When I was five or six years old my mother allowed me to adopt a kitten. For months I had been kicking up a juvenile stink, shedding precocious tears and wailing mournfully while beating my head against the floor and lamenting my lack of a pet to play with. I had fallen in love with a neighbor’s cat and was devastated when I couldn’t keep it as my own. I think it was quite late in the evening when my mother finally relented. My tantrums finally became too much to bear and we set off on a kitten procuring adventure. It didn’t take long. A quick browse through the paper, a short drive, a litter and Bingo! I was a young mother.
She was a soft little thing, tabby and sweet, and when I held her against my cheek I could hear her tiny heart beating out a swift tempo. Her minuscule claws tickled my skin like feathers. She was perfect. I loved her. I loved her with such force and desperation that I was overcome with a strange new sensation. I wanted to squeeze her until her head popped off.
And that was a pretty weird feeling to try and come to terms with at such a young age.
I’ve been having a lot of discussions about these feelings lately, and it turns out I’m not the only person who suffers this kind of reaction in the face of extreme cuteness or intense love. Friends, family, adults, children… all have fallen victim to the strangest of compulsions—to hurt the thing they love.
Last year I took my girlfriend and her two-year old daughter, Chili, to visit five-year old Sophie. Sophie, an earnest young thing with a fire-cracker personality (destined to to turn her parents gray before she reaches adolescence), was enamored with Chili. They played together quite peacefully until, after a couple of hours, Sophie turned to me with a half-crazed expression and fearsomely gritted teeth. “What’s wrong Soph?” I inquired of my little friend. Her manic expression didn’t lesson, she appeared to be in the throes of some deep and confusing inner turmoil. Her little fists were cuffed, her knuckles white, and, from between gritted, gnashing teeth, came the following words “She’s just so cute. I want to hurt her.”
I understood completely. Chili’s mother did not.
As a child I felt this way towards fluffy little things with tails but these days I feel it most towards my boyfriend. Sometimes I just want to devour him. It’s a freaky feeling but I know I’m not alone. I’m sure we can all remember being manhandled during childhood by an exuberant grandparent. I’m sure many of us can tell tales of painful cheek-pinching and lung-collapsing embraces from older relatives who wanted, quite literally, to love us to death.
But what is this thing? And why do we not have a name for it?
In the last week or so I’ve searched high and low for a name for this syndrome and, despite learning that the word passion stems from the Latin verb patior, meaning to suffer or endure, the closest I have come to an answer is what is described in this blog as Nervio, a nuanced meaning of the Spanish word for nerves.
While the Philippines has the word Gi-gil, which roughly translates as a type of “affectionate frenzy”, there doesn’t appear to be an English word for the desire to maim or squash the thing you love the most, and indeed there are many people who have never felt the desire at all. A few nights ago I tried to explain all this madness to my mother only to have her insist I go and see a psychiatrist. I feel very misunderstood.
The very point of Nervio is that no action is taken. It’s a weird and fleeting desire that passes without incident. Perhaps the two things that most separate Nervio sufferers from common psychopaths are:
A.) common sense and
B.) a conscience.
For example, you’ll no doubt be happy to read that my kitten became a cat who, years later, died of old age and that sweet Chili is now three years old and as fit as a fiddle.
Me, on the other hand…well, I might be in trouble.
Several nights ago, while snuggled in bed with my beautiful boyfriend, he grimaced at me with clenched teeth and narrowed eyes. “I’m having that thing!” he said. “Nervio!”
Excited, I inquired how the syndrome was manifesting.
“Aargh!” he replied, “I want to turn you to goo! I want to turn you into jam and rub you all over me!”
I leave you now with the following scene from Punch Drunk Love—an example of Nervio at it’s most potent and (cough, cough) romantic.
Do you know the true definition for this syndrome? Do you feel like sharing some personal experiences of it? If so please tell us about it in the comment boards below and/or on www.nervio.us, a site that has been set up for exactly that purpose. I’ve also entered the definitions of Nervio and Nervious into the annuls of Urban Dictionary and would like to send my gratitude out to Keren and Roger for pointing me in the direction of Roberto and Lizette Greco—who started it all off in the first place.
Have a beautiful day.