Today’s Listening To post is a bit different. Yes, I do want to write about an album that I like a lot but it is also an album that reflects some of my feelings from over the last couple of years. I can not not write about the thoughts that I have when listening to “I Wish I was an Alien”, the 2012 album by French singer and songwriter Soko. Here is my ode to a great album and to the concept of boundaries.
Where to start… I have listened to Soko’s album so many times that it is difficult for me to classify it. I had a hard time deciding on the music genre – is it indie pop? or something alternative that screams hurt emotions and defiance? post-punk? I can’t tell, I only know that the majority of songs is about abusive relationships. When people hear the term “abusive”, they tend to think of sexually, physically or verbally abusive behaviour. That’s considered a red flag for any sort of relationship, however, I have a feeling that people are often not aware of emotional abusive behaviour and that the scars from such a relationship can be just as deep as the ones from any other form of abuse. This may be because it is harder to put your finger on it, e.g. the partner may never show a loud or aggressive behaviour but their behaviour and words still hurt you.
Soko’s songs describe perfectly how it feels to be in such a relationship, from the early beginning until the end of the relationship and even years after the break-up. The album consists of 15 songs and they are all prime examples for the different stages and up and downs of abusive relationships. Although this may sound like the album can only be played at self-help groups and therapy offices, it is far from being non-entertaining. I have no idea how but Soko found the right balance between a heavy content and easy , sometimes lighthearted melodies. Enjoy!
I am now going to go through some of the songs in more detail, for those of you who wish to learn more about emotional abusive relationships: read on. 😉
For convenience reasons, I describe the songs from Soko’s perspective, being in a relationship with a male partner:
I Just Want To Make It New With You: This song is about Soko feeling infatuated. It’s all new and exciting and while this might be true for most early relationships, there is more to it. Between the lines, you can hear how Soko projects her hopes onto the new partner, how she wishes to be loved and to feel better with him/her.
You Have a Power on Me: Soko feels blessed and happy to be with the partner and just about anything he does makes her jump. At this stage, it might be noticeable to others that her reactions are far out of proportion but she is probably too focused on the partner to question herself or the significant other.
We Might Be Dead by Tomorrow: It’s all changing with this song. We Might Be Dead by Tomorrow describes how Soko feels insecure about the partner’s feelings and intentions. The partner now signals that he is “not ready”, unable to fulfill Soko’s needs for “full love”. It is also the moment that Soko notices how the partner avoids to take responsibility for what happens in his life (“not ready for love / not ready for life”) and that she actually does not wish to waste time on such a relationship.
For Marlon: While this song is about Soko discovering the drug addiction of her partner, I believe that a situation like this takes place in many emotional abusive relationships. Replace the drug addiction with personality disorders, obsessions or insecure attachment styles – it will all lead to you struggling with trust. Soko becomes aware of her partner’s priorities and his on / off behaviour regarding his love for her.
Treat Your Woman Right: Soko realizes that her partner is hurting her and that she feels consumed. While the partner puts his needs first, Soko neglects her own needs, singing she is “loosing [her] way”. There may be many different manifestations of why one can feel hurt (in this song, it is the partner’s quest for freedom and “hippie theories”) but the bottom line is that the partner is “not loving if you can’t treat your woman right”.
Don’t You Touch Me: The song highlights the time around the break-up. Soko goes back and forth, she is feeling reluctant to the partner’s (sudden?) repeated approaches and advances as she knows that she “always loose[s]”. At the same time, she considers going back to the partner. The constant mix of romantic feelings and being hurt makes it hard to forget the partner.
I’ve Been Alone Too Long: The key sentence in this song is “I’m still looking for my father so I can not have a lover now” which many people who got out of abusive relationships may understand when they start to wonder why they were attracted to the former partner in the first place and what made them stay for so long. Many times, it comes down to our childhood experiences that are the key for letting go of the former partner and for not being attracted to the same type of partner again.
First Love Never Die: This is the song that I came across first and I loved it immediately. Soko describes how it has been some years since the break-up but that there are still marks that the partner has left (“4 years and I still cry sometimes”). She is unable to let go completely as she is still seeing the former partner and their time as something special. The whole song has a beautiful wistful touch.
I understand that the songs and (emotional) abusive relationships might be a mystery for some of you. Maybe you ask why anyone would stay in a relationship if they are not happy with the partner. The thing is: sometimes we don’t see what is directly in front of us. Or we don’t want to see it. We may have a bad feeling in the beginning but the joy over a new partner outweights our instincts. We may also see the constant up and downs, push and pulls of the partner and we are aware that this drives us crazy. But instead of recognizing that this person is not good for us or, we keep going. Hoping that if we just invest more, we will change the relationship for the better. Because we love the thought of how it could be. And because we are afraid of how the loss will make us feel.
Although it is easy to blame the partner, it always takes two. We let them into our lives, we kept up with their behaviour, we didn’t say no. “No” is such a powerful word, it marks the boundary of what is acceptable to us and what is not and by saying no, we take care of ourselves and avoid being hurt by others. So why do some of us neglect our boundaries? Is it because we wish to be loved so badly? Because our childhood experiences taught us to make us small, to accept abusive behaviour and to invite it into our lives again and again?
I don’t have an answer to all those questions but I do know that it is crucial to re-establish our boundaries and self-worth after such a relationship. We are worthy, every single one of us. We do deserve better. And we are able to move on, to stop clinging to the abusive personalities that have come our way and stop being defined by them. Trust your instincts and be with people that are good for you, it will feel lighthearted and easy to be with them. If, on the other hand, you feel an internal tension, conflict and struggle whenever you are with a person (no matter if you are able to explain it or not): avoid and don’t push yourself towards them (even or maybe especially if you also feel weirdly attracted to them). Know that you are enough, you don’t need them in your live.
Share your thoughts! How do you like the album? What comes to your mind when you read about (emotional) abusive relationships?