Emotional Resonance – How small things quickly become big things

Emotional Resonance – How small things quickly become big things


Do you ever find yourself overreacting to things that on the surface don’t seem like they should be that big of a deal? There is a natural scientific phenomenon called resonance that gives us some insight as to why this happens. Essentially, resonance describes how a specific set of circumstances can exist in a way which causes the amplification of a particular outcome. Now, before you stop reading because I began talking about rules of physics, let me illustrate with a few familiar examples.

The first point we can glean from resonance is that it can cause things to seem louder or bigger than they truly are. Think about the high school gymnasium sound system that squeals when the announcer gets close to it. That annoying noise is called feedback, and is often caused by resonance. Based on the construction of a room, there are certain frequencies (think musical notes or pitches) that will “resonate” more than others, meaning they sound louder than other frequencies, even at the same volume.

This resonance is generally to blame for feedback. I often moonlight as an audio engineer, and much of my time is devoted to searching for the problem notes caused by the unique combination of room and instrument. Once these areas of resonance are accounted for, the listener will be able to hear every note at just the right volume.

Second, we learn that resonance can be destructive. You may have wondered before about the old cliche of the opera singer who hits the high note and shatters a wine glass. When something fragile, or perhaps vulnerable is the better word, is subjected to just the right pressure at just the right time, damage occurs. The very nature of how a wine glass is created leaves it susceptible to being broken. At the resonant frequency of the glass, the sound pressure of an operatic voice can actually shatter it completely.

Finally, resonance can be advantageous if understood and utilized properly. Think about how a swing-set works. If you just sit on a swing, it isn’t much fun. However, if at the proper time you get a friend to apply the right amount of pressure (or you pump your legs), your enjoyment of the swing-set amplifies the higher you go.

The truth is that we’ve all been made particularly vulnerable to certain places of hurt and wounding over time. We pick up lies and messages along the way that suggest we’re unlovable, failures, or worse. The closer an experience gets to indicating one of these false messages is true, the louder that message sounds. Sometimes the result of emotional resonance takes the form of anger or sadness, while at other times shame or self-contempt. Often it’s related to feeling hurt or offended, and generally seems disproportionate to the offense. Hurt piles upon hurt until an obviously small interaction creates an eruption of emotion, seemingly out of the blue.

This highlights the importance of knowing your own story. Having done the work to uncover past hurts and messages of shame (discovering your own emotional resonance) will help you become less reactive or explosive, and instead engage honestly and appropriately with the realities of life. In addition to learning your resonant hurts and messages to minimize their destructiveness, figure out ways to make resonance work for you. What fills your tank or energizes you in lasting ways? Pay attention to those things in life that feel like a push at the top of the swing-set, and make time for them.

Moving toward your places of vulnerability seems foreign and unnatural. Caring for yourself and resting well can be equally hard, as well. However, applying these principles that we learn from resonance will help you begin to hear the music of life as it is intended to be heard, and at just the right volume.

 – Tim

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