Alexithymia is a clinical term for the inability to understand the intricacies of feelings and emotions. The existence and study of alexithymic experiences started in the 1970's. Some research suggests that alexithymia is more predominant in men than in women and is prevalent in approximately 10% of the general population. Alexithymia is also understood to have two components; a cognitive component where people might face challenges with thinking and emotions while trying to name, understand and talk about feelings, as well as an affective component where people might struggle with the experience of sharing, responding to and sensing emotions.
People who experience the effects of alexithymia might have these symptoms:
1. Difficulty identifying feelings
2. Difficulty distinguishing between feelings and the bodily sensations
3. A lack of impulse control
4. Violent or disruptive outbursts
5. Difficulty describing feelings to other people
6. Heightened sensitivity to sights, sounds, or physical touch
7.Limited imagination and, therefore, little or no fantasies and limited dreams
8. An unawareness of what is happening in their own mind and a very concrete way of thinking.
Alexithymia is known to be co-morbid with a number of psychiatric conditions. Therefore, when signs of Alexithymia are seen one might also look at depression, post traumatic stress disorder, brain injuries, substance abuse, and eating disorders, as it’s these diagnoses that one might harbor alexithymia.
But where does it come from? How does one end up with this personality construct of marked dysfunction in emotional awareness, social attachment and interpersonal relating? Some research has indicated that events happening in a person’s early childhood such as neglect or abuse but there are also cases of witnessing a horrifying event is known to trigger alexithymia.
If you, or someone you know, is displaying symptoms such as those described above please seek out the support of a licensed therapist. Therapy will often concentrate on building a foundation of naming emotions and appreciating a range of feelings. The process will likely include both consideration of the experiences of other people and self-reflection. For people who have no problem with emotional comprehension this might sound very basic, however, for a person with alexithymia the process of growing their emotional intelligence and capacity may be difficult.
Liz Birch is a licensed Marriage & Family Therapist and certified Master Hypnotist who provides psychotherapy and hypnotherapy services at her office in Tustin, CA. Her areas of expertise are in communications, relationships, marriage strengthening, stress reduction, depression, trauma, anxiety, anger, personal growth and ptsd. Her website address is LizBirchTherapist.com.
Weiss, Thomas C. , Alexithymia: Information, Symptoms & Treatment Options, August 2012, Disabled World/heath/neurology/alexithymia
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