I love it when I encounter something new. This week a new word introduced itself to me. I was reading one of my twitter feeds and came across an article in The Age talking about a condition known as alexithymia. It’s a personality condition characterised by the inability to identify and describe emotions in the self.
People ‘suffering’ from alexithymia lack emotional awareness and have challenges in social attachment and interpersonal relationships. They struggle to distinguish and appreciate the emotions of others which causes others to view them as un-empathetic and ineffective with their emotional responses. It quite simply means these are people who are emotionally illiterate.
So like anything new to my brain, this word has been floating in out of my mental filing system trying to locate its rightful position and inter-rated taxonomy. Does it live in Psychology or Emotional Intelligence; is it a good description for my emotionally distant father or a healthy coping mechanism when we are overwhelmed by complex emotions? Are alexithymiacs lucky or unfortunate?
This funny word (which I find difficult to say out loud) has got me thinking about how we label and attach meaning to our feelings. If we don’t have feelings what do we attach meaning to? How does a ‘sufferer’ of alexithymia deal with complex feelings? Feelings like Love! And really, do any of us feel adequately eloquent to classify what love is? It’s a complex emotion isn’t it?
I remember reading the book The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundra which is a beautifully written (deconstructionist) novel showing how love can show itself in many, many different forms. The philandering Tomas loves many, many women, the rebellious (slightly sado-masochistic) Sabina loves through inflicting humiliation and the intellectually starved Tereza only feels love when she’s anguished by it– who loves best and who loves more; who loves the right way and whose way of loving is wrong – well that’s a highly personal perspective isn’t it? And yet, how we give and receive love is an interesting aspect of ourselves which is worth exploring.
Love comes to us in some very unexpected ways. When Luke (my son) was 7 we took him and Alanah to visit my parents (universally called Granny Les and Grandad Plod by their 11 grandchildren) in Zimbabwe. Luke must have mentioned he wanted a dog and Deb may have voiced her dislike for animals and her lack of desire for cleaning up after animals. Inspired by the opportunity to cause havoc in our family, Plod purchased Luke a book on dogs and encouraged him to consider which specific breed of dog would best disrupt Deb’s delicate life balance.
Back home, Luke continued to nag, beg, plead, demand and wail about his desire for a dog. On his 8th birthday we took him to see a movie and we came home with two Bichon Frieze / Poodle puppies. Luke must have been the happiest young boy on the planet that day and I suspect Deb was delighted too, and had he known, Plod would have been beaming with pride at Luke’s tenacity.
These two puppies became Chubby and Angel, and Chubby and Angel have become the central force around which our home operates. No grocery shopping, furniture purchase, holiday planning or timing of a tradesman can or will be contemplated without consideration of how it will impact Chubby and Angel. And, as the feeder and waterer of all living things in our home, I have gained ‘leader of the pack’ status with Chubby and Angel.
I am not 100% sure, but I would suggest that nothing on this planet loves me more than the little dog called Angel. She lies waiting at the glass panel by my front door longing for my return home. Every morning, when I collect her from Alanah’s bedroom (where she sleeps), she has a panicky search for an abandoned sock (these are easily accessible in my home because neither of my children have the ability to place socks in washing baskets) to bring to me as a token of gratitude and greeting. And at night, after dinner and clear up is done, her eyes follow me like slaves waiting for me to finally sit on a couch where she can jump into my lap and lay herself down in what is her sanctuary. I am adored.
Here’s the thing though. I would never have imagined that love from an animal would cause me to radiate. Her affection, her sweet, gentle ways and idiosyncratic craziness bring me such pleasure. Her love melts me and makes me shine like a better version of myself. This makes me think that perhaps when I love something or someone I too might cause them to gleam as better versions of themselves. Giving and receiving love – no matter who or what it comes from makes us better because it connects with a lyrical layer of life. Better people, better partners, better owners of pets. Just better.
Without needing to define love, and accepting that we are all a little bit alexithymiac when it comes to understanding and expressing love why not trust that when something or someone causes you to radiate there lies love!