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Thursday, January 22, 2009

Reverse Shibboleths

Word of the day: alexithymia.

Those with an etymological bent may be able to parse this one.  For the rest, it means "inability to express one's feelings in words,"  a condition also known as "maleness."  But seriously, folks, apparently this is a recognized condition in the therapeutic field.  It manifests itself as a sort of general muddle-headedness when faced with the task of describing how one is actually feeling--or, perhaps, WHY one is feeling the way one is feeling.  You know what I mean: Those days when you feel neither particularly bad nor particularly good, when you find yourself in a psychic existential gray space.  What am I doing?  Why am I here?  What is this thing I call "me"?  (Apparently, this condition is also recognized in the psychological field as, "Meh?")

The wonderful thing about modern psychology, though, is that it gives us words for these feelings.  What a relief to know that there is a word for not having words.  And if there IS a word for it, then it must be something other people have felt.  What validation!  Go back to the discussion of "shibboleths" (1/10/09).  Some words are better left unsaid for fear of conjuring the referent.  So maybe this is a "reverse shibboleth": A previously unknown word that describes something that already exists.  When Adam was let loose in the Garden of Eden, it fell to him to name everything (how he came up with "wombat" remains a mystery).  And this was a manifestation of his (man's/humankind's) "dominion" over the earth.  In other words, to name is to dominate.  And that which can be dominated can be dealt with.

So the next time you're feeling down, crack open the ol' DSM-IV.  Whatever ails you might just be neatly summarized in its pages.  And maybe, once you have this label, you can paste it on a drawer of your mental file cabinet.  And then you can stash all the associated swirling thoughts and feelings and worries and fears in this drawer and, like old tax returns and college term papers, they may just be forgotten once and for all.

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