Experts weigh in on why we all love to cry to Taylor Swift’s breakup songs

Fans were waiting with bated breath for the emotional torment they were sure would come from The Tortured Poets Department, Taylor Swift’s 11th studio album.

And she delivered with a double album.

The first release since the end of Swift’s six-year relationship was announced, The Tortured Poets Department captured the anger, sadness, longing and confusion that fans love in a good breakup song.

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Taylor Swift

She sang about having held her breath since her love left her, her heart breaking when he pretended to put a ring on her wedding finger and him being the loss of her life – the kind of pain listeners may turn away from in life but sometimes seek out in their music.

Experts say it’s normal and often helpful to connect with heartbreaking music, and Swift even shared her own philosophy in an Instagram post about the album.

“This writer is of the firm belief that our tears become holy in the form of ink on a page,” she said. “Once we have spoken our saddest story, we can be free of it.”

Something bad, but why does it feel so good?

If you’ve seen a performance of All Too Well, you know that Swifties take great joy in scream-singing the most heartbreaking parts.

Taylor Swift Eras Tour

Why does it feel so good? Catharsis and validation, said Arianna Galligher, director of the Gabbe Well-Being Office and of the Stress, Trauma and Resilience (STAR) Program at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.

It’s beneficial to have an avenue to explore the more painful emotions and to feel like it’s OK because other people are experiencing them too, she said.

Even if you aren’t in the midst of a breakup yourself, tapping into those emotions from past experiences can help, said Dr. Jaryd Hiser, psychologist at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.

“We all fall into this trap of avoidance of these emotions,” he said. “To be able to go back to those, think of it as a processing of that time.”

That process may lead to more acceptance of those experiences and that it is OK if you never fully feel OK about them, he added.

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Music bringing peace

The music may be key in making people, who otherwise wouldn’t feel safe visiting those difficult experiences and emotions, revisit them, Hiser said.

“I think of it as being a really easy way into mindfulness,” he said. “If we were able to be mindful all the time, that would be great, but most of us can’t … tap into that.”

GLENDALE, ARIZONA - MARCH 17: Editorial use only and no commercial use at any time.  No use on publication covers is permitted after August 9, 2023. Taylor Swift performs onstage for the opening night of "Taylor Swift | The Eras Tour" at State Farm Stadium on March 17, 2023 in Swift City, ERAzona (Glendale, Arizona). The city of Glendale, Arizona was ceremonially renamed to Swift City for March 17-18 in honor of The Eras Tour. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images for TAS Rights Management)

He likes to work with patients on mindfulness by pairing it with activities they enjoy – because it’s a lot easier to stay in the present when you’re doing something you like, he said.

“Those types of things that can kind of draw us in and let us be with our emotions in that moment,” Hiser added.

Heartbreak is Swift’s national anthem

Swift’s success when it comes to breakup songs may come from the nuance that she holds in her writing, Galligher said.

While there may be grief and loss, there also tends to be themes of empowerment in her work, she added.

In a song off her new album, Fresh Out the Slammer, Swift writes about going from “daily disappearing for one glimpse of his smile” to saying that she has learned, she is free, and she is going to take the lessons forward with her.

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Taylor Swift

And she doesn’t always follow the trope of the jilted ex with a vindictive breakup song, Galligher said.

“A lot of her songs actually bring some balance to the conversation,” she said. “And yes, [some songs] sort of highlight ‘this is why I’m setting a boundary,’ but there are often also lyrics that speak to ‘here’s how I’ve grown and changed and what I’ve learned about myself, and maybe what I would do differently’.

“I think that sort of balanced exploration is a healthy model,” Galligher said.

Swift even contextualised the album in her Instagram post by saying that the expression of feelings in the songs does not mean that there is still a villain and a hero.

“There is nothing to avenge, no scores to settle once wounds have healed. And upon further reflection, a good number of them turned out to be self-inflicted,” she wrote.

How much is too much?

As comforting, empowering and connecting as breakup songs may be, there can be too much of a good thing, Galligher said.

“If we steep in it for too long, it starts to impact our ability to function, and that’s certainly a reason to pause and maybe visit with some other types of music,” she said.

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Taylor Swift Eras Tour

Especially if you’re struggling to begin with, make sure to check in with loved ones and yourself about how you’re coping, Hiser said. If you notice suicidal ideation, contact your therapist or Lifeline, he added.

“But really, I think for most people, music is a conduit to accessing our own emotions and sometimes processing through them,” Galligher said.

“Allowing space for those emotions to be present is really important, and music can really help us tap into that.”

If you or someone you know is in need of support contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Beyond Blue. In the event of an emergency dial Triple Zero (000).

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