How to Process Dark Emotions With Music Therapy

How listening to and creating music helped me process emotional trauma.

Though I was still learning what emotional trauma was, my body felt its presence. Last summer, I was processing wounds from a judgmental childhood. As I unraveled layers of conditioning, I realized just many expectations held me back. In the shower, these words came to me, “These days, I see clearly now. These days, I see all the ways you told me how.” I wrote the song “These Days,” which helped me feel through so much pain.

When we feel sad or angry, we often think we must stuff the unwelcome emotions deep down inside. This approach does not work long term. Feeling, exploring, and expressing those emotions helps us heal.

“Most of us think of ourselves as thinking creatures that feel, but we are actually feeling creatures that think,” said Jill Bolte Taylor, author of “My Stroke of Insight.”

This realization seems counter-productive in our technologically advanced, Western world. It’s not. When you continuously push aside your hurt feelings, those feelings eventually show up in a less-controlled way, i.e., when you overreact to a situation, release misdirected anger, or drown yourself in numbing bad habits.

I learned to connect with my emotions.

Writing is my primary creative outlet, my first line of defense for processing. However, music holds a special place in my heart because it helps me to feel more thoroughly. Singing especially feels intimate, empowering, and valuable.

Music helps you to connect with your emotions. By listening to what resonates and what does not, you will better understand even the most complex emotions. A well-written chorus can get straight to the point of your real feelings.

Kelly Clarkson’s performance of “Piece By Piece” on American Idol helped me to connect with painful emotions stored in my body. The song address abandonment and self-worth. Her music brought half the audience, the judges, and herself to tears.

The new Joker movie with Joaquin Pheonix* showed how powerful music could be for processing complex emotions. The moving orchestral music in the bathroom dance scene helped Arthur Fleck to experience his personal transformation fully. He walked away with more purpose, confidence, and authenticity.

*Disclaimer: The Joker movie has dark themes around mental illness. Though I use this scene as a reference for character development, I do not support all film views.

I stopped pushing away dark emotions.

Living in a continuous state of happiness does not exist and would be extremely boring. We all experience a wide range of emotions. Anger especially serves as a map for what really matters to you; anger should be acted on, not acted out.

The next time you feel angry, notice it. Let yourself explore and feel those emotions. Listening to dark music can help you to validate what you are feeling. By validating what you are really feeling, you will be in a place to act responsibly on that anger.

I created something new.

Writing music helped me process difficult emotions. At the end of the word puzzle, I get to the core of what I’m feeling. I can tell a story, heal myself and others.

Another song I wrote helped me to process feeling unseen as a child. I repeat the line “One day at a time I’ll clean the mess you made” over and over. This simple song helped me to feel through the pain and express how frustrated I felt that they couldn’t see “the real me.”

Writing music has helped me immensely with internal healing. We all have stored up traumas that we never allowed ourselves to experience. Through music or another creative art form, you can safely explore and express those emotions. The somatic processing heals you.

Many of us are blocked creatively. Reading “The Artist’s Way” by Julia Cameron helped my creative recovery immensely. Your healing journey begins with simple techniques like the “Morning Pages,” where you write three stream-of-consciousness pages every morning.

Closing thoughts

I believe we were born to create and express ourselves, not to follow along with societal expectations. The more you experience and explore your creative expressions, the more alive and authentic you will feel. If you do not believe me, try turning on your favorite song and see how you feel in about two minutes.

❤️ Writing on psychology, feminism, and relationships. Words in: The Ascent, Better Advice, Fearless She Wrote, CYMCYL, An Injustice, and The Virago. (she/her)

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