Anthropomorphize: to ascribe human form or attributes to (an animal, plant, material object, etc.).
My beloved uses this term a lot when discussing biology (his field of expertise). Specifically, when I try to accredit our dog with human feelings and responses. I actually do this with all animals, birds and fish. Even some humans who don’t deserve it.
In recent years though, I have learned (thanks to author Liz Gilbert) to do it with my emotions. If you’ve read “Eat, Pray, Love,” you may remember that time in Rome when she is visited Depression and Loneliness. She artfully describes them as quite human (I believe she references Pinkerton detectives) and she proceeds to talk with them like they are very much alive and present in her Italian flat.
I love this.
I love this so much I have started doing it in my everyday life. And I have counseled my friends and family to do the same.
Take my pal P. P is nearing the finale of a long, painfully protracted divorce. The light is there, beaming at the end of the tunnel, but she is still too often plagued with anxiety. What will she do? Where will she go? Might she ever love again? These questions used to compel her to the couch for days on end.
Not anymore. These days, when Anxiety rears his most unwelcome head, she chats with him like an acquaintance she has (mostly) outgrown.
“Hello, Anxiety,” she mutters cheerfully, pouring herself a glass of wine. “I know why you’re here and I know you’re not leaving anytime soon so sure, feel free to sit on that stool in the corner. But you are not welcome in this kitchen and you are not staying overnight, got it?!”
If Anxiety refuses to listen and lurks beyond bedtime, P will try again. “Okay, buddy, this is the sofa. You wanna sleep here, this is what you get. You will not disturb me in the bedroom and you will NOT be here when I come down in the morning. Got it, Buster?!”
Typically, by the time P pulls up the comforter and turns out her light, she is giggling. Because she has taken control of Anxiety. She has read him the riot act. And she falls asleep in good faith that her sofa will be empty in the morning.
My other pal D anthropomorphizes her Melancholy. Melancholy has been a fairly constant companion to D throughout this Covid craziness. She is not afraid, she is not lonely and she is not full-on depressed. D is just cheerless. Downcast. Sad. Maybe she needs some sunshine and a big fat dose of vitamin D (named after her, of course)? Maybe she needs more hugs than have been allowed? Maybe she just needs the damn vaccine?
What D no longer wants (or needs) is for Melancholy to follow her arounds like a lost puppy. So D has given Melancholy a name – Miserable Melanie. And when D becomes cognizant that MM is shadowing her, she marches to the bathroom. She runs a glorious bubble bath, lights a candle, turns on some music and slams the door in MM’s face. “You’re not allowed in this room, kiddo!” she yells. And it works.
But sometimes only for five or ten minutes, when D realized there are tears streaming down her cheeks. MM has somehow slipped into the bathroom through the cracks. So … instead of capitulating and inviting MM into the tub, D gets out, dries herself off and flushes MM down the toilet.
And yes, now D is laughing … at herself and her eradicated emotion.
See how it works?
We are neither trained nor taught how to deal with our feelings. Our thoughts. Our demons. Our sensitivities. And so they attack us willy-nilly, sometimes out of nowhere, sometimes right on schedule, and we just lie back and take it because we don’t think we have recourse. Options. A battle plan.
But we do.
Just make those damn frailties “human” and treat them like you would a living entity. Like my friend H. Whenever H wants to talk with me deeply, she prefaces the conversation with “Do you have time and space for this right now?” Sometimes I do and sometimes I do not and we are always honest with one another. So the other day, when H confessed that she was overwhelmed with waves of despair, I reminded her to put Despair in the freezer. He was trying to burn her alive with his incessant blistering and it was time to turn him into a popsicle. See ya later, pal! And pass me the ice cream while you’re in there, buster.
H (and her Haagen Dazs) went to bed happy.
Now before you go writing this all off as simplistic and accuse me of not recognizing the vagaries of human emotion, I urge you to just try it. I’m no psychotherapist but I know what works on me. If I am swirling in a vortex, brought on by extraneous circumstances AND by own responses to them, well damnit, I can create a conduit to get myself out of that vortex. And if that conduit requires the humanization of my feelings, so be it.
I’ve yelled at enough humans in my life to know that I am perfectly capable of yelling at my own damn emotions. Joy, Contentment, Bliss, Harmony and Gratitude – all welcome anytime. I do know that the rest of those fuckers will attempt to darken my door regularly and I can accept that. When they show up I’ll be ready … to acknowledge, converse and ultimately …
… ask them to leave.
Now … go try to pronounce anthropomorphize five times in a row.