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Is heartbreak music the remedy for getting past a breakup?

Many people use music to help cope with certain emotions. Whether it be sad or happy, it’s no secret that music can affect our emotions in many ways other entities can not. Specifically, one of the biggest uses of this is through heartbreak music. We constantly see people using songs to get through a breakup period, but the question is, how much does that actually work?  

It’s a saying we all have heard before, at some point, by somebody. “That song is so therapeutic for me. It helped me get through…” While there are many instances this might get used, mostly we hear this saying used amid a breakup. For many people, turning to heartbreak music during sad times, such as splitting with a significant other, is not uncommon. It’s what certain songs are written for or entirely about. It’s what the artists sometimes want, for people that are experiencing sadness to find comfort in their music. 

Some of the most popular songs ever created were through heartbreak and for those experiencing a breakup, such as Adele’s “Someone Like You,” Ariane Grande’s “thank u, next” or even Olivia Rodrigo with “Driver’s License.” Narrowing it down even more, this is something just as ordinary in the electronic industry with artists like Illenium, Martin Garrix, Slander, Seven Lions, The Chainsmokers, William Black and Said The Sky, to name a few. 

So what is the actual science behind it? Is there something actually there that helps with these emotions, or is it just nothing? The question remains, can heartbreak music actually help you get past a breakup? Is it the lyrics, the melody or something else? Now, with a recent article published earlier this week, we might have a clearer picture with the help of a professional psychologist.

The author, Mark Travers, a psychologist with a Ph. D. from Cornell University and the University of Colorado Boulder, suggests that there are two findings during his time of research on this topic, but he warns that while it may seem like a good source of emotional release to listen to sad music during a breakup, it can also lead to more harm. Regardless, according to a 2015 study in the Music Educators Journal, both points have to deal with what is called the “Default Mode Network.” The report in the Journals defines this term “as a set of interconnecting brain networks that are involved in conscious awareness, self-reflection, and autobiographical memories and emotions.” 

For instance, when we experience emotional trauma, this Default Mode Network can become, in a way, broken and, according to the report, when we listen to our preferred music, “there is dynamic interconnectivity in the Default Mode Network, linking music to self-awareness, along with associated personal histories, core emotional memories, and empathy.” Or in other terms, our music of choice helps us mend back together that network again. 

The first finding Travers states is “some people are more prone to negative emotions from sad songs.” He refers to a 2021 report published in the Psychology of Music that states, “individuals high on personality traits such as Absorption, Empathy, and Openness to Experience are more likely to appreciate sad music” and will use it to cope with their specific situation. However, the report also shows that 17% of adolescents had negative effects from listening to sad music. Travers concludes that with this research, even though emotions from sad songs are not universal, there is a select group that if they have the traits listed above, have a higher chance of experiencing negative feelings from sad music. 

“As a listener, you need to understand that not everything you hear in a song is based on reality. So, while sad pop songs can be appreciated for their artistic sensibilities (and can sometimes even help improve your mood), relying on them for mental health support is not advised as they can sometimes, intentionally or unintentionally, glamorize mental health issues.” Mark Travers, Ph.D., Forbes

His second finding states, “breakup songs can make it harder to move on from an old relationship.” This one is interesting because Travers is claiming that the songs you thought were helping you get over your emotions, could very well be the thing that is holding you back. Referencing a 2007 study published in PLOS ONE, which states that nostalgia is one of the main emotions many people experience when they are listening to sad music can ultimately lead you down a prison of memories that you may not care to relive. This, therefore, implies that listening to sad music is not always a healing mechanism, and depending on the person restricts you from moving on with your future because you are caught up in the past. 

“Sad songs have their place in dealing with a breakup initially, as they can help you look at your old relationship and cherish the good memories and examine the unhappy ones. However, research cautions against ruminating on the things you or your ex could have done differently as it can quickly go from an innocent trip down memory lane to an exercise in pointing fingers.” – Mark Travers, Ph.D., Forbes

The jury is still out on whether heartbreak music can be the main reason to help somebody cope with a breakup. However, it does seem like there is any doubt that it plays at least some factor. Travers concludes by stating, “open discussions about mental health are now commonplace in pop culture and vernacular, which is a welcome change to the status quo. However, this can sometimes lead to a glamorized depiction of sadness.” Overall, as much as listening to heartbreak music might help somebody cope with emotional trauma, it could also damage somebody even further. It’s important to always seek professional help if you feel a need further discuss your emotions. 



Image Credit: Tomorrowland

Hey everyone! I was blessed to have the opportunity to join the WRY team in 2020. I edit WRY's Youtube content and am also a writer for the website. I have been a massive fan in the EDM scene for over ten years and have been fortunate enough to see some iconic moments in person. Some of my favorite artists are Avicii, Martin Garrix, Krewella, The Chainsmokers, and KSHMR. I absolutely love to attend live shows. I try to spend almost every week at some kind of live event or festival (if not in person, at least watching online). And its a guarantee you can always catch me at Ultra Miami every year! Thank you for all the support! Follow me on Twitter to see which show I will be at next! Hopefully I can see you at an event or festival soon!

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