Although song lyrics are often dominated by descriptive prose such as ooh, ah, and baby-baby-baby, they can also contain surprising and accurate psychological insights. Yes, many songs that describe ‘love’ are emotionally accurate, but they are not surprising. Therefore, for the purposes of this article, I decided to focus on lyrics that describe common emotional injuries that are not about love 'per-se'. The Grammy awards have no category for ‘Most Psychologically Accurate Lyrics’ but if they did, the following songs might have scored extra nominations:
Dream Theatre knows about brooding and rumination
In my book Emotional First Aid, I refer to brooding as “picking at emotional scabs” (read The 7 Hidden Dangers of Brooding here). By repeatedly going over painful events in our mind we are only picking at our emotinoal scabs, reopening our wounds and not allowing them to heal. One of the reasons that it's hard to stop brooding is because the urge to do so can be very compelling.
In their Grammy nominated song The Enemy Inside (Best Metal Song 2014), Dream Theatre presents their own version of the dangers of brooding:
“Over and over again/I relive the moment
I'm bearing the burden within/open wounds hidden under my skin”
Jazmine Sullivan knows about rejection
One of the more overlooked aspects of rejection is that it creates surges of anger and aggression. Surprisingly, expressing these aggressive impulses is not cathartic; it provides an ounce of immediate relief but it also makes us angrier and it delays our emotional recovery. In other words, we should not dwell on our hurt and anger as we only stoke our rage by doing so (Read 10 Surprising Facts about Rejection here).
In her Grammy nominated song Bust a Window (Best R&B Song 2009), Jazmine Sullivan nails this complicated dynamic beautifully:
“I bust a window out your car/and no it didn’t heal my broken heart
I'll probably always have those ugly scars/but right now I don’t care about that part.”
The Beatles know about loneliness
When we’re lonely, we feel so emotionally raw and so desperate to avoid rejection we often develop habits that unconsciously push people away from us. Being emotionally authentic around others can make us feel too vulnerable so we put on a façade, and often not a very inviting one. We’re so eager to avoid being judged that when we do participate in social gatherings, we find ways and excuses to keep ourselves apart (read Why Loneliness is a Trap and How to Break Free here).
In their Grammy winning song Eleanor Rigby (Best Contemporary Vocal 1966), Lennon and McCartney describe what loneliness is like in vivid and haunting imagery:
“Eleanor Rigby, picks up the rice in the church where a wedding has been/lives in a dream.
Waits at the window, wearing the face that she keeps in a jar by the door/who is it for?”
If you know any songs with psychologically insightful lyrics, please share them in the comments section.
View my short and quite personal TEDx talk about Psychological Health here:
For ways to treat brooding, rejection, and loneliness, check out, Emotional First Aid: Practical Strategies for Treating Failure, Rejection, Guilt, and Other Everyday Psychological Injuries (Hudson Street Press, 2013).
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Copyright 2014 Guy Winch