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Prescription for America: An Epidemic of AlexithymiaGerald L. Rowles, Ph.D.
April 30, 2001
A few weeks ago my graduate alma mater mailed me the Psychology department's newsletter, featuring a bio of one of its leading stars. The front page article trumpeted this researcher's work in the 'pathology' of Alexithymia. With his stable of graduate workhorse wannabes, this faculty member had published dozens of articles exploring this topic, largely without conclusive outcomes because the studies' designs were correlational. The article seemed to say that the absence of conclusions about causality was outweighed by the importance of the area of study
I have some familiarity with this body of work, because twenty years ago, my own dissertation advisor was peripherally interested in this politically 'hot' theme, as was my dissertation. For those whose eyes glaze over when science codifies its pet funding projects with greco-roman rubric, let me simplify. 'Alexithymia' refers to that pathology which prevents the afflicted from expressing their 'feelings'. As it was explained to me two decades ago, this was commonly associated with blue-collar males who arrived at medical facilities complaining of somatic (body) pain that ultimately seemed to derive from an emotional conflict.
After all, today's America is awash in expressed feelings. As a result of the tremendous successes in the practice of pop-psychology and junk science, 'feeling' is now the institutionalized centerpiece of social commerce. We are all compelled to "feel your pain". Others have recognized this phenomenon as the 'Ophrahfication' or 'Feminization' or 'Emasculation' of the culture.
Since receiving that newsletter a few weeks ago, I have been distracted and distressed to the point of existential ennui (bummed out). While I would never wish for, let alone advocate the reinstatement of real disease processes such as polio or bubonic plague, I am now certain America is sorely in need of an epidemic of Alexithymia. My reasoning is thus. As one looks over the landscape of the 'feeling' culture, one cannot escape noting the absence of logic, tenderness and compassion. What is touted as 'feeling' is so lacking in depth that it cannot even be characterized as shallow. It is, in fact, nearly schizophrenic. In describing the experience of schizophrenia, (Voices: The Art and Science of Psychotherapy, Spring, 1974) the author summarized: "They cannot think about their feelings nor feel their thoughts. And they cannot judge their own state of well-being." My diagnosis is that America is now in a state of schizothymia, a "condition of mind and will; an affective (emotion) disorder" that falls just short of psychosis.
We may not be psychotic (losing contact with reality), but we are approaching that state because we can no longer feel our thoughts - we cannot resort to the depth of logic, tenderness and compassion, given our shallow, headlong 'flight-into-feeling'.The latter requires the suspension of critical (objective), logical thought processes in favor of unbridled indulgence.
There is a difference between a flight-into-feeling and tender compassion. A therapist must remove themself from the experience of the client in order to remain an objective but compassionate observer. Adults must raise themselves above the cries of the lynch mob in order to maintain true and compassionate justice. And parents must control their tender feelings for their children if they are to compassionately overcome their offspring's barbarian tendencies for self-indulgence. Limit setting is the hallmark of fathering and mothering, and socialization, and compassion for their future.
The institutionalization of the flight-into-feeling, and the knee-jerk social response of those too busy for critical thinking, given the daily busy-ness of living have morphed the real and sensible virtue of compassion into perverted and misdirected indulgence. Limit setting is popularly regarded as some kind of negative ism (femin-, sex-, rac-).
For The Children
If there was ever a phrase that deserved a speedy burial, if not funereal pyre, it is that ultimate of hypocrisies uttered as an amen in every politically correct commentary - "for the children". Consider:
Robbing women of the rights to determine how they administrate their bodies and their lives has become the clarion call of rebellion against the oppressive tyrrany of masculinity and the sterile logic of science. In capitulation to this emotional outcry:
- Abortion has been force-fitted into the constitutional
framework in such a way as to completely obliterate the
centuries-old belief that a fetus is a living being from the
moment of conception. Question: At what point does a child's life
begin if not first as a fetus? To paraphrase George Will, if
abortion is necessary to prevent something from growing inside a
woman's womb, what is that thing that was growing? By definition,
was it not alive? For the children?
Would feminists and their sympathizers argue that we should be able to dismember the aged, senile, living, minimally-sentient female and salvage the useful body parts for research and replacement in others? Or would that be regarded as an indulgence of the irrational 'needs' of barbarians?
Fact is, when the Supreme Court vindicated abortion-on-demand, it aborted traditional definitions of compassion and tenderness - in order to indulge the 'feelings' of largely irresponsible adults who engage in irresponsible and self-indulgent acts. Ah, but such a statement is judgmental and hateful in that it may hurt the 'feelings' of the carnally indulgent.
I've visited 'quality' day care centers, and my observational experiences bear out the NIH suggestion of negative impact on infants and children found in lesser facilities. I've visited nurseries in those 'quality' centers and observed infants draped over the front of their seats in mechanical swings after crying themselves to sleep. Listless and blank-faced infants lie in cribs - understimulated by human touch and interaction, with resulting lethargy. (When we had state-run orphanages, such abandoned infants tended to demonstrate a "failure to thrive". Much like an untended seedling, these children became withered and fragile.) And when venturing onto the day care playground with the older children, I found that an adult male is like a magnet - especially to boys. This is not surprising, since so many of these children come from unfathered homes. But as a stranger to the little boys that clung to my leg, and cried like they had lost a dear friend or blood-relative when I left, it was clear that something was desperately missing in their young lives. Of course these abandoned kids are ticked- off. Don't take my word for it, conduct your own research.
Fortunately, we can fall back on the compassion of Senator Speier. After all, this is the 21st century and everyone's got to get over that? Bull Hockey! That reply doesn't even begin to aspire to shallowness, let alone rationality. What does the '21st century' have to do with a failure of true compassion, tenderness, and responsibility? Would anyone dare say, in response to the holocaust, "Like, we're living in the 20th century, everyone's got to get over that"? What does one thing have to do with the other? Answer: it has to do a with Politically Correct code for indulging boomer mothers and fathers who are trading off their children's well-being in order to indulge their own shallow, material needs.
And how is the removal of fathers, 'For the Children'? Well, from the 'feeling' feminist perspective dads may actually be harmful to the family enterprise by appropriating precious family resources for beer and cigarettes. Bull Hockey!, is the phrase that leaps to the mind of this Alexithymic.
Sorry Pete, not this biped - whether in private or at the park. And that is why I believe the only way out of this 'feeling' fugue is an innoculation of Alexithymia.
Kenneth Minogue, writing brilliantly in The New Criterion, concludes with a vital lesson in How Civilizations Fall. "There has been a revolution, then, but a silent one. It has taken place with such stealth, and so gradually, that people have become accustomed to it little by little. I am reminded of the famous Chinese executioner whose ambition it was to be able to cut off a head so that the victim would not realize what had happened. For years he worked on his skill, and one day he cut off a head so perfectly that the victim said: “Well, when are you going to do it?” The executioner gave a beatific smile and said: “Just kindly nod.”
The foundation of America's strength lies in achievement through individual excellence and striving, despite the obstacles of human imperfection. No one ever climbed a mountain by standing at the base and cursing the mountain for being too tall or unfeeling.
So I beg you, be a carrier of the dread disease Alexithymia. Sneeze your repulsion of indulgence when you see it. Cough your logic in the face of irrationality and counterfeit 'feelings'. Like Dr. Laura, when some fool tells you how they feel, let them know you are alexithymic and can only understand if they tell you what they 'think' - and then only if it is rationally conveyed. Drink gallons of milk. Just kick that amorous dog off your leg. But above all, do these things for yourself and America and civilization, not for the children.
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