Sometimes when music is on, the stop button can't be close enough. Often, people talk about music being something that helps them to feel better, but this isn't always the case. I can't give any 'diagnoses' or specific reasons for why this happens...but I thought I might open space for the conversation.
Some people have never been able to listen to music. It's just noise. For others, there was a time when music was a large part of their life, but for known or unknown reasons, they can't listen to it anymore. Then of course there's the times that listening to music just makes us feel worse (this is probably a whole other blog post!). I'd like to share how my mind understands these experiences.
Music and emotion
Music can be an expression of emotion. Often when we've experienced certain life events (or ongoing/prolonged life events) - such as a trauma or loss, our body and brain step into protection mode to reduce the pain. However, when this happens, we lose sense of not only the pain, but all emotions - leaving behind numbness, anxiety or anger. If our body isn't ready to feel, I sense that turning music off, could be our body's way of protecting itself from pain and connection.
Music and memories
Music has this amazing capacity to take our minds back to a certain event - whether it's a party, funeral, or a song that reminds us of a particular person or relationship. This can be great when it's a good memory at the right time, but it can also trigger memories, moods and physical reactions that we'd prefer to leave back in January 1983 or August 2004. This then may lead to the response that I mentioned above on music and emotion.
But...we cannot escape music (it's everywhere now!) - and sometimes we'd just like to be able to enjoy music (or life) again.
As I mentioned above, I'm a big believer that we chose not to listen to music because we are protecting ourselves - it's a way of coping and managing the feelings that are too big for our body to contain right now. It can get to a point though, where this self-protection actually hinders us from moving forward.
I facilitate in-patient music therapy groups for people who've experienced complex trauma. Some have said they cannot listen to music due to their life experiences. Some won't attend music therapy initially (I think even not knowing what music therapy is can be frightening in itself). During the first few sessions some people will stay in the room for 5-10 minutes before leaving. By the 3rd or 4th session the same people will remain in the room for the whole session. By the 5th or 6th (or later)* session, the same people will remain in the session and experience moments of 'feeling' whether it's through crying, laughter, experiencing a moment of peace, contentment or expressing grief and anger (or sometimes all of the above). Some 'feel' for the first time in music therapy and others express themselves for the first time. I feel really fortunate and honoured to be apart of these vulnerable moments.
*Please note that these sessions usually occur over 1-2 years due to the nature of the program.
So how does this process eventuate? I don't think I can do justice to the amount of strength, courage, vulnerability and determination it takes for people to move through this process. In fact, I don't know exactly how it happens (one day I'll do research on it!), but my thoughts are that it stems from building resilience. I think that resilience is different for everyone - but I particularly identify with Brene Brown's model of shame resilience (see this post for more). As well as resilience, it involves a lot of grounding to the present moment (we often refer to breathing, taking note of items in the room or holding items in hands). Some people are able to build their resilience through their existing relationships. Others, however, may not have access to the empathy or compassion they need, so may turn to building their resilience through the help of a therapeutic relationship. Ultimately, however, it is through this connection that we can hopefully access the resources we need to feel and move through pain so we can experience the full platter of emotions that enable us to enjoy, appreciate, grieve, cry, laugh or just be.
This is just the beginning of a conversation. A conversation that might give you food for thought - or one that you can contribute to yourself.