I just finished reading The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman, which was recommended to me by my
spirit twin. A few years ago, I would have resisted something so seemingly self-helpy. I didn’t need that. I was doing fine. But you know what? Self help shit is kind of awesome. Granted, there is some weirdness out there, but the really good stuff, the research based stuff, the Brene Brown or R. Ried Wilson stuff, is so helpful.
I digress. I’ve been talking with my therapist off and on about the different ways we as humans show love, and this book gets right to the heart of it. It took me a really long time to learn that there were people in my life who showed me love in ways I wasn’t expecting to see, and when I realized that, I felt so much more fulfilled by those relationships.
Essentially, there are five broad ways that we show love:
- Words of affirmation (“I love you”, “I’m proud of you”, “thank you”, etc)
- Quality time (doing something you enjoy together, sharing a meal and talking)
- Gift giving (receiving gifts, large or small, tangible or not, that let you know your partner was thinking of you)
- Acts of service (running errands for you, cooking you dinner, etc)
- Physical touch (massage, holding hands, sex, etc)
Chapman breaks down each language and gives multiple examples for how each can look – and they are varied and awesome. He talks about how using your partner’s love language to express your feelings for them is essential; how even if you’re showing love in your own way, if that’s not something that’s meaningful to them, they won’t know and they won’t feel loved.
For me, quality time and acts of service are just about equal (most people have one dominant language, so I’m special!). I’ve always kind of had this idea of loving in different ways in my head, but after reading this I feel like I’m so much better equipped to explain why I feel loved when the dude takes the recycling out or takes a break from working to come talk to me for a few minutes. Those things make me feel taken care of, like he’s thinking of me and wants my life to be easier and better. And that’s why I do all of our laundry every week and make sure I kiss him hello when I get home from work. Those things are how I primarily show love.
What’s been the best thing, for me, is beginning to notice where all these different kinds of love live not just in our relationship, but in other parts of my life, too. My mom’s side of the family is so oriented around acts of service that it’s as natural as breathing. My dad’s, quality time. I love that, now that I know to look for all of these different ways of expressing love, I can see it so much more often.
This is an excellent thing in general, but I feel like it’s particularly awesome in terms of anxiety. Part of what’s difficult about anxiety and panic attacks is that your self talk has a lot of potential to either lessen the intensity and help the feelings pass, or make it nearly unbearable. What’s so cool about being able to see the different ways people show love is that, if you’re still working on shifting your self talk and your relationship with anxiety, you can use those things to help you. Words of affirmation from the dude help me so much when I’m having a panic attack, and those are also the times when he kicks his acts of service into high gear. And it makes me feel loved, even in the middle of this awful, panicky feeling. That’s key, because it helps me connect with something other than the anxious feelings; it reminds me that the anxiety isn’t going to last forever, that I have a life outside of it, that I’m worthy of love and compassion. And, honestly, that’s a life saver. So much of anxiety (or at least, my experience with it) is the pressure we put on ourselves to get it under control, to fight the feeling, to look like nothing is wrong. Being able to see the actions or words of love – both in the middle of anxiety and not – helps us stop fighting the anxiety. It helps us stop putting pressure on ourselves to be ok because those acts of love show us that it’s ok not to be ok. That we are still loved even when we feel scared or not like ourselves or want to hide from the world for a while.
The isolation of anxiety is real, and it’s a struggle. And it doesn’t just go away when an attack is over. It lives with us, and in us, forever, and it’s only when we begin to think about and actively change our relationship with anxiety that we start to feel less isolated. It’s not gone, but we start to understand that we’re not actually alone and that we can do things to help alleviate those feelings. I think part of how to do that is actually showing yourself love in your own love language. For me, that looks like making sure I spend some quality time doing yoga or reading or cross stitching. Or performing an act of service for myself by making sure I shower and eat when I’m feeling crappy. Or giving myself some words of affirmation (like the encouraging note to myself that I keep on my phone). It’s important for me to take care of myself, to show myself love, in the ways I’ll recognize the most easily.
All of these things are hard. I have not mastered them. It’s getting easier to be more regular about my yoga practice, but I still have trouble with my self talk, and I’m still working on my relationship with anxiety. I’m happy to say that I’m not where I was a year and a half ago – that now a panic attack is at most a few hours instead of a few days, among other improvements – but I’m still not where I eventually want to be. I am glad, though, that now I’ve got another tool to help me through it.