Post-breakup rituals can look like anything and everything, from locking yourself in your room and having a good cry to burning pictures of your ex in a metal trash can. Everyone processes breakups in their own way, but sometimes, putting together the perfect breakup playlist can be just the thing you need to begin to come to terms with your split and move on. Just ask Zoe Kravitz's character, Rob, in Hulu's High Fidelity, who uses carefully selected music in a specific order to process getting dumped.
According to music therapist Jude Treder-Wolff, LCSW. creating a breakup playlist can be an effective coping strategy. "Songs help process important life experiences because they give words to what we think and feel," Treder-Wolff says. "Because of the way music acts upon the brain, it immediately takes us to memories and images associated with the song, and this can be uniquely helpful when working through a breakup."
In High Fidelity, Rob doesn't just pick a random mix of Adele ballads to cry to in the shower — she thinks of crafting a breakup playlist as telling a story, complete with an intro, hook, and an element of surprise. And when getting dumped makes her feel powerless, putting together a breakup playlist of songs that are meaningful to her experience puts her back in control.
"We can reinforce a positive message to ourselves about our resilience and self-worth through the music we choose," Treder-Wolff says. "Much like the musical score in a movie deepens the impact of a scene, the music we listen to can underscore this message to ourselves."
An effective breakup playlist will include songs that express the kind of pain you're experiencing. So, ask yourself: Are you dealing with a devastating loss, like the kind Lady Gaga sings about in "I'll Never Love Again" at the end of A Star Is Born? Or are you fraught with betrayal, à la Alanis Morisette's "You Oughta Know"? According to Treder-Wolff, picking tunes that "express your emotional truth" can provide you with the kind of spiritual empathy you need when processing a loss. When a songwriter is able to perfectly capture how you're feeling in any given moment with their lyrics, they can also provide you with the hope that one day, you too will be on the other side of all the hurt.
Additionally, while songs about loss and heartbreak can indeed make you feel seen and heard, it's equally as important to include a few bops in your playlist, which can empower you to, for lack of better words, feel yourself. Think: "Good as Hell" by Lizzo or "Respect" by Aretha Franklin.
"Songs that communicate a fighting spirit can empower the process of finding strength during a difficult time, and also reminding ourselves that this loss can bring an important new start if we can use it grow on," Treder-Wolff says. End your breakup playlist on a high note, by finding an anthem that both inspires and energizes you. Moving on never felt so good.
Put plainly: Breakups can suck. But from heartwrenching ballads to back-busting jams, you curate the soundtrack of your life — and that includes your breakup. And guess what? Your playlist? It slaps.
Jude Treder-Wolff, LCSW, music therapist