Emotions, Music, Emotional Intelligence and Us
I wonder what it is about a particular song or piece of music that can have the power to transport us to a time and place. The rhythm, the tone and lyrics have the capacity to ignite long forgotten images in the mind; the party, the kiss, the park, the ex-boyfriend, the place of work or a loved one lost!
You know what I am saying, the song that trips you up, makes you smile, cry or sob. Music can play an excruciating part in your life that haunts us, taunts us and equally lifts and shifts, carries you along with the wind. Whether it’s Petula Clark and Downtown, Ludovico Einaudi’s Igiorni, or Bocelli and Brightman’s Time to Say Goodbye, each song, equally, has the powerful ability to tip your emotions to a place you had not planned. Each note telling a story that recalls a specific time of your life, so memorable and tangibly alive.
Like the body, emotions have a rich, sociological history and ‘health,’ unhelpfully seen to require control and release; civilised and well behaved; emotionally healthy.
Emotions are events over time, they are sequences of feelings, thought and behaviour; emotion mixtures. An emotion may serve to protect and defend, or it can help us communicate, cajole and organise. Emotions are messages to ourselves, a posture, narrow streams and wide ocean floods.
Emotions are not black and white. Our emotions, fraught with feelings, are not unlike the abstract expressionist representations of emotions in the mid 20th century American paintings; rich, intricate, utterly powerful and all sorts of complex colour patterns.
Feeling low can mean that any song, anywhere heard, can evoke strong emotions. Do you find that sometimes the lyrics just jump out at you, grab you, choke you and the tears start falling and suddenly you’re overwhelmed? Sometimes, and more often than not, words are unnecessary and many times inadequate to articulate the stirrings within the body; the music is powerful enough. Some music, like Dire Straits’ Romeo and Juliet, or John Williams, Schindler’s List’ Oscar-winning score (Itzak Perlmans’ violin performance especially poignant), can evoke a whole array of melancholy, warmness, joy and remembrance all in one. Music is the tug of war rope, which ties and holds us in its yoke.
Emotions are particularly difficult to understand because they are deeply embedded in the moment by moment context in which they occur. Did you know that many emotions are about desire; desire to avoid, resist, fuse, distance, control, possess, tender, comfort, care or submit. Your mind has 700 centres and they control everything; emotions are in your head. Emotions arise when some event is appraised as relevant to an individual concern, and concerns are what give events their emotional meaning. Fear and feelings can be extremely unpleasant, enervating, creeping in slowly and can catch you unaware, often you are depleted; a sense of lassitude.
The appraisal process appears complex, where an event is experienced as frightening, disgusting, attractive, beautiful, exciting or cute. For example, angry faces, mutilated bodies, disgusting pictures, tastes and smells directly activate specific rejection wriggles. Music jolts us, triggers us and transports us back in time.
Context is essential in practically all emotion. Emotions are responses to constellations of objects or situation in spatio-temporal context and what elicits emotions involves cognitions (thoughts). The core aspect of feeling is that the individual is engaged in what is going on and is interested in it. Failure to attend to emotional cues may rob one of important information for judgement, decision and action.
The desirability of being an emotional person depends on what one does with the information provided by emotion; one’s level of emotional intelligence! Emotional intelligence considers the extent to which individuals can recognise, understand, process, manage, monitor and utilise emotional information and there is some evidence to support the belief that the most important factor in success, effectiveness and superior performance for health care professionals is emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence is typically associated with empathy (getting into the experiences of others, as though you were them) and involves connecting with your own experiences and the feelings involved.
Being able to understand one’s own emotional experience to promote intellectual growth is specifically linked to success in the workplace, and it’s reducing the likelihood of burnout and compassion fatigue.
The primary goals of therapy are to help clients to determine the meaning and significance of their feelings or the information value. Knowledge about one’s emotions, especially about their source and how to attend to them may be crucial. A critical feature of emotional intelligence is the ability to discriminate when one’s feelings are relevant and how to be sensitive to your emotional signals, from both yourself and others. In turn, tending to your emotionally verdant garden can contribute to making you a better friend, parent, leader or romantic partner.
I reflect on my work in the therapy room, whereby moments of silence work to move and shift a client further towards acknowledging a sense of their feelings and emotions. The silence can teach us a thousand lessons about what is happening right now, in the here and now, and has the power to tip and trip us up into brimming emotions where the unconscious kisses the surface of psychological change. Introducing a client’s music into the therapeutic room can manifest a greater level of exploration which in turn nurtures the client’s emotional intelligence; music can bring understanding, patience and the courage to listen to one another.
Music, and the great emotions provoked, can be our metaphor for life and holds the power to transform. As the fantastic pianist, conductor and music director of the Berlin State Opera, Daniel Barenboim assures us “music can be a great equaliser – a power beyond mere words”.