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Stop the Car! I can’t listen to your music for one more minute.

We have a rule in our family – the driver is in charge of choosing the music for the duration of the driving time. Prior to the trip, I didn’t give this much thought as I am typically in control of the car. The music for this long drive, however, was under the control of my husband James who was excited to be at the helm. He had grown up taking many long family road trips and like myself was looking forward to the whole experience.

With the music on, we all happily pulled out of the driveway. We were only thirteen minutes outside of city limits when I was shocked into reality. We were listening to the fourth track, on the same album we had started with, when we left the driveway.

Could this be happening? Was it possible we were going to listen to the entire extended edition of Supertramp’s Crime of the Century album. Worse, was I not to be consulted?

For me family trips were defined by a mix of music, songs from different artists, different genres, different decades – NOT A WHOLE ALBUM……

After about the fifth song, I felt my pulse begin to rise and a mild agitation start in the pit of my stomach. Initially, I told myself that I was being foolish. I like a couple of Supertramp songs sure – but the whole album in a row?  When that fifth track started, I knew I had passed the threshold. My trigger had fired and I was totally ticked off – a perfect example of a negatively inspired auditory trigger.

I tried concentrating on browsing my smart phone and contemplated updating my Facebook status regarding my growing music misery. I knew some of my friends would say I was crazy! Knowing the rules, I sunk down in the seat. I knew I had no voice—the driver was in control.

James had what I am sure was a slight smirk on his face but not once took his eyes off the road. How could he let it bother me and not change the music? After five Supertramp songs James stopped moving his head and tapping on the steering wheel.

Turning towards me he casually asked, “Hey, would you like to listen to something else?”

I started to laugh. “Is it that obvious?” 

If a person is having a negative response to the music being played, they will often transfer those feelings to the relationships around them. 

The emotional response to a selection of music, how music is administered, and the frequency of music has an affect on each of us. It is therefore important to be aware of our personal triggers to music and to remember that other people are just as easily triggered – especially if we are in confined spaces – be it a car, hospital room, or office.  

Since ‘auditory triggers’ happen to everyone, it is crucial to understand how the process works so we can be more gentle on ourselves and others.

The trigger elicits an emotional response. Our brain, which is really our computer, processes the emotion through our bodies. It tells the body to release chemicals such as endorphins if it’s good and adrenaline if it’s bad. Our brains have been perfectly designed to support and sustain our survival in this way. Our emotions are critical because they are an instant feedback loop about whether a person, experience, or the environment is positive or negative, safe or a threat, something to move towards or away. These responses to our emotions is in the ancient of the brain called the limbic system. A key structure in this area is the amygdala. The amygdala is always in the background waiting to take over our emotions when required to do so.

When we see or hear something that triggers the feeling of threat, the amygdala comes forward instantaneously, and we act before we have time to think. That part of us that reasons in our mind takes a back seat to the reactive part, and the brain responds by relegating the pre-frontal cortex or reasoning part of our brain to the back seat so we can protect ourselves from the threat and ultimately preserve our life as it is. Dan Goleman, in his bestseller Emotional Intelligencecalls this action “an amygdala highjacking.” 

The emotional response to a selection of music, how music is administered, and the frequency of music has an effect on each of us. It is therefore important to be aware of our personal triggers to music and to remember that other people are just as easily triggered. This includes all sounds, the volume that music is played at, and even silence.

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