Emotions come naturally for many people, but this is unfortunately not the case for those with alexithymia. Researchers describe it as a construct that relates to difficulties in identifying, experiencing, and expressing emotions, along with recognising their subtleties and textures. Alexithymia makes it hard to maintain relationships and participate in social situations since it impairs a person’s ability to understand the intricacies of what others think and feel, along with their own self-experiences.
Alexithymia has long been linked to certain conditions and psychological disorders, such as depression, autism, schizophrenia, and somatoform disorders, to name a few. Thus, given their innate inability to fully understand themselves, those struggling with this trait find it challenging to cope with their co-existing psychological disorders, complicating recovery.
Symptoms and Causes of Alexithymia
As a condition marked by not knowing how to put words to their thoughts and feelings, alexithymia and its symptoms are often challenging to recognize. Moreover, since it is associated with the inability to understand and express feelings and recognise facial cues, affected individuals commonly come across as being apathetic or out of touch with other people.
In social contexts, a person with alexithymia may personally experience the following:
- struggle to convey emotions to others
- difficulty in establishing deep and emotionally intimate relationships
- reduced empathy
- feeling stress and anxiety in social situations
- create an impression of emotional detachment by appearing distant, rigid, and humourless
Lastly, alexithymia can make it difficult to construe body changes or body language as emotional responses. For instance, people with alexithymia may be hard-pressed to link their racing heart to either fear or excitement. However, they can still acknowledge that they are currently experiencing a physiological response.
While the cause of alexithymia remains a mystery even to modern-day experts, several studies suggest that the condition may be due to one or more of the following:
- Environmental factors
A research study on twins indicates that a person’s environment contributes to the development of alexithymia, such as socioeconomic factors, a history of childhood trauma, and the presence of a physical or mental disorder.
The same study suggests that alexithymia is linked to a genetic component and that people with close relatives with the condition are also more likely to have it.
- Brain injury
People who suffer an injury to the anterior insula part of their brain are observed to have higher levels of alexithymia.
Alexithymia also has several risk factors, including:
- Low level of education or socioeconomic status
- Low emotional intelligence
- Being male. One study reports that men are twice as likely to experience alexithymia than women (Croyle and Waltz, 2002, Levant et al., 2009).
- Advancing age
How To Treat Alexithymia
If you have alexithymia, there is hope of overcoming your emotional difficulties; all you need to do is improve your ability to understand and identify feelings. In addition, it is also important to learn more about the subjective experiences of other people. While this improvement journey is anything but easy, the important thing to remember is that it is not impossible.
1. Explore the expressive arts
Studies have shown that a more formal approach towards recognizing and identifying feelings via dance, art, music, acting classes, and movement therapy has been effective at helping those with alexithymia. As such, consider participating in such courses near you via public community programs or private sessions with licensed experts.
2. Read novels
Novels embody the language of describing feelings, thoughts, and experiences, hence why studies recommend picking up more books if you wish to develop your expressive and receptive language and master the skill of describing personal experiences and feelings.
3. Start journaling
Research supports the effectiveness of expressive writing in developing one’s ability to discern emotions. When you start journaling, make it a habit to write daily and ideally note down more than the events of your day. This latter goal can be difficult at first, but it is essential to broaden your range of internal and external observations.
4. Consider skill-based psychotherapy treatments
Cognitive mindfulness training, dialectical behaviour therapy, and short-term interpersonal therapy are just a few of the treatments known as short-form psychotherapy that teach patients how to be better at picking up on the personal feelings and emotions of those around them.
Alexithymia is a condition associated with emotions that can differ from one person to another and range from mild to severe. Some may simply find it hard to put their thoughts and feelings into words, confuse signs of certain emotions for something else, or lack the emotions themselves. Once identified, there are many ways to treat alexithymia and make the affected person better navigate the wide world of feelings and their subtle textures.
If you wish to work on your emotional awareness, are currently experiencing relational difficulties, or are facing challenges in processing difficult events happening around you, consider reaching out to a professional counsellor in Singapore for guidance. By working with a licensed therapist, you can better understand what alexithymia you are dealing with and discover the best course of action towards improving your condition.
A Space Between makes finding the suitable therapist for your needs quick and easy with our client matching service. Should you need a private and comfortable space to conduct your sessions, we also provide quiet and comfortable rooms ideal for effective counselling therapy.
Feel free to contact us at [email protected] or (65) 8233 3832 for more information about our services.
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