You don’t have to be an expert on trauma or psychology to know that there is a strong correlation between emotional pain and creativity. Trauma can lead to a hyperactive right brain hemisphere, and the ‘mind’ (left hemisphere, or the ‘storyteller’ of the brain) will always work to symbolize what the inner brain/body have endured. If words can’t explain a visceral experience, our minds have the automatic inclination to search for other methods to express the feeling of what happened. Many communities and professional settings, although better than it has been in the past, do not allow for much expression of such extreme highs and plummeting lows throughout life. We have been conditioned over many generations to buck up, compartmentalize, sweep things underneath the rug, and stay within a tight window of emotional existence. And unfortunately, the mind is not a bottomless pit, and eventually things come up and leak through crevices in the mind that prolonged stress can form.
The various talents within musical artists represent a fascinating and almost unexplainable phenomenon in terms of progression within human nature in finding ways to recycle the leaking energy. And music is a universal language, perhaps because emotional pain is also universal, and generations of artists have become the master storytellers of that pain. It is one of the only things that everybody loves, even if not in the same way. If you try and find someone who doesn’t like any music at all, you’ll be searching for all of eternity. Music brings otherwise completely divided groups of people together as if none of the outside structure of life even exists. Whether it be synchronized dance, singing together in unison, or just enjoying the fascinating abilities of the artists to create mind bending sounds, music speaks to everyone. You don’t have to try and understand it or try and make sense and order out of musical sound. It just happens. And that is why it is usually the number 1, or at least in their top 3 listed coping skill if you ask someone how they manage stress.
Just like visual art, music is completely subjective. It can be warped and molded to fit whatever meaning you want it to have, despite maybe not having experienced the same thing to which the artist was referring. It can be made yours. There is both an appreciation for the ability to express oneself in such a way, and the identification with the emotions being expressed.
And in a world where it can be hard to feel understood, musical artists from every genre are here to save the day.
Here are two sets of song lyrics by two rather different musicians and song writers who both speak to their own experiences and touch the souls of millions of others in the process.
In the 2021 release by Adele titled “Easy On Me”, she refers mainly to a theme of forgiveness in a message to her son to better understand her dysfunctional marriage and eventual divorce. In the chorus she belts out:
"Go easy on me, baby
I was still a child
Didn't get the chance to
Feel the world around me
I had no time to choose
What I chose to do
So go easy on me"
Now, I didn’t speak with her myself but it’s pretty evident Adele has built extensive insight into her traumas of the past that led her to make some potentially impulsive decisions within her relationship. Referring to herself as a child here could mean that she was aware she was acting on defense mechanisms that kept her safe interpersonally in the past, and like the rest of us, ultimately fail at the level of social complexity in adulthood. Not being able to “feel the world” around her may refer to the egocentricity of the mind resulting from unresolved adverse childhood experiences. It could also parallel feeling stuck in a lack of autonomy based on mistrust of the outside world, another common manifestation of having experienced any degree of social/emotional threat as a child. Adele hits the nail on the head here with what it can be like trying to navigate safe relationships and determine what you’re worth to put up with from the idiosyncrasies of another person. If we witness chaos in childhood, we may feel comfortable with chaos as adults. She is communicating to her son that she wants to break a cycle of which she perhaps became a part. All the while hitting incredible notes with the aesthetic of her voice that strikes not one but several chords within the listener.
Crossing over to a very different genre than Adele, we have the 2000 release “Fade” by the grunge/metal/rock band Staind, spearheaded by the powerfully warm and raspy voice of Aaron Lewis. This song seems to be about the difficulty in hoping that unresolved anger from childhood would simply fade away as one grows older, and that not being the case. He refers very directly to either one or both of his parents not being there to speak to but says it in a way that illustrates understanding that again, like Adele’s recognition, communication within families is a cycle of patterns that will repeat until consciously interrupted.
"I just needed someone to talk to
You were just too busy with yourself
You were never there for me to
Express how I felt
I just stuffed it down
Now I'm older and I feel like
I could let some of this anger fade
But it seems the surface
I am scratching
Is the bed that I have made"
Whether Lewis realizes it, this is spot on in terms of how hard it is to synthesize a worldview from both bearing the weight of your past generational trauma, and your inherent responsibility to manage its effect on your life despite it not being your fault. He also mentions that the surface he is scratching is the bed he has made. Maybe some of the things he’s had to manage today, are a result of the struggle to radically accept his circumstances and not maintain problems that were born out of his responsibility.
So whether you prefer the musical perspective of an outdoorsman from a town of 1200 in the sticks of Tennessee, or from an urban woman from the commercialized streets of an up and coming section of London, chances are you will be able to make their message fit to what you need to hear to keep on powering through life. And if you haven’t heard either track or aren’t familiar with the artists, give the albums from which these songs came a listen and hear an even more complete invitation into the depths of the most meaningful parts of their lives.
Whatever may be relatable to you and you feel a connection, can help support to bring light, feelings and truth to your self awareness.
Sean O'Connor is a licensed mental health counselor (LMHC) at Peaceful Living Mental Health Counseling in Scarsdale, NY.
Sean specializes in sports psychology and trauma informed counseling to helps adults and athletes overcome anger, depression, anxiety, PTSD and stress.
Sean loves working with athletes and survivors of childhood trauma and helps them heal from the past, love the present, and have hope for the future.