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Saturday, September 26, 2020

What Is Alexithymia?

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Sometimes people misunderstand you because you do not express your feelings through words or even actions. They feel you are void of emotions or just plain wicked, selfish, inconsiderate and careless because you do not say the words that should be said to describe how you feel about situations, things, other people or even yourself.

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You know, people with the above behavior do not even know how to explain to the rest of the world that they are being misunderstood because the words just don’t exist, and they feel numb. They don’t even understand how annoying you think they are. May I Introducing to you Alexithymia!

We have heard of quite a number of personality disorders especially the very obvious ones but almost nobody talks about Alexithymia because lots of people probably are unaware of its existence. First mentioned in 1976 as a psychological construct, alexithymia remains widespread but less discussed.

To help you understand the idea of alexithymia better, I’ll explain what personality disorders are, how to group them and finally, explain what alexithymia truly is. Personality disorders are characters or behaviors, ways of thinking and feeling that deviates from socially and culturally acceptable norms and values.

Some of the very popular personality disorders are; Paranoid personality disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, histrionic personality disorder, antisocial personality disorder, schizoid personality disorder, avoidant personality disorder, dependent personality disorder, borderline personality disorder, narcissistic personality disorder, schizotypal personality disorder.

These socially awkward character patterns called personality disorders are classified into three groups based on their symptoms and manifestation. The three groups are; suspicious, anxious, emotional and impulsive groups. I will fix the above listed popular personality disorders each into the group where it fits.

  • Suspicious group: schizoid personality disorder, schizotypal personality disorder, paranoid and antisocial personality disorders.
  • Anxious group: obsessive compulsive disorder, avoidant personality disorder, and dependent personality disorder.
  • Emotional and impulsive group: borderline personality disorder, narcissistic personality disorder, and histrionic personality disorder. With the understanding of what personality disorders are, you can now easily figure out what group alexithymia belongs to at the end of this read.

Alexithymia is a personality disorder characterized by the inability to identify and describe emotions verbally or otherwise. People with alexithymia are unable to appreciate the emotions of other people because they can neither identify or understand these emotions no matter how hard they try.

Although people believe alexithymia is common with men than women, it is not restricted to any age group or gender. Many individuals have had failed relationships because they felt the love and commitment was one sided.

It is quite common to hear people say, ” I don’t think he has any emotions, he never showed it,” or “She doesn’t act like she Sees the sacrifices I make to keep her happy, she’s heartless”. People in relationship with alexithymia sufferers may mistake their inability to display expected emotions for pride or ego.

Here is an example of a couple who were in a civil union for 5 years and had a son. In the entire five years they were together, the man never said he loved his partner and he would reply with a “thank you” whenever she told him she loved him. This made the lady feel cheated emotionally.

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Sadly, they lost their son to an illness in the fifth year and the man showed no emotions in response to the loss they had suffered. The lady however, had to ask if he ever loved her or even their son and he responded saying ” I don’t know what love is, I can’t tell you I’ve ever felt it because I don’t know what it feels like”.

Alexithymia is never a deliberate attempt by sufferers to be emotionally disconnected from the rest of the world.

It is an issue with psychological roots and may cause frustration to the victims because of how much judgement they have to face for being unable to express themselves emotionally and the difficulty of putting their thoughts to words despite their sincere attempts at it.

Sufferers may have a very narrow imagination, difficulty understanding body languages or facial expressions made by other people. There are two dimensions to alexithymia, a cognitive dimension and an effective dimension.

  • Cognitive dimension of alexithymia: This has to do with the mental part of alexithymia. The difficulty of a victim to identify, interpret, or verbally express his feelings or that of other people.
  • Affective dimension of alexithymia: This has to do with the part where sufferers have difficulties reacting, imagining and expressing emotions. On rare occasions, alexithymia can be a stand-alone disorder, but it usually is a symptom of other mental health conditions like Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), amongst others.

Furthermore, alexithymia is of two types, the trait kind and the state kind. Trait alexithymia could mimic narcissism. It is believed to be a part of a person’s character naturally.

Probably as a late response to horrifying child hood experience like sexual, domestic or emotional abuse and neglect. People with trait alexithymia are usually more remorseless and careless with their relationships with people around them.

State alexithymia is a temporary form of alexithymia with traceable causes. A temporary loss of memory or the experience of traumatic events leading to post traumatic stress disorder are examples of the possible causes of state alexithymia.

These people are able to recover in a short period of time depending on how fast they recover from the conditions that are responsible for their temporary inability to express or identify emotions.

People suffering from alexithymia battle with hypersensitivity to body contacts, light and sound. They are very irritable and sometimes violent. If you have relatives or friends living with alexithymia, they require patience and support to help them recover.

A regular visit to a psychologist is all the treatment they need to help learn to identify, express and respond to emotions like other people do. Alexithymia could also be as a result of a brain Injury thus it is possible to have alexithymia after an accident or a fall.

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Disclaimer: This article is purely informative & educational in nature and should not be construed as medical advice. Please use the content only in consultation with an appropriate certified medical or healthcare professional.

Emmanuella Ekokotu
Ekokotu Emmanuella is a sociologist and Anthropologist, writer, and fashion model who lives in Benin city, Edo state,Nigeria.
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