Francis Bacon’s nanny locked him screaming for hours in a cupboard as a young boy; it formed the basis of his proclivity to work in cramped conditions and his unwillingness to create in a larger space.“ That cupboard was the making of me”, Bacon confessed years later.
This is the perfect intro for our emotional thesaurus and emotional cupboards; the ones you grow up into. They can be adjectives, “depressed, broken, disabled, mentally ill”, or societal conditions, “polite, thin, masculine” or any label that grows around you like a scab. Whatever your proverbial box is, you can’t find the right words to describe it to yourself nor others.
Some people’s stories are that they don’t have stories. They lack the words that echo their experience, and that’s called alexithymia; the word originated in the Greek language and it means having no words for emotions (a=lack, lexis=word, thymos=emotions). That’s why we thought it’d be the perfect word to start with. It’s not a diagnosis in and of itself, but when you can identify this deficit on expressivity, it definitely helps with getting the accurate diagnosis. It can be genetic, or related to early childhood trauma, where you grow up feeling disconnected from your body
It is often assumed that people who use rich emotional vocabularies are emotionally and physically healthier than those who express themselves using a narrower range of emotion words. In popular and scholarly press, it is proposed that naming emotions can promote mental and physical health. To capitalize on this effect, readers are advised to “beef up your emotion concepts” and “learn as many new words as possible,” to be equipped to categorize difficult emotions when they arise more flexibly and precisely. (Source: Feelings in Many Words Book)
What is it Like?
Each of us is alone with thoughts, fears and anxieties in a room. Trying to understand the individual apocalypse happening in someone’s heart is trying to see all of them through the keyhole, because people adapt to hardship differently, they process emotions differently. Even if they open the door and let you in, even if they share their white whale of fears with you, rip their flesh open and let you see the claws of their minds and eclipse of their hearts or manage to articulate the view from their abyss, you will still be looking through the keyhole, because what you see of people is only fragments, tiny curated universes of them filtered through your own experience. So, imagine the same thing for understanding yourself. All one can do is listen, really listen to their howls, and maybe, sometimes, howl too.
There’s no modus operandi for Alexithymia, it all depends upon your overall mental health state. However, behavioral therapy such as CBT (cognitive behaviour therapy), DBT (Dialectical behaviour therapy), and psychotherapy (Talk therapy) have proved their efficiency when it comes to alexithymia.
Mindfulness is a great first step towards emotional literacy, and you can do that by monitoring your physical responses. Focus on your heart and stomach, pay close attention to when your heart beats like a drum and which situations lead up to that. Listen to the knots in your stomach, stick in your throat or hand-sweating and difficulty breathing. With committed mindfulness, you’ll better detect and distinguish happiness from panic from stress.
Another thing you can do is keep an emotional journal where you jot down any noticeable emotional patterns and physiological responses. Also, learn about new emotions, fall in love with new adjectives and learn how to express them in more detail.
Remember that emotions are your friends, positive and negative. And you’re perfectly capable of not only understanding but also managing, identifying and learning from them about yourself and others. There’s no guide for befriending your emotions, but by learning how to identify them, we can guarantee you deeper relationships with yourself and others.
Ellen Gilcrist wrote— “We live at the level of our language. Whatever we can articulate we can imagine or explore. All you have to do to educate a child is leave him alone and teach him to read. The rest is brainwashing.”
Now close your eyes and imagine yourself out of the cupboard, out of the box, out of the rut.
Close your eyes and smile from a distance at new words like healing, strength and expression.
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