new ones. And let us know how it goes! – Lauren

This summer was a very emotional summer for me. There were times when I felt completely trapped by my emotions and that they were too overwhelming to even comprehend anymore. I didn’t like this, so I did some serious thinking and came to some conclusions that have made a big impact in my life.

I realized that ever since junior high, I have been using music to affirm and amplify my toxic emotions. By toxic, I mean negative emotions that have the potential to do some serious harm if left unchecked.

In 8th grade, I fell head-over-heels for my best guy friend who didn’t like me back. I felt so much sadness, heartbreak, and pain over this first “unrequited love” — and what did I turn to? Emotional music. When I felt like it was the end of the world because this boy didn’t like me back, the music told me that nothing else mattered besides this boy and how he felt about me.

I would play my favorite songs on repeat every night as I cried into my pillow, never realizing that the music was really making everything feel more intense than it actually was. Was my sadness justified? Sure. It is sad when you’re 13 and really like someone who doesn’t like you back. But is it worth hours and hours of tears and so much wasted energy? No. My emotions might have been easier to handle if I hadn’t made them feel so much bigger with sad music.

This pattern continued through high school. When I felt lost, like I had no friends and nobody cared, I listened to sad songs that made me feel like I was right — nobody did care. I was all alone. Instead of finding constructive ways to face loneliness or turning to God for comfort, I embraced the loneliness and let it define me. Music was my primary method for this. I always wanted to listen to songs where I could relate to the lyrics, but this wasn’t really doing me any good. It only kept me where I was and didn’t encourage any growth or positive change. Instead of going out and trying to make new friends and believing that I was worthwhile and had something to offer, I became more withdrawn, and my loneliness spiraled out of control.

My husband and I had a pretty rocky start to our marriage, and by the time four years had gone by, I was starting to feel pretty angry toward him and hopeless toward our situation. As my feelings of anger, resentment, and hopelessness grew, I soothed myself by listening to angry and hateful music. Funny enough, my anger just seemed to keep growing. Was all of my anger “wrong”? No, not at all — but the way that I dealt with it was very misguided and unconstructive.

I believe that the music I was turning to as a form of therapy was actually making the feelings much worse. Turning so much to music caused me to focus far more on my emotions than on the actual problems themselves. It was always about how I felt, how I felt, how I felt — never about what was the right or wrong way to react in a situation. Angry and hateful music also amplified my selfish attitude: belief that I was the only one wronged and that I was the one who deserved apologies.

I really began to realize that angry me + angry music = more anger. Why would I ever want that? The point of feeling angry is to find resolution. Resolution based in love and hope. The point is not to increase the anger.

Music, to me, became like that toxic friend who will listen to your complaints and only tell you that your feelings are completely justified. The one who tells you what you want to hear, not what you need to hear.

In September, I completely cleared my iPod and filled it back up with only positive music that inspires hopeful feelings in me. In the car, I listen to music I never knew existed until recently. My outlook on life has changed dramatically, and my faith has grown so much. I don’t feel overwhelmed by toxic emotions anymore — I still feel sad or angry at times, but it’s like a plant that I’m not watering anymore. The sadness and anger are much easier to handle and are balanced out by so many positive emotions that I didn’t allow myself to feel before.

The other day I was feeling kinda down, and “We Found Love” by Rihanna was playing in the store. I could immediately feel my mood going further downhill. Amazing.

Maybe this is rare, and maybe I’m far more susceptible to negativity from music than the ordinary person is, but I am very thankful to have learned this about myself.

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33 Responses

  1. Wow Jen, this post just helped clear up so much for me. I'm realizing that I used to do the same thing – listen to sad music when I'm sad which just affirmed my sadness and made me feel even worse. For some reason I thought that music making me cry was somewhat therapeutic… somehow.

    I guess I made the connection that music made me more miserable but never figured out how. Out of frustration, I stopped voluntarily listening to music for about two years. A little extreme, but it was one of the best things I've ever done for myself, I just didn't know why. Thanks for clearing all of this up – amazing post. :)

    January 18, 2012 at 10:15 am

  2. Cam

    There is a quote from the movie "High Fidelity" that I keep in mind every time I'm feeling depressed, or down and listening to music.

    "What came first, the music or the misery? People worry about kids playing with guns, or watching violent videos, that some sort of culture of violence will take them over. Nobody worries about kids listening to thousands, literally thousands of songs about heartbreak, rejection, pain, misery and loss. Did I listen to pop music because I was miserable? Or was I miserable because I listened to pop music?" – High Fidelity

    I apply it to most of the rest of my bad choices too. It reminds me to stop and think, "Am I doing this because I feel bad, or is what I'm doing creating and perpetuating my negative emotions?"

    Great post!

    January 18, 2012 at 10:56 am

  3. Emily S

    Jen! Thanks for sharing! Its amazing how quickly something that seems so harmless can become so dangerous to us. Using music to amplify our feelings, or to even block out feelings or thoughts can be dangerous. It is truly amazing how quickly we can take a simple pleasure and turn it into an addiction of sorts. I find it's hard to recognize that too because it is a pleasure that many in society enjoy, it's not like a drug addiction where there is a negative connotation placed on it. There's a very fine line between enjoying something and using it to escape or amplify your pain. Thanks for the thoughts Jen! And I love Lauren's challenge and plan on taking a long look at the words I hear in the music I escape too.

    January 18, 2012 at 11:35 am

  4. Kelsee

    Thank you for this post. This is something that I also used to struggle with to a degree. One thing I have learned to do with my music is to put on worship songs when I’m doing a really crappy chore, like washing dishes or cleaning the bathroom. By the time I realize it, the chores are done and I’ve spent the majority of the time worshipping God, not complaining about the task at hand. I find it makes my attitude much better over all too… Again, thanks for posting!

    January 18, 2012 at 11:48 am

  5. kelsey6791

    Wow. I didn't even realize I used to do the same thing until just now. I would put on a super depressing, achy album and go to sleep to it when I was younger. My mood was awful. Maybe this has something to do with it . Great point.

    January 18, 2012 at 1:05 pm

  6. i just gave a seminar about engaging with pop culture through a Kingdom lens. whenever we approach media as consumers looking for entertainment and escape, we are susceptible to whatever message is out there–and many of the messages are lies. we can certainly be influenced in negative ways if we allow ourselves to be. but…if we engage, reflect and practice discernment, we can sift through the messages, discard whatever is harmful and cling to what is true.

    we need to be wise, and the lines will be different. something that is harmful for one is cathartic for another. wrestling together is so important.

    January 18, 2012 at 1:18 pm

  7. So relatable. I completely agree with everything you've said here and it's something I've been realising in my life for a while, and acting on to a certain extent, but not completely, because part of me still wants some of that music there to turn to just in case I "need it" again. I am getting much better at skipping over the negative tracks but I know that really I should get rid of them completely. But what you said about embracing the loneliness (or whatever negative emotion) is so true. I had this conversation recently, just generally about wallowing in bad moods – WHY is there an attraction to self-pity, wallowing, and dwelling on some ways. I'm not saying I like being miserable, but a lot of the time if I'm having a bad day, my preference is just to dwell on that misery and feel sorry for myself all day. I am learning that I CAN overcome that but it's a really big step to say "Actually, I choose to be happy today, not to dwell in my misery."

    Great post, thank you for articulating this so poignantly :)

    January 18, 2012 at 4:12 pm

  8. So true! I too, am very effected by what I listen to and I've had to learn (and to be honest am still learning) to turn off the negative music and turn up the positive. Thanks for sharing!! Many blessings to you!

    January 18, 2012 at 10:52 pm

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  10. alreadysetfree

    You are most definitely not the only one. I can be in a wonderful mood and as soon as I start listening to a sad song or start singing all those love-crazed-where-is-my-true-love songs, I immediately get thrown into a weird funk. So much so that I have to retrace my day to figure out at what point I got sad.

    January 25, 2012 at 6:09 am

  11. imnobetterthanu

    Hello…I am NOT a woman, but I stumbled across this and your title got me in. I love music. You are not alone I know music throughout my life has influenced my thoughts, which affect emotions, which turn into actions, which define my character. Maybe some will say I am being dramatic, but it is true…for me. I used to listen to some of the most angry and hateful music there was. At the time I did not even fully grasp what the scripture tells us about being affected by the world. I am now much more protective of what I allow in my eyes, ears, and my heart. Within the last couple of years I must have destroyed hundreds of DVDs and CDs. I felt the Lord telling me to do so; initially I was going to sell them to Half Price Books or give them away until God asked me why I would give what He did not desire me to ingest to another soul. Anyway now I am rambling, but I agree and I too have a completely different CD and DVD collection now…far different than some would even believe from my older days.

    January 25, 2012 at 7:05 pm

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  13. I am sooo glad that I am not the only one who sees that music has such an effect on us! I'm the same way! I used to listen to music (and sometimes I'm still tempted) that would "comfort"/amplify my emotions and it REALLY wasn't good. I definitely felt worse, more lonely, more angry, more depressed, more unloved, and worthless. And when I was tired of that, I would turn to feel good music but even that can be too much because I would use that instead of turning to God and His Word. I never relied on Him to help me through my emotions to help become happier or stable or to resolve my problems. I would turn to Britney Spears or Madonna or whoever the latest pop star was to make me happy.
    This was an amazing post! I love how well thought out you were and yet you wrote so simply. We need to be very careful to not let music become our "god" or our idol and instead we need to turn to Him when we feel emotionally vulnerable. Great post!

    April 14, 2012 at 1:29 pm

  14. Sarah

    This is amazingly true. And I'm glad I'm not the only one who does this!! I cannot deny that I will probably still listen to Death Cab, but just being more aware of this truth will convict me to turn to God and not music. Thanks so much for writing this!

    April 14, 2012 at 1:46 pm

  15. aurala

    Hi Jen, Thank you so much for writing this article! I can so identify with this article! I was asking myself why I was struggling so much in certain areas like impurity, hopelessness, and longing but then God pointed me gently to what I was feeding my mind via music.

    I've been cleaning out my Itunes library and it's been so much better! God led me to clean out also those "harmless" magazines, online websites, and more which were distractions to our relationship. I used to wonder where God had gone because I "felt" I couldn't hear Him but it ended up that I crowded out His voice with all the world's nonsense.

    Paul gave such great advice saying "whatever is pure, honorable, praise-worthy, think about such things." We try to flip the script and show God that we can do it our way but in the end, the Bible stays true through the generations.

    April 14, 2012 at 3:26 pm

  16. Chelsea

    I would love to hear a playlist of some of your favorites if possible!

    May 27, 2012 at 7:25 pm

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  18. Billie Paulus

    I just stumbled across this, and I wanted to tell how much I felt convicted and comforted just reading this. I'm extremely guilty of indulging my emotions by listening to music that tries to make sense of it all. As a musician, I think I've been on a course to try and create music that helps people feel understood, but more and more I'm realizing that music needs to be made that will lift people into a place of peace, not further amplify the hopelessness they're feeling. I struggle with this a lot, even letting music influence how I act, and especially how I justify negative feelings. Thank you so so much for this story… I wonder if I would've listened to it if I'd found it earlier. Probably not. I just wanted to say thanks. Music is like anything else, its a gift and a curse depending on how we use it. Thanks again Jen.

    January 19, 2013 at 7:57 pm

  19. Sara

    I can totally relate to this. It's easy to turn on depressing or angry music when you feel you've had enough. It just makes it more real if anything. Every once in awhile I suppose it is ok to sort of vent but, I have noticed that angry music can change my mood from normal to ticked off/down real quick as it brings up old feelings or memories. I'm thinking maybe I should adjust the type of music I listen to while still enjoying certain things that don't bring me down further. I am an emotional person who is in tune with those emotions, and music really can amplify those. Something I'd like to re-adjust. Nice article, thank you.

    March 9, 2013 at 2:55 pm

  20. Kat

    It’s kind of ironic how I was sitting here depressed and listening to depressing music, being aware that the music was making me feel worse and further justified in my depression, when i came across this article. I adore music, especially music that makes me feel something. I remember being 10 years old listening to Tina Turner’s “What’s Love Got To Do With It” on repeat one night and thinking about a cute boy in my class who then suddenly became a boy who i pined for and cried over. I’m finally starting to accept that this music effect exists and that i need to be careful what i listen to, especially when i feel depressed.

    October 14, 2013 at 9:55 pm

  21. looweds

    It was always about how I felt, how I felt, how I felt — never about what was the right or wrong way to react in a situation. Angry and hateful music also amplified my selfish attitude: belief that I was the only one wronged and that I was the one who deserved apologies.
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    November 18, 2013 at 10:27 am

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    January 7, 2014 at 7:30 am

  23. Please comment, rate and let me know what songs are missing. # 1 is missing actually :-) So you can let me know what song should be the first. And the song with the most thumbs up will win!

    January 16, 2014 at 9:25 am

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  26. Chitra

    people make fun of me when i am unwilling to listen to certain songs, this is because, i cant really handle that kind of emotional crap, it makes me suicidal at times also, but its hard to avoid music at times, i have a playlist in my phone dedicated to songs that o not make me feel tramuatised, the thing that i do is, i associate memories with songs and eventually all songs become traumatic, so i have to fill up and catch up with new songs, i am an ameture singer, so being in touch with music is important in my life, however when i sing, i dont feel emotional like when im listening to it, ive been checking up on the net to see if there are people like me, who feel like i do! im glad i found this. im 21 now. im from india

    September 20, 2015 at 1:38 pm

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