Published on December 13, 2022 Updated on December 19, 2022
Our favorite song lyrics on relationships, and the love, joy, or pain they cause, might say a lot about our attachment styles. We turn to music to lift our mood, process sadness or anger, feel understood, and cope with difficult emotions. But do our favorite lyrics have a positive or negative impact on our ability to feel more secure in relationships?
To address the association between song preference and attachment styles, researchers at the University of Toronto asked the question, “Do people listen to music that mirrors their experiences in relationships?” By delving into the lyrical preferences of the four main attachment styles – secure, anxious, avoidant, and disorganized – the researchers were able to determine whether lyrics can help or hinder our ability to feel more secure.
Whether you have a secure or insecure attachment style, it may be helpful to understand what your attachment style is and how it influences your taste in lyrics. By doing so, you can make music and lyrics useful tools for processing attachment insecurity, rather than keeping you stuck in a rut of maladaptive attitudes and actions.
To help you do as much, this article covers:
Before we delve into the research and explore what it means, let’s remind ourselves of what attachment is, as well as what the different attachment styles are. It’s important to remember that attachment styles are coping mechanisms developed as a result of childhood experiences and environments. Whether or not our caregiver(s) were perceived as trustworthy and available during our childhood affects our subsequent relationships, especially romantic ones.
No caregiver is perfect in bringing up their child. But a caregiver who can provide consistent love and care and validate their child’s experiences and emotions has a good chance of raising a child with a secure attachment style.
Adults with a secure attachment style can open up and trust others, as well as communicate their needs effectively and in an emotionally balanced way. These individuals actively seek emotional support from their partners and provide emotional support in return. Secure attachers also generally have a positive view of themselves and others and reflect positively on their childhood. The secure attachment style is the most common type of attachment in western society, with research suggesting that around 66% of the US population is securely attached.
A child that experiences inconsistent love and care, or is neglected, emotionally deprived, or abused, has a higher chance of developing an insecure attachment style. There are three types of insecure attachment:
Anxious: adults with an anxious attachment style often have low self-esteem, are clingy in relationships, and have a strong fear of rejection and abandonment. It usually stems from inconsistent and conflicting caregiving.
Avoidant: adults with an avoidant attachment style often present as independent and confident but avoid closeness and intimacy in relationships. This attachment style is often the result of strict parenting in which emotional support and warmth were either inconsistently provided or not at all.
Disorganized: adults with a disorganized attachment style want to be loved and be in a relationship but feel uncomfortable with emotional intimacy. Their behavior tends to fluctuate between seeking closeness but fearing rejection, and therefore distancing themselves. This attachment style often develops as a result of experiencing or witnessing trauma and abuse in childhood.
The researchers asked the participants of their study to nominate their favorite songs in general, as well as their favorite songs about relationships. Then the attachment style themes in the chosen songs’ lyrics were coded and examined to determine whether there was an association with the participants’ self-reported attachment style.
The researchers found that individuals with insecure attachments tended to pick songs that were in line with their attachment styles. Avoidant individuals especially showed a preference for lyrics with avoidant and less secure themes – songs reflecting their identity and emotions in relationships. They also found that people with higher levels of neuroticism (which is associated with an anxious attachment style) preferred songs with anxious attachment themes.
Another finding was that between 1946 and 2015, the popularity of avoidant attachment-themed music increased on a societal level. This might be explained by songwriters’ understanding of Western culture’s reduced interest in more “traditional” emotional connections and their increasing focus on independence. Another explanation is that these avoidantly themed songs (and songwriters) become popular because they reflect the higher levels of attachment avoidance in society in general.
Music’s sound alone can move us and make us feel joy, melancholy, or excitement. But lyrics provide a powerful way to communicate emotions that validate peoples’ experiences in love and relationships. An avoidant individual might find validation in lyrics such as “I’m never gonna let you close to me | […] every time you hurt me, the less I cry.” (Sam Smith – “Too Good at Goodbyes”).
In contrast, anxiously attached individuals might find comfort in the lyrics of “Someone You Loved” by Lewis Capaldi. He sings: “and you’re not here | to get me through it all | I let my guard down | and then you pulled the rug | I was getting kinda used to being someone you loved.”
The research suggests that people choose songs as a way to feel less alone in their experiences. Songs often find the words people cannot access themselves to describe what they’re going through – helping them to feel more understood. When we’re able to understand and explain our experiences, we perceive life and our circumstances (good or bad) as more meaningful. So, perhaps song lyrics help us process and make sense of our lives.
The premise of this research is that people listened to songs and chose their favorites based on the lyrics. But it’s possible to listen to songs for the music alone, without paying particular attention to the lyrics. So, if one of your top songs is “Macarena” by Los Del Rio, it doesn’t necessarily mean you have an avoidant attachment style – you might just love dancing to the song!
Yip Harburg, a popular American lyricist (known for “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”) stated, “Words make you think… music makes you feel…but a song makes you feel thoughts.” The combination of music and lyrics can put into words the things you’re feeling and allow you to understand yourself better.
Similarly, one of the researchers of the study, Ravin Alaei, states: “The lyrics of your favorite songs about relationships may help validate your thoughts and feelings but may also reveal things about your experiences of relationships that you might not have realized—something that you’re going through repeatedly, that you keep coming up against.” In essence, what Aleai likely means, is that looking through your music and paying attention to the songs you listen to can be insightful. Your affinity to certain lyrics might help you to understand how you perceive and feel in relationships, and that can allow you to find ways to heal the distress you experience and/or overcome your fear of intimacy.
Ultimately, the answer to this question is yes. Music and its lyrical content, or the message they convey, have an impact on how people behave. Lyrics that are aggressive or promote self-destructive behaviors can negatively impact a person’s mood (e.g. increased rumination) and subsequent actions. As humans, we’re influenced by the words and actions of others and often mimic behaviors if we see a benefit in them. For example, studies have shown that music that glamorizes abuse in relationships might normalize and encourage this sort of behavior.
Lyrics can provide reassurance and validation, which can be helpful in some cases, but may also prolong certain insecurities. It’s possible that listening to songs that affirm your insecurities in relationships can make you feel that these insecurities are valid. If this occurs, you may not see a reason to try to heal or deal with anxieties and avoidance. This can lead to a negative cycle and sustain the belief that people are not to be trusted, that letting people in will mean you’ll get hurt, or that being overly clingy is a healthy strategy to keep a partner.
Insecurely attached individuals often seek compensatory ways to achieve the inner balance that a secure attachment can naturally provide. The lyrical content of songs might provide a way to cope with their inner imbalance or turmoil. For avoidant individuals, who tend to withdraw socially, songs can be a substitute for social support and confirmation of their perceived desire to be alone and guarded.
The research into the relationship between attachment style and song lyrics confirms the important role music plays in our lives. It also shows that being mindful of our song choices can help us to understand ourselves better.
Lyrical content can make you feel understood, so even sad songs can provide you with comfort and pleasant feelings. They can help you to find meaning in your past and present circumstances, allowing you to make sense of your life and the world you live in. Therefore, understanding why you listen to certain songs about relationships can provide insight into who you are and how you make decisions.
Whether your favorite lyrics make you happy, sad, or angry, they say something about you and the way you attach to others. Just noticing how certain lyrics make you think, feel, and react can give you valuable insight into how your attachment style affects your perception of relationships, people, and situations. If you use this skill to your advantage, you can start using music as a guide to your attachment style. Then, you can choose lyrics that help you process difficult emotions and make sense of the way you see the world.
In other words, music and lyrics can help you feel more secure.
Ed Sheeran – “Perfect”
Drake – “Hold On, We’re Going Home”
Al Green – “Let’s Stay Together”
Lewis Capaldi – “Someone You Loved”
Dolly Parton – “Jolene”
Amy Winehouse – “Back to Black”
Sam Smith – “Too Good at Goodbyes”
Beyoncé – “Sorry”
The Weeknd – “Blinded by the Lights”
Post Malone – “Circles”
For further help in choosing songs that help you process experiences, as well as potentially move towards feelings of increased security, the researchers used the below categorization to determine a song’s attachment style:
|Avoidance||– Pulling back from a partner even though one wants to be close|
– Nervousness about a partner getting too close
– Trying to avoid getting too close to a partner
|Security||– Discussing one’s problems and concerns with one’s partner (note: must feel like a dialogue with good intentions; a rant or emotional outpour is inadmissible)|
– Turning to one’s partner in times of need
– Turning to one’s partner for many things, including comfort and reassurance
|Anxiety||– Worrying/ruminating that a partner will not care as much about one as one cares about them|
– Scaring a partner away with one’s desire to be close
– The need for lots of reassurance that one is loved by their partner
– Worrying/ruminating about abandonment or rejection
– The experience that a partner does not want to get as close as one would like
– Frustration that a partner is not/was not available when one needs/needed them
Alaei, R., Rule, N. O., & MacDonald, G. (2022). Individuals' favorite songs' lyrics reflect their attachment style. Personal Relationships, 1–17. Alonso, H. (2012). Yip Harburg legendary lyricist and human rights activist. Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan University Press. Kashdan, T.B., & McKnight, P.E. (2009) Origins of purpose in life: Refining our 39 understanding of a life well lived. Psychological Topics, 18, 303–316. Ransom, P. (2015). Message in the Music: Do Lyrics Influence Well-Being? Master of Applied Positive Psychology (MAPP) Capstone Projects. 94. Wei, M., Russell, D.W., Mallinckrodt, B. & Vogel, D.L. (2007). The Experiences in Close Relationship Scale (ECR)-short form: reliability, validity, and factor structure. Journal of Personality Assessment, 88(2), 187–204.