When the editor requested I write an article on Love in a Cold Climate, true to my everyday work as a Clinical Psychologist, my immediate internal response was that many people live in a cold climate all of the time – even in the hottest climates – where they experience an absence of belonging or harsh, violent or cold abandonment. This ‘cold’ climate can operate in families, marriages, workplaces, churches and neighbourhoods. In this cold emotional climate love is absent and what can be present is a chilly atmosphere, bitterness, frostiness, ‘icy’ silences, ‘hailstones’ of criticism, ‘slippery’ topics of conversation, frozen looks and a freeze put on emotions and unmet needs that so much need to be expressed. It is unlikely that the recent prolonged cold spell would have lead to any thaw in these loveless relationships; much more than a change of weather would be required to de-ice hearts wherein the blood runs cold. These individuals who are terrified of any show of affection have chilling tales of loveless homes to tell those of us who have the ability to sit with their pain, the understanding ears to hear, the benign and compassionate eyes to see and the heart to feel unconditional love. The experience of a persistent heat wave of unconditional love and warmth would be required to melt such defended and wounded hearts.
Certainly, what was gratifying during the recent cold spell was the groundswell of kindness that emerged between people. In my own case several neighbours enquired about our wellbeing and one neighbour helped me when my car jack-knifed on the icy road and I could move the car neither backwards nor forwards. Other people in the locality warned us about ‘dicey’ roads. Indeed, a whole host of caring responses were daily to be witnessed – people shopping for one another, dragging cars out of ditches, pushing reluctant cars, offering a supportive arm to slip-sliding young and old and checking-in with neighbours to see was everything okay. Shopkeepers have also told me of a lot more communication between customers rather than the customary rushing in and out with no time to communicate. Many families have related having more fun and together-time gathered around the open fire. There was also an unprecedented rise in the sale of bird seed indicating that our feathered frozen friends benefited from the cold spell. These acts of kindness were far and beyond the responses of local county councils, the National Road Authority and the Government, but then you cannot legislate for human kindness!
Is there a suggestion from the foregoing that people wait for crises before they exhibit kindness? Do people need a pretext to show that they care? Are we too shy to express how much we really care unless the circumstances demand it? I do believe that it is in our nature to give and receive love, but it has been in our nurture to be fearful to show love (especially among men) and to receive love (especially among women). The gender difference is by no means hard and fast as, for example, in my own story for many years of my life I would have had massive difficulties in receiving caring but bent over backwards in caring for others.
Certainly, those people who have difficulty in expressing love have an underlying fear of been thought of as ‘soft’ or ‘mushy’ or sentimental or ‘wet’ or ‘soppy’. They have a fear too of being shamed were they to express kindness; they do not want to re-experience the original shaming when as children they spontaneously expressed affection. Crises – weather or otherwise – provide the emotional and social safety for many people to respond spontaneously from their true nature. However, when the crisis is over the likelihood is that those who come out from behind their protective shells will retreat back into them. Individuals who are secure in themselves and feel free to give and receive love do not need a crisis to be fully human. All crises – climactic, economic, social, familial, occupational, political, and religious – bring both problems to be resolved and opportunities for deepening human contact. However, it is not more crises that we need for individuals to feel sufficiently safe to be real and authentic; what is required are opportunities, particularly for those who are fearful of being expressive of or receptive to kindness, to know themselves, find their own inner stronghold and an independence to be both giving and receiving of love. In the words of the French philosopher Rousseau: ‘There is no greater wisdom than human kindness.”
Dr. Tony Humphreys is a Consultant Clinical Psychologist and Author of several books, including Whose Life Are You Living?